Wednesday, March 6, 2013
The Who had already produced four albums prior to 1971, and had achieved significant acclaim as an up and coming young English band with a penchant for ambitious projects. Their previous album, “Tommy”, released in 1969, was a stunning achievement of high-concept ambition. The primary creative force of all this was legendary guitarist Pete Townshend - although he had three other band members full of energy, spunk, and character in the likes of drummer Keith Moon, singer Roger Daltry, and bassist John Entwistle.
The album had its roots in “The Lifehouse Project”, in which Townshend intended to be a futuristic rock opera. This project caused significant stress within the band and record label, and eventually created a falling out with their then producer Kit Lambert. In early 1971, recording sessions were started for the Lifehouse project, but eventually abandoned due to the inability of Townshend to translate his conceptual ideas to his band mates and those around him. This eventually led a severely frustrated Townshend to have a nervous breakdown, and the project was described as a ‘disaster”.
In May of 1971, the band did decide to regroup with new producer Glyn Johns at Olympic Studios in London to move forward with a new album, still utilizing much of the musical material they had accumulated from the Lifehouse period. What the band found out was that by abandoning the overall “concept theme”, they gained a new freedom to focus on maximizing the strength of each track. What they produced has gone down as one of the greatest rock albums in history.
The creation of the album also coincided with new recording techniques and musical technologies. Present throughout much of “Who’s Next” is the introduction of synthesizers, which were just becoming available. The album opens to the syncopated synth refrain of “Baba O’Riley”, and the unique sound has become an iconic symbol of “The Who” ever since. Keith Moon suggested that they have a violin solo in the song, and yet another influence was melded into the band’s brand of rock. The album became known for it’s “dynamic and unique sound”. Several songs from “Who’s Next” have become rock classics, including Baba O’Riley, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, and the epic closing song on the LP, Won’t Get Fooled Again.
The album was released in August of 1971, and it soon went to #1 in the UK, and #4 in the US. The cover art for the album shows the four band members having appeared to have just urinated on a concrete monolith, with a striking cloudy sky. The cover was named by VHI as one of the top album covers of all time. Accolades for the album have grown over the years, however. It was named the best album of the year in the Village Voice critic’s poll. Guitar World ranked it the #3 rock album of all time, and has been named one of the best albums of all time by VHI (#13), and Rolling Stone (#28). In 2007, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Interestingly, none of the singles from the album ever rose very high in the charts at the time. The highest charting single was “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which had a peak position of #9 in the UK, and #8 in the Netherlands. The fact that the songs continued to endure, and actually become more popular over the years, is a testament to the strength of the material. Albums and songs that stand the “test of time” are the ones that become “Classics”. This is definitely the case with “Who’s Next”.
The Winger Bros.
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
I recently saw the new documentary “The Eagles – Part I” at a premiere showing at the Sundance Film Festival. While I admittedly was never a huge Eagles fan, I really enjoyed the film. The live footage from the 70’s was fantastic, especially since it had enhanced audio using modern technology. The Eagles have often been called America’s biggest music act during the 70’s, and in terms of hits and record sales, it is hard to argue that fact. The group, led by Don Henley and Glenn Fry, churned out hit after hit during their tenure at the top, at a pace that has rarely been matched.
Henley & Fry began playing together in Linda Ronstadt’s back-up band in the early 70’s. The pair also lived together with Jackson Brown in a small Los Angeles apartment and were a part of the early Southern California music scene at the time. The pair eventually decided to strike out on their own and convinced David Geffen and his new Asylum Record label to sign them as an unknown act. Their first effort, The Eagles, was recorded in England with producer Glyn Johns and released in 1972. It featured the song, “Take It Easy”, and launched the band to immediate fame. It was in 1976, however, that The Eagles achieved their crowning success with the album, “Hotel California”.
I said earlier that I was never a huge Eagles fan, primarily because their sound was just a bit too commercial for my tastes. I was, however, a big Joe Walsh fan, and “Hotel California” was the band’s first release featuring Walsh as a full time member.
Joe had worked on his previous solo records with Eagles then producer and engineer, Bill Scymczyk. The Eagles were looking to add some more “Rock credibility”, and Walsh was just the ticket. Walsh had a hit in 1976 with “Rocky Mountain Way”, and provided The Eagles with a great guitarist, singer, and “rock” song-writer that the band wanted.
The song, “Hotel California” began when guitarist Don Felder submitted a cassette tape of random riffs and progressions to Glenn Fry at the beginning of the writing process. Glenn said that most of the tape was nothing too interesting, but there was one guitar chord progression that Felder had come up with that jumped off the tape. It was the first incarnation of what would become the progression to the song “Hotel California”. Now many invested classic rock fans also say that the chord progression to Hotel California was stolen from an early Jethro Tull song, “We Used To Know”, released in 1969. If you go back and listen to both songs, you can definitely see the similarity. Although many Tull fans argued that The Eagles stole the progression, Ian Anderson of Tull later played down any of those accusations and called, “Hotel California” a great song with different time signature & lyrics, even if the chord progression was very similar. Once Fry and Henley got a hold of the chord progression that Felder wrote, the rest of the song came to shape quickly. Producer Bill Scymczyk claimed in the Eagles documentary that the ending guitar duet riff that fades the song is the absolute, “musical highlight” of his producing career. The band then decided the rest of the album needed to follow the theme of the title song, and they embarked on creating a, “concept album”. As described by Don Henley in and later interview:
“This is a concept album, there's no way to hide it, …It's our bicentennial year, you know, the country is 200 years old, so we figured since we are the Eagles and the Eagle is our national symbol, that we were obliged to make some kind of a little bicentennial statement using California as a microcosm of the whole United States, or the whole world, if you will, and to try to wake people up and say 'We've been okay so far, for 200 years, but we're gonna have to change if we're gonna continue to be around.”
The band then commenced to writing and recording the rest of the album. Most of the work was done from March through October of 1976 at the Record Plant in Hollywood, California with Bill Szymczyk at the production helm again. The album was also noted for it’s iconic cover photo of the Beverly Hills Hotel shot at sunset, and tied together with the music in a seamless way.
“Hotel California” was released in December of 1976, and produced several long lasting hits for the band. The first single, “Life in the Fast Lane” hit quickly and climbed up to #11 in the US charts. The second single was the monster hit – “Hotel California”. The tune went to #1, and has become what many fans say is the band’s “quintessential song”. It lasted for many weeks on the charts, and seems just as popular today. The third single, “New Kid in Town”, also went to #1 in the charts, and the success for the album, and the band, just kept rolling. “Hotel California” became the bands best selling studio album with over 16 million copies sold. The Eagles garnered two Grammy awards from the album for the songs, “Hotel California” and, “New Kid in Town”. The album was nominated for “Album of the Year”, but just lost to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”.
Even though I said I’ve never been a huge Eagles fan, “Hotel California” was an iconic release. It represented the southern California sound of the mid-seventies, and captured the band at the height of their artistry and creativity. The album is still selling all over the world and has kept the Eagles going with intermittent world tours every few years. I saw The Eagles live in 2009, and it was an enjoyable show, with seemingly hit after hit after hit being played. I have to admit, however, that when the show was turned over to Joe Walsh and some of his solo work, the concert really got good. It certainly seems like, “Life’s Been Good” for Joe, Glenn, Don, and the rest of the Eagles.
The Winger’s Brothers
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Back when I was in Junior High School, our dad, Norm, went to a Life Insurance sales convention that took place in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was the mid-seventies at the time, and when he got back he told Scott and I about this eccentric, tall guy he met at the Honolulu airport while waiting for his flight back to the mainland. Our dad said the guy seemed to be in his thirties, had a house on Maui, but spent time in both Hawaii and London. Our dad spent about an hour with this gentleman and became enthralled by the unique, jet-setting life that he described. He had just left one of his “girlfriends” in Hawaii, and was getting ready to fly back to London. The two hit it off at the airport, shared a drink at the bar, and eventually wished each other well and went their separate ways. When our dad got back the next day, he asked Scott and myself if we had ever heard of this strange music group called, “Pink something”? Duh, Dad, everyone’s heard of “Pink Floyd”! “Oh really”, asked dad, “well I just spent an hour with one of their members named, “Roger”!
Holy S*#t! Dear mother of God! “Dad, you’re just messing with us, right?”
One degree of separation! And the maddening part is our dad had no idea who Pink Floyd was nor had he ever heard the name of Roger Waters until 24 hours ago in the Honolulu Airport. Oh my, can life get any more unfair for my older brother and myself? This just wasn’t right that he could meet Roger Waters himself, while we sat through some dumb math class back home.
This chance encounter was a few years after Floyd had released their epic masterpiece, “Dark Side of the Moon”. It is one of the true “epic” classic rock albums ever created. I hesitate to even call it rock, because I think it is much more, “mood music” than almost anything else. Waters proposed the idea of the album to the other three members in early 1972 as having a unified theme with lyrical content that included conflict, greed, the passage of time, death, and human conflict. The sound of the entire record is very focused and mesmerizing, and established the band as having one of the most distinctive voices to come out of the 70’s.
Each side of the album is continuous, with every song being tied together by loops, effects, voices, speaking parts, and often eerie and even spooky audio. The entire work is literally breathtaking and complex. Recorded in Abbey Road studios from mid 1972 through early 1973, it found the four members of Waters, David Gilmoure, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright in a period of working together pretty well. It is well documented that Waters and Gilmoure have had a very contentious relationship over the years, but they seemed to have worked together during the making of, “Dark Side of the Moon”. It is an album that both members feel was a great piece of work, and was possibly their best as a unit. The album begins and ends with the sound of a heartbeat and explores the nature of the human experience. Classic songs like, “Us and Them, and “Money” became instant hits. The album is filled with lengthy intros, psychedelic tape loops, and echo effects that are pure, “Floyd”. “Time”, was another of the band’s songs that capture the imagination of millions of fans to this day almost 40 years since it’s release.
“Dark Side of The Moon”, became one of the top selling albums of all time. When it was released in of 1973, it only spent one week as the top selling album in the US. The interesting thing about this album was that it just kept selling and selling. It stayed in the billboard album chart for 741 weeks. It reappeared in the Billboard chart in 1991, with the introduction of the Top Pop Catalogue Albums chart. The album has sold over 50 million copies and still sells about 8,000 to 9,000 units each week. In 2006, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, had achieved a total of 1,500 weeks on the Billboard top 200. In the US, one in every fourteen people under the age of 50 is said to own, or have owned, a copy of the album.
The efforts of Pink Floyd in creating, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, has been so sustaining that the numbers are remarkable. The sound is hypnotic, spacey, repetitive, lengthy, and almost everything that today’s pop songs are not. But the work of Pink Floyd goes on, and on, and on. With all the royalty checks that continue to roll in for the band members, I’m sure Roger has been able to build on some nice additions to his Hawaii home – one brick at a time!
*Want to have your own psychedelic Pink Floyd experience? Check out your local planetarium. Many (such as the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City) have light shows set to music by artists such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeplin. No matter your age, it is an experience that is enjoyed by all who see it!
Thursday, January 24, 2013
LED ZEPPLIN II
I had to call my good friend in Dallas, Odie, and ask him which of all the great Led Zepplin albums was the most influential. Now mind you, Odie isn’t your run of the mill Classic Rock fan. He started as a touring drummer back in the 70’s, and then worked up the ladder of the record store business (kids, you probably don’t remember record stores!). After that, he worked for the biggest record labels of the day including CBS Records, Sony Records, and eventually as a VP for Universal Music. Odie knew many of the greatest artists through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. I could tell immediately that my Led Zepplin question challenged and intrigued my good friend, but he couldn’t come up with a quick answer. Our conversation lasted about 10 minutes, and by the end of the call, Odie had narrowed it down to either Led Zepplin II, or Led Zepplin IV. If I could give him 24 hours, he’d get back to me with his answer.
The next day, I received a succinct email. It said, “It’s almost a dead heat, but since I have to go with one, it would be Led Zepplin II”.
Several years after the release of “LZ II”, Robert Plant reminisced about the importance of the album at that point of the band’s career by saying:
“Led Zep II was very virile. That was the album that was going to dictate whether or not we had the staying power and the capacity to stimulate. It was still blues-based but it was a much more carnal approach to the music and quite flamboyant. It was created on the run between hotel rooms and the GTO’s, and that was quite something”.
A little "Rambling" to listen to as you read
Led Zepplin’s sophomore effort was literally produced on the fly. Most of 1969 saw the band touring the US and Europe in support of their debut LP, and the songs for “II” were mainly written in hotel rooms, backstage, buses, and planes. Many of the riffs and licks that guitarist Jimmy Page developed came from extended jams and improvisation that was taking place on their tours that year. Because of their hectic schedule, much of the recording took place wherever they happened to be at the time. Many of the songs were pieced together from one studio to the next, and the band recorded the album in London, Los Angeles, Memphis, New York, and an underequipped studio in Vancouver that they nicknamed “The Hut”. Jimmy Page received all the production credits, but this album also saw a prolific and productive working relationship with new engineer Eddie Kramer, who had been producing the Jimi Hendrix sessions. The results were a very raw, stripped down, blues driven rock, but “Led Zep II” was the breakthrough that would clearly establish the band as one of the best ever. It is still considered Zepplin’s heaviest rock album, and has also been called the “template” sound for future heavy rock acts.
The album starts off with one of rock’s most famous songs, “Whole Lotta Love”. Page’s simple, raw guitar intro is still considered one of the top rock guitar riffs ever written. The spacey, drawn-out middle section is pure Page and engineer Kramer, who later said, "The famous ‘Whole Lotta Lov’e mix, where everything is going bananas, is a combination of Jimmy and myself just flying around on a small console twiddling every knob known to man."
Kramer also later said that although the album was recorded, “piece-meal”, and in, “cheap studios”, in the end it, “sounded bloody marvelous”. The album is known for a production quality that still sounds fresh today.
If Jimmy Page came of age as a producer with this album, then singer Plant also started to truly hone his unique vocal sound and startling range on these songs. “What Is and What Should Never Be”, and “Heartbreaker”, were great follow up songs on the LP, but the way that they have endured the test of time is amazing. The same can be said of, “Living, Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman)”, and “Ramble On”, each of which are played, copied, and repeated every day all over the world. I played “Ramble On” in bands for many years, and with different arrangements. It is one of my all time favorite Zepplin tunes, as I love the wonderful acoustic intro and versus, which then transition to a John Bonham driven bombastic electric chorus.
Led Zepplin was the definitive “riff driven” band that just keeps getting better with time. “Led Zep II”, was the stripped down, raw and hard bluesy album where the band really took off in popularity and put them into worldwide prominence. The album went to number one in both the US and the UK, and has been a best seller ever since it’s release in October of 1968. Odie told me to sit down and listen to the whole thing again, and it still sounds great! Future Zepplin albums became a little more adventurous, but few of them had the direct sound and impact of their second effort. “LZ II” just might be Zepplin’s best– at least until I write my next review on “Led Zepplin IV”!
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
The Doobie Brothers
The Captain and Me
The Doobie Brothers had two distinctive lives. Initially, it was the Tom Johnston period. After 1976, the band morphed into the Michael McDonald era.
The Doobies initially rose out of San Jose, California in the early 70’s as a hard driving but sweetly melodic guitar band that honed its chops playing clubs in the South Bay. Led by Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons, the Doobies had a perfect blend of grit and sweetness. It’s the early period of the Doobies that I fell in love with. When Tom Johnston had to leave the band during a tour in 1975 due to health reasons, the addition of singer and keyboardist Michael McDonald changed the sound of the band dramatically. While very successful in terms of record sales, the new direction alienated me. It became much too commercial, slick, and “pop rock” driven. While I can certainly respect the talent of Michael McDonald, I’m going to risk the ire of many readers by admitting that I just never got into the Doobie Brothers after McDonald became the driving force. The early Doobie Brothers were a gritty, guitar driven rock band. The Michael McDonald Doobies became a “keyboard, hits driven” polished outfit that didn’t interest me.
“The Captain and Me”, was the Doobies third studio album that was released in 1973, and it still holds up as one of the better rock albums from an American band in the 70’s. 1973 was also the early beginnings of “AOR” (Album Oriented Rock). Radio stations in the early seventies began to start playing songs deep into albums, and not just a single or two from the album. They were a distinctly American band, with straightforward, hard rocking songs, to bluesy jams, mixed with a southern rock influence. The sound of, “The Captain and Me” was distinctive and one of my favorite albums as a young listener. I rate “The Captain and Me”, and the follow up album in 1974, “What Were Once Vices are Now Habits”, as the two best Doobie Brothers albums that were produced by the group. Both albums show a great depth of songwriting and the material is strong throughout both albums, from start to finish.
The album was recorded at Warner Bros studios in 1972 and 1973, with famed producer Ted Templeman at the helm. Many of the tunes originally came from jams and old bits and pieces that Johnston or Simmons had developed over the last few years. One of Tom Johnston's songs, "Osborn", had been an improvisational piece that the band played live. After laying down the track, according to producer Ted Templeman. "We still really didn't have it, and I said, 'Make it about a train, since you have this thing about "Miss Lucy down along the track."’ So he came up with Long Train Runnin'."
The third track, “China Grove”, is a straight forward, three-chord guitar driven song that has now become one of the most played classic rock songs in history. It is still at the top of classic playlists to this day. The pure simplicity of the song is clear, but the result is dynamic, and seems to always bring a smile to your face when you first hear the raw, opening power chord riff. Pure, simple, and classic! Another similar hard rocking song influenced by Johnston is, “Without You”.
Now, for those of you who still remember the experience of LP’s, you also remember how wonderful it was to listen to side one, then actually have to remove the stylus, and turn the record over to then listen to side 2. It made the experience of listening to music interactive and involved the listener in the process. I love iTunes, but it is sad to reflect what we’ve lost, and why music meant more to previous music generations than today. Digital music is much more “disposable” to consumers today. But before I digress too far into the evolution of music over the last 40 years, the reason I bring all of this up is because, “Without You” was the perfect hard rocking song that kicked off side 2 of the LP. It signaled, “get ready, cause the rest of this album is going to kick some ass”! Tom Johnston stated, "It was kind of a tribute to ‘The Who’. We did it in concert for quite a while." Listen to it, it “totally rocks, dudes”!
“The Captain and Me” is littered with fantastic acoustic numbers, many highlighting the great guitar playing and styles of Patrick Simmons. “Clear as the Driven Snow,”, and “Ukiah” fit this description, with lilting, but intense acoustic lines interspersed with a tinge of acoustic southern rock. “Dark Eyed Cajun Woman” was a bluesy number by Johnston that was a tribute to B.B. King, and “South City Midnight Lady” featured, as a special guest, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter of Steely Dan. He would become a full time member of the Doobies by the next album.
Early Doobie Brothers recordings are a must for the classic collector. They still sound great today, so make it part of your collection. Take it from a Winger Brother -
(But I recommend only pre-1976 Doobies!).