Most of you know what a Steely Dan fan I am (I commonly cite
Becker and Fagen and my favorite musicians after John, Paul,
George and Ringo). This particular record could well be considered
an extension of the Steely Dan sound, though there are subtle
differences brought about by the absence of Walter Becker. Yet,
the sound bridges the gap between 1980's "Gaucho" and 2000's
"Two Against Nature," connecting those two works nicely. Despite
its comfortable place and similarity to Fagen's group work, this is
a different kind of album. A concept work that ranks among the
best, he had this to say in the unusually brief liner notes:
"The songs on this album represent certain fantasies that might
have been entertained by a young man growing up in the remote
suburbs of a northeastern city during the late fifties and early
sixties, i.e., one of my general height, weight and build."
With that, Fagen takes the listener on a journey through his youth, one that will be a fanciful delight to Baby-Boomers, and one that evokes the nostalgia, paranoia, and excitement of those times to everyone else.
The music is stellar - not surprising to fans of Steely Dan. Fagen continues to smoothly blend jazz and pop in such a way to make the extremely complex sound warm and inviting.
Song highlights on this masterpiece include:
"I.G.Y." - A "futuristic" look into 1976 from a persepctive of 20 years earlier. The horn sound on this song drives it, with the listener instantly drawn to the smooth, silky melodies - as usual, you marvel at the music for a long time before ever even noticing the lyrics.
"The Nightfly" - A lonely DJ on a jazz radio station takes calls and sends the sounds out into the night "With jazz and conversation from the foot of Mt. Belzoni." A classic.
"The New Frontier" - Ever hear a happy song about a fallout shelter? The naivety of the times when America would survive all-out nuclear holocaust by getting in those little holes in the ground (not alone in this case!) is amusingly presented in this classic tune.
"The Goodbye Look" - A song that sounds clever and is - though you're never really sure if it is about a relationship breakup or the revolution in Cuba. Then again, maybe those two things aren't that different and that's his point. Regardless, you'll be singing along quickly with this one. "Won't you pour me a Cuban Breeze, Gretchen?"
"Maxine" - A great ballad featuring a great sax solo, this is a great song for relaxing and reflecting, especially for those, and there were many in those days, who sought to begin their lives together but were deemed too young. So the singer and Maxine ignore that all - just like the rest of us did.
"Walk Between the Raindrops" - Miami. Rain. Love. And a song unlike any other in the Dan catalog. An upbeat change of pace from Fagen, whom we would not hear from again for 11 years.
I realize I left off only two songs from the record in this list, and I easily could have included those two as well. It is just a fantastic listen for fans of the genre, and those not afraid to step outside the realm of the mainstream. If mainstream is your cup of tea, this probably isn't for you. You likely won't "get it." But if you are a Dan fan, if you like jazz both tradiional and contemporary, and you enjoy fantastic musical arrangements, then "The Nightfly" is a dream come true.
This album is also available in DVD-A format, which I need to get. I have the DVD-A of Gaucho, and it is just fantastic, bringing the sounds of "Hey Nineteen," "Babylon Sisters," and "Time Out of Mind" to DTS 5.1 surround sound - a real treat. I reccommend it.
It would be difficult to write something about this record that hasn't
already been written before. When it came out, it was (correctly)
hailed as the Beatles' masterpiece. It represented the culmination
of the creatinve processes the boys had explored on "Rubber Soul."
Nothing but good things are ever said about "Revolver," yet the
Beatles would improve on it with their next release ("Sgt. Pepper...")
and again at the end of their career with "Abbey Road."
This album presents the world with a Beatles sound most impacted
by Paul McCartney. Until this time, John Lennon had been the
predominant influence behind the direction the group took, and was
considered the unofficial "leader" of the band. But with this release,
Lennon slipped into a lesser role (whether by decision or because
of his own overindulgence in drugs is difficult to say -- by the time of
"Pepper," all four of the Beatles were heavily taking LSD, but the
trend remained constant, with Paul being far anad away the driving
influence, so I attribute this less to the impact of drugs and more to
other issues in Lennon's professional life, where he was trying to emerge from his self-proclaimed "fat Elvis" period).
Though it is McCartney who becomes the group's main creative force, it is Lennon's songs that stand out as the most unique and unusual. His "Tomorrow Never Knows," a whirling feature of tape loops, sounds, and drumming, is one of the most ground-breaking songs the group recorded. For the first time, an album track was about expression, not just music. Whether you like the song or not, its placement here was a signal that the Beatles could now expand their musical horizons and go anywhere they pleased. Without this song, we might never have seen a Sgt. Pepper.
Lennon's other masterpiece closes out side one of the album, "She Said She Said." It is a startling composition. Harrison's dead-on, driving guitars, mixed to the right channel and played in an Indian style, mix well with Starr's outstanding drumming on the left channel. It is at this point in the group's career that McCartney's bass also begins to be mixed more in the "American" style, pushing it to the front of the mix and tightening up the track. The subject matter of the song explores birth, death, and the journey in between the two. Just when the song is in danger of pushing too hard, Lennon steps back, changes the meter, and recalls his youth ("when I was a boy...") Lennon is credited with all vocals, but Harrison's voice, clearly evident in the background at times, lends an even more acerbic tone to the whole matter. This is most startling and exciting track on "Revolver."
John also added "I'm Only Sleeping" as well as "And Your Bird Can Sing" to this album. The former, his ode to staying in bed all day, is a lush experiment in sounds and new ideas. Its most outstanding feature, an innovative backwards guitar solo, was actually written out by hand and recorded backwards taking several hours to master - it is another of Harrison's finest moments with the group. "Bird," a song later panned by Lennon himself, is my favortie track on "Revolver." Its driving guitar riff rocks along in a superior way to other riff-driven songs by the band ("Day Tripper"). Harrison remembered it fondly when the CD's were released in the mid 1980's:
"Listening to the compact discs, there are some really good things, like 'And Your Bird Can Sing,; where I think it was Paul and me, or maybe John and me, playing in harmony -- quite a complicated little line that goes right through the middle-eight."
Lennon's final contribution is the classic "Dr. Robert." It never ceases to amaze me the Beatles songs that are said to be about drugs. Songs that are NOT about drugs, such as "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," are often cited, while a song like this one is ignored. If there is a first Rock song specifically about drugs, both legal and illegal, this is it. But for some reason, no one payed any attention to it at the time - probably because the public lremained, for the most part, blissfully unaware that the Beatles were engaging in the taking of drugs. This would change rapidly as time went by, of course. Lennon plays with timing and phrasing on the verses to give the track a spontaneous, edgy feel.
George Harrison opens the album with his social commentary, "Taxman." One of his strongest Beatles tracks, Harrison constructs a song that turns into a solid group effort. The rhythm section must have sounded amazing coming out of the phonograph on first listen - and still amazes me with its effortless complexity. The bass is innovative, the drumming, stellar. And McCartney, not Harrison, invents a biting guitar solo mixed so far to the right channel that it shocks the listener, screaming out in anger at the "Taxman." This is a wonderful song, perhaps the group's best start to an album.
Harrison's other songs on the record (he gets an unprecedented three on this album, perhaps a sign of Lennon's relative lethargy of the time) include his first Indian themed composition "Love You To" and the psychedelic-anticipation song "I Want to Tell You." The former, featuring no other Beatles, anticipates the guitar style he'll use on "She Said She Said," though his later "The Inner LIght" would be a better song in this style. If there is anything that makes this album a period piece, it is these two songs - not that this is a bad thing.
Paul McCartney starts his work on the record with the chilling "Eleanor Rigby." Most pop songs weren't about death, sadness, and lonliness in the 1960's. As such, this strings-driven tune must have been a remarkable listen, one to go back and hear again and again. It is by far the most haunting on the album.
Paul's ballads "Here, There, and Everywhere" and "For No One" demonstrate his ability to step back and craft melodies and create emotion. They are among his strongest of this genre, and give the listener a softness at just the right moments - when the subject matter and style of the record threaten to take the hearer too far. Yet the amazing thing is they do not break the tone of the record. Yes, they are ballads among rockers, but the songs, especially "For No One" leave the listener feeling sad, not romantic. McCartney fools the listener by changing the sound of the album, but seizing his mind by placing sadness and forlorn within the lovely.
But it is his "Good Day Sunshine" and "Got to Get You Into My LIfe" that leap out from his work on this collection of classics. The first is a pleasant diversion from the forboding, dark overtones of the album as a whole -- it doesn't seem to fit, yet the album would incomplete without it. As he brings us to "Got to Get...," McCartney tries Motown and ends up with a song unlike anything the Beatles had ever done. Its excessive horn arrangement (the first on a Beatles record) and heavy drumming make it one of the most celebrated of Paul's songs with the group. It is a great listen - and even Lennon thought so, offering up this (typically backhanded) compliment:
"I think that was one of his best songs, too, because the lyrics are good and I didn't write them."
Placed in the middle of all this is Ringo's showcase, "Yellow Submarine," -- one that was the most fun to record of the whole bunch. (Listen to some of the "Anthology" outtakes of this track, and you'll hear what I mean.) John and Paul work together to write a kids song here, nothing more. And Ringo milks it for all it is worth. Only a really cynical individual would refuse to enjoy it.
The package was finished off with bassist and Beatle friend Klaus Voorman's creating one of the most memorable sleeves in rock history. Voorman, who later played with Lennon during his early solo career, won a Grammy for the effort. Just like this great collection of music was later to be outdone by the group, this classic cover was also improved on with the same two records: "Pepper" and "Abbey Road, " the latter of which is unquestionably the finest album cover in music history.
But today, pull out "Revolver" and have a listen. It will surprise you with its freshness and remind you what a wonderful band the Beatles were, a fact often lost in the "phenomenon" they had become.
-J. Best 11/13/2003
Long After Dark (***1/2)
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - 1982
Having already cited the Beatles and Steely Dan as my two favorite
bands, it is time to add a third to my list. Tom Petty and the
Heartbreakers have been a favorite for years. I first went to see
Petty in Dallas in 1991 and have returned four other times since.
These guys rock on the records, and are tight as a drum live. You
cannot see a better rock concert today then these guys, who have
been perfecting their craft for some thirty years.
I have been spinning this disk lately, but not because it is one of
Petty's best. In fact, their eponymous 1976 debut, 1979's Damn the
Torpedoes, 1981's Hard Promises, 1989's Full Moon Fever, 1994's
Wildflowers, and 1999's Echo are all better albums. Nevertheless,
this page is about what's currently in heavy rotation, not about
which albums are best.
With this 1982 release, we get a couple of Petty classics and some
concert-favorite album tracks. One of TP's talents is of course
writing the angry song about a woman. We get his best one of this
genre here with "You Got Lucky," a song that only a few people could pull off without sounding silly, singing words like, "You got lucky, baby, when I found you." Petty sounds confident and defiant, where others would sound more like they were thrying to convince themselves.
The album starts off, however, with the little-known "One Story Town," a song that really embodies the sound of the Heartbreakers in the late 1970's and early 1980s. Eventually he gets around to concert favorite "Straight Into Darkness," mixing in "Deliver Me," and "The Same Old You," along the way.
The best moment, however, is song #4, a very catchy rocker called "Change of Heart." Heavy in the concert rotation of late, this is one of many hidden gems in TP's catalog. It is everything the Heartbreakers are about. Driving guitars fuel along the sound, Petty's vocals sneer across the stereo, and the backing vocals keep things just light enough to keep it from all exploding. It is one of my very favorite tracks. "There's been a change of heart / you pushed just a little to far / made it just little too hard / There's been a change of heart."
Maybe only true fans would own this CD, and I would reccommend the others I mentioned to those looking to acquire their first from TP/HB. But we at OOB are true Petty disciples, and this is just another great CD from thirty years of music excellence.
Here are some classic albums that stay in the rotation. They are a sampling of OOB favorites that just scratch the surface of what runs through the CD player. If you don't own these records, get them. Immediately. They are absolute requirements for the true rock music fan.
Saturate Before Using (*****)
Jackson Browne - 1972
Running on Empty (****1/2)
Jackson Browne - 1977
How different from one another are these two albums. The first is
perhaps the finest debut album by any artist in history. The
second is a more more commerically friendly but nonethless as
enjoyable concept album about life on the road "live."
On his debut, a 23 year-old Browne sounds worn well beyond his
years. The arrangements are deceptively sparse, his voice
cautiously optimistic, and his lyrics, well, simply beyond the grasp
of anyone this age I have ever known. And what sounds like a
pleasant entry into the singer-songwriter genre actually is a
disguised set of songs about shocking topics for 1972. Browne
quietly and deftly sings about suicide, depression, and drug use,
all of which are countered by an underlying theme of hope and
Song highlights include the stellar opener, "Jamaica Say You
Will," an all-time classic in "Doctor My Eyes," and the
wonderful "Rock Me on the Water." It's best to just put this one
on and listen straight through -- a great experience to be sure.
While "Saturate" is universally praised, opinions are more
diverse on Browne's 1977 effort. For most people, it is either
their favorite or most hated. Neither is accurate.
While it bears little resemblance to his previous 4 efforts, this is
nevertheless a very good record. Not as even as the others, yet
charming. Far less poignant, but honest just the same. Calm has
faded into weariness here, but the idea is fresh enough to pull off a
"Running on Empty" is a classic rock radio staple. "The Road" is
contemplative, and you can lose yourself in it's melody alone.
"Rosie" is another entry in the underground rock sub-genre of
songs about, well, "Rosie." (If you don'r know, don't ask). The
harmonies are great. "You Love the Thuinder" is too catchy the
first time through not to like. Browne's buddy Glenn Frey helps out on "Cocaine," which will make even the grumpiest listener giggle along. And there's a personal favorite of mine, the Danny Kortchmar-written "Shaky Town." (Songs by others on a "singer-songwriter" record? Yes, and that's one "problem" people have with this work.) The album ends with a medly of the Browne song "The Load-Out," a tribute to the roadies running with him "for that minimum wage," and "Stay," an odd choice for inclusion, but a good ending for the project.
The most interesting part of getting reacquainted with this album came when I heard "Nothing But Time," which sounds more like a Little Feat song than just about anything I have heard outside of the original band itself. It is a spot-on impersonation of Lowell George. Imagine my surprise when I read that it is actually the song before that, "Love Needs a Heart," that was co-written by George. Once you know that, it too sounds like a Lowell George song, only in a much less obvious and more subtle way. It is a very nice ballad, but I cannot help but this think Browne is inserting his own little joke by placing his best impression of George right after a song written by George himself. It is fascinating to me, as a fan of both artists.
This record may not be as solid as "Saturate Before Using," but it is just as enjoyable a listen.
Bud Selig, respected commissioner of Major League Baseball.
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