Greatest Hits (1993) (Tom Petty)

The First Anthology Of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Will Always An Excellent Introduction To Their Music. One Of The "New" Tracks ("Mary Jane's Last Dance") Became A True Staple.

The First Album That Anthologized Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Work, "Greatest Hits" (1993) Will Always Remain An Excellent Introduction To Their Music On The Whole. One Of The "New" Tracks ("Mary Jane's Last Dance") Was To Became A True Staple In Its Own Right.

Tom Petty’s very first retrospective, “Greatest Hits” (1993) would become one of his best-selling albums ever. It included all the seminal tracks he recorded both with the Heartbreakers and as a solo artist. These include “American Girl” and “Breakdown” from the debut, the four best tracks from the breakthrough album “Damn The Torpedoes” (Refugee”, “Here Comes My Girl”, “Even The Losers” and the ultra-successful “Don’t Do Me Like That” – is it me, or it has been slightly remixed?) and the sole hit from “Southern Accents”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. It also has two of his best ‘80s tracks in the shape of “The Waiting” and the synth-soaked “You Got Lucky”.

Finally, “Learning To Fly” and “Into The Great Wide Open” come from “Into The Great Wide Open” (1991) and the three best cuts from Petty’s only solo album up to that point (“Full Moon Fever”, 1989) are featured (“I Won’t Back Down”, “Running Down A Dream” and the dizzying “Free Falling”). Continue reading

Into The Great Wide Open (Tom Petty) – Album Review

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers 8th Album, "Into The Great Wide Open" Was Also The Final Record They Cut For MCA. Jeff Lynne Produced It.

"Into The Great Wide Open" Was The Final Record Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Cut For MCA. Jeff Lynne Produced It.

Some albums can have a very limited tonal palette and still manage to convey emotions with such vividness and diversity that you can but be amazed at the level of craftsmanship displayed by their composers.  “Into The Great Wide Open” is an album that certainly brings that to mind. Produced by Jeff Lynne, it was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers eight album overall, and the last they would release for MCA Records.

The year was 1991, and the partnership with Lynne made a lot of sense – not only did Tom and Jeff get along like a house on fire, Lynne had helmed the praiseworthy “Full Moon Fever” just three years before.

In terms of sound, “Into The Great Wide Open” recalls not only Petty’s first solo album but also The Traveling Wilburys’ entire oeuvre with its mix of contemporary motifs and a shiny roots rock feel. That was an inevitable point of comparison, and one of the main criticisms leveled at the album – that it was nothing but “Full Moon Fever 2”,and that the production undermined the message.

The first part of that argument did hold its own, and Petty knew as much (this was the last album Lynne produced for him). But I find the second part patently untrue. Petty did never touch upon his endemic themes with such accuracy, vitality and grace.

The first single was to top the Mainstream Rock Charts for six weeks. Named “Learning To Fly”, it has become one of Petty’s trademark songs, and the one song of his that everybody knows down where I live (Uruguay). That is a good thing – the song is one of the catchiest within his repertoire. And thematically, it has all the basic ingredients that Petty is known to combine at his most emblematic- a lyric where hopelessness is turned in its head by the mere resolution of the protagonist to hold onto something that he actually knows is not there. But it will be there one day. Until that day comes, it is a matter of going up and down.

And several songs showcase a development in Petty’s typical cast of characters that one can help but feel, “At last, it all comes full circle”. I am speaking about “King’s Highway”, where the promise of a better day becomes engraved in time by the courage of the narrator to believe the force of his will. And the song “Two Gunslingers” has two gunfighters (IE, two slaves to a brutal form of entertainment) breaking out of their given roles, with one of them pronouncing “I’m takin’ control of my life” so many times that what ends up mattering is the life that is begotten, and not the onslaught that we (as the listeners) know had preceded that moment. Continue reading

Full Moon Fever (Tom Petty) – Album Review

"Full Moon Fever" Was Tom Petty's Debut. It Came Out In 1989, And It Yielded Three it Singles.

"Full Moon Fever" Was Tom Petty's Solo Debut. It Came Out In 1989, And It Yielded Three Hit Singles.

An immensely accomplished record, “Full Moon Fever” was Tom Petty’s first solo album. It was released in 1989, right after The Traveling Wilburys’ beloved debut. Jeff Lynne was to helm Petty’s record, and both Harrison and Orbison would lend their talents too. That was the reason many pronounced “Full Moon Fever” the “true” continuation to “The Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1”, and they also took the fact the next recording issued by the Wilburys was called Volume 3 at face value.

Well, that is always something which could (and will) be disputed and counter-disputed till the rivers all run dry. But everybody will always agree on something: Petty came up with a wondrous record from start to finish.

Five tracks were released as singles, and three of them have become staples of classic rock stations: “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream”. “Free Fallin’” is a dexterous study on growing up, with somehow childish verses at the beginning that eventually give way to a sudden, mature conclusion in a way that is beautifully startling.

On the other hand, “I Won’t back Down” is as cocky as its tile suggests, and it is the one cut to which George Harrison added backing vocals. The song was to be covered by Johnny Cash for his third American album, “Solitary Man”.

Finally, “Runnin’ Down A Dream” rocks and swings in equal measures, showcasing Petty’s influences in a distinct way. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” references Del Shannon in the first verse, and the song that is mentioned (“Runaway”) was actually covered by The Traveling Wilburys. It is now found on every remastered edition of the “The Traveling Wilburys – Vol. 3”. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” was written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne along with Mike Campbell. Campbell also got together with Petty to compose “Love Is A Long Road”, a song that fully recalls the sound of Petty’s combo. Yet, the production by Lynne gives it a sheen of its own, and the song was rightfully issued as a single. Continue reading

The Band (Album Review)

The Band's Eponymous Record Is Also Known As "The Brown Album"

The Band's Eponymous Record Is Also Known As "The Brown Album"

One year after releasing a debut album that made them the talk among musicians everywhere, The Band was to release an album that would also made them the talk among the buying public. The year was 1969, and their eponymous disc was to produce their only top 30 hit in the US (“Up On Cripple Creek”), while the record also featured the successful European single “Rag Mama Rag”.

It is easy to see what the hoopla was all about. The group had crafted a quasi-conceptual album about Americana in which different characters came alive in songs where the history of the country was revised time and again, and a clear debt was paid to genres like ragtime, blues, gospel and (most of all) country.

That was specially palpable in compositions such as “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)”. “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” centered on the end of the Civil War, and its aftermath was seen through the eyes of different characters. A verse that mentioned Abraham Lincoln was not used – Robertson (the composer of the song) was advised to leave that out by Helm, the one American member of the band and a southerner at that – he hailed from Arkansas.  I already posted the best live version of the song available as part of The Band’s general introduction, and what I would like to share with you now is the most famous cover of the song. The artist is no other than Joan Baez. Here you have the video:

Sharing this video is important since it truly brought the song to a wider audience in the same way that Smith’s cover of “The Weight” (featured on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack) became as popular as the original version itself. Continue reading

The Band – General Introduction

The Band: Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson & Rick Danko

The Band: Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson & Rick Danko

There were not that many performers whose beginning was as shrouded in mystery as that of The Band. They were known as Bob Dylan’s backing group during his early electric tours, and they were in fact the ones backing the master onstage during the infamous “Judas!” incident. They issued their first album in 1968 (“Music From Big Pink”), and the cover illustration was actually done by Dylan. After the album was issued, they gave no interviews. And a twist of fate dictated that they were not to perform live for some time since one of their members (Rick Danko) was involved in a car accident that left him out of business for a couple of months.

One of their most popular songs, from “Music From Big Pink”:

Gradually, the mystery was lifted and what we found was an ensemble of musicians that redefined the concept of collectiveness, and the idea of a performing unit taken as a whole. Their second, eponymous album was a major step forward. Released in 1969, it is now regarded as a seminal work in the history of Rock & Roll.

Upon its release, everybody knew who they were and the way they operated. The names of the five members of The Band were on the lips of everybody within the scene and the industry: Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson. With the exception of Robertson, everybody could play multiple instruments. Three members also handled lead vocals: Manuel, Danko and Helm. Still, Manuel is traditionally considered “the” lead singer of the group.

Epochal songs dealing with American themes (like “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”) constituted the backbone of that breakthrough album, and that was all the more remarkable since all of them (except for Helm) were Canadians.

The albums that succeeded had The Band gradually expanding their sound by approaching producers like Todd Rundgren, and working on elaborate arrangements with New Orleans musician Allen Toussaint among others. And their penultimate record together (“Northern Lights – Southern Cross”) offered a truly updated sound thanks to the addition of synthesizers into the mix.

The Band Performing Live At "The Last Waltz" Concert

The Band Performing Live At "The Last Waltz" Concert

As good as they were, those albums began showcasing some strains and rivalries within the group, as Robertson emerged as an authoritative figure – he took the credit for most of their compositions, and that caused serious problems in the long run, with other members accusing him of claiming authorship of what was essentially a collective effort. Robertson would be the first member to quit – his last performance with The Band was on the famed concert movie “The Last Waltz” in 1978. Continue reading

Pack Up The Plantation: Live! (Tom Petty) – Album Review

“Pack Up The Plantation” Was The First Live Album By Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It Came Out In 1986.

“Pack Up The Plantation” Was The First Live Album Ever By Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. It Came Out In 1986.

Southern Accents” proved so contentious that less than one year after its release Petty and The Heartbreakers issued their first live album, as if they were to exorcise the previous offering from their systems and prove to fans and critics alike that they could still rock like they meant it.

The album was to be named “Pack Up The Plantation”, and many different configurations exist. To begin with, we have the original LP/Cassette release that was accompanied by a live VHS in which some songs were added, all of them good (specially “Don’t Do Me Like That” from “Damn The Torpedoes” and “Don’t Come Around Here No More” from the previous record). The original album (which was a double LP) was repackaged as a single CD that had a different running order and which dropped two tracks: “You Got Lucky” (a great loss) and “I Need To Know”.

Still, the album in any incarnation is a lot of fun. The “Southern Accents” contingent feels more endemic to the band thanks to the rawness that any live setting provides, and “Rebels” in particular is a showstopper.

As it is the case with live albums, some songs have different arrangements – the most noticeable is “The Waiting”, rendered solitarily by Tom until the band thunders in during the middle eight. Elsewhere, “Breakdown” is stretched quite a bit, and the part where Petty starts an adlib that degenerates into an almost babble is amusing, even when it doesn’t precisely make the song any better. Continue reading

In Time: The Best of R.E.M 1988 – 2003

In Spite Of Some Omissions Like "Shiny Happy People" & "Drive" This Compliation Portrays The Band At The Peak Of Their Hit-making Powers

In Spite Of Some Omissions Like "Shiny Happy People" & "Drive" This Compliation Portrays The Band At The Peak Of Their Hit-making Powers

R.E.M. became an unstoppable force during their stay at Warner. This single disc compiles most of their ineluctable hits along with some rarities and previously unreleased tracks to keep collectors entertained.

All of their Warner albums are featured; “Automatic For The People” is the one that has more tracks in (4 in total), whereas the least represented discs are “Out Of Time” and “Monster” (only one track each – “Losing My Religion” and “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” respectively). And the remaining discs (“Green”, “Up”, “Reveal” and “New Adventures in Hi Fi”) are summarized in two songs per album.

Even someone who isn’t that well-versed on their catalog will spot some omissions that are bitter to swallow. Both “Shiny Happy People” (“Out Of Time”) and “Drive” (“Automatic For The People”) have been excluded. “Shiny Happy People” might be one of the stupidest songs since the dawn of time, but it was their one and only Top 5 hit both in America and in Europe. The band has professed its deep abhorrence for the song. Fair enough. But Radiohead does not omit “Creep” on anthologies, no matter how much they grew to detest it.   Continue reading

Green (REM) – Album Review

The cover of “Green” (R.E.M’s major label debut) is meant to be stared at for a while. Then, if you close your eyes the negative image you will see will be all green. I must admit it never worked out like that for me. Who knows, maybe you need the assistance of a Mr. Tambourine Man for the trick to be done!

The cover of “Green” (R.E.M’s major label debut) is meant to be stared at for a while. Then, if you close your eyes the negative image you will see will be all green. I must admit it never worked out like that for me. Who knows, maybe you need the assistance of a Mr. Tambourine Man for the trick to be done!

Transition albums necessarily fall into any of two categories. They either capture an artist in a completely unsure frame, or they convey a graceful broadening of horizons that results in a mixture of old and new sounds in a way seeming entirely natural.

I seem to believe that most transition albums fall in the former category, whereas I can count on one hand those who do deliver something as enticing as what the artist always has to offer. One of the few examples of “successful” transition albums to me is XTC’s “English Settlement”, an album that I find so intoxicating that I have listened to it a trillion times, and will have to do so a trillion times more before feeling I am capable of expressing its every nuance.

And right besides that album by the unique British art rockers I have to place “Green”, the first album R.E.M was to release for Warner. The year was 1988, and the band had signed with the major record label looking for broader promotion. By that point they had the right qualifications, of course – hits like “The One I Love” and “It’s the End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” were just the tip of the iceberg.

“Green” was to mark a series of firsts for the band. To begin with, three songs were to feature Buck’s mandolin prominently on the mix, and they all three worked more than fine, with the first of them (“You Are The Everything”) announcing a change of tack that was to led to an artistic renaissance for the Athens’ band. Secondly, Stipe changed his MO – he began writing songs in situ, as the others were throwing musical ideas around. Many songs’ lyrics were to have a cumulative effect such as the biting “I Remember California” in which Michael sings “I recall it wasn’t fair, recollect it wasn’t fair, remembering it wasn’t fair” in order to express bottled feeling with an unparalleled precision. The same approach was employed on “World Leader Pretend” (“I demand a rematch, decree a stalemate, I divine my deeper motives” – note the alliterations in both examples), and that is not counting the many enumerations are mirrored structures like the first line of every verse in “Pop Song 89”, an aptly-named tune that presaged some (far more radical) poppier moments that were to come such as “Shiny Happy People”. Continue reading

Grace (Jeff Buckley) – Album Review (Part 2)

Read the first part of the review here. It mostly revolves around “Hallelujah” and “Last Goodbye”.

Any person who has to analyze “Grace” will necessarily have to split the review in (at least) two parts, since both “Last Goodbye” and “Hallelujah” deserve a major treatment. As a matter of fact, a Guardian critic even stated that “Hallelujah” was positioning itself as the most discussed song ever in the history of music. Looks like I made an (involuntary) contribution in part 1 of the review.

But there are other things going on in Buckley’s debut, and while the two classics elevate the album the disc would fall after heightening pretty quickly if it weren’t for some songs that are found on the second side. The few songs I don’t think that much of are all segregated on the first side, after “Last Goodbye”.

The second side is far more cogent, as it has “Lover, You  Should’ve Come Over”, “Corpus Christi Carol”, “Dream Brother” and “Eternal Life”. “Lover You Should’ve Come Over” in particular is revered by fans, and a poll I came across recently did amaze me because it was voted the second best song on the album after a knock-out tournament that saw “Last Goodbye” dropped from the running order after the second bout. The song is easy to like, with its backing vocals that match the excellence of the lead. Along with “Mojo Pin” and “Dream Brother” it is the best exponent of the dream-like mood the disc creates. That mood is difficult to define, actually. You listen to these songs and your head sort of goes up in the clouds, but at the same time you couldn’t keep a foot more firmly planted on reality. It is the strangest ethereal sensation I have ever felt, and I think the appeal of Jeff’s music lies there – in some place between what is here and what lies somewhere else.

And what we have here and what lies beyond this life is the theme par excellence of the disc, of course. “Corpus Christi Carol” is one of the clearest examples, with Jeff singing the Middle English Rhyme about a falcon who takes the loved one of a singer away. The singer goes after the falcon, and then he arrives at a chamber in which his beloved lies next to a bleeding knight and a tomb with Christ’s body in it. It is hard not to notice that the Carol has seven stanzas (like the Deadly Sins), and that Christ name is used in the final one only. Continue reading

Grace (Jeff Buckley) – Album Review (Part 1)

Jeff Buckley's Debut, "Grace" Came Out In 1994. While The Original Reception Was Tepid At Best, It Would Eventually Sell Over Million Copies Worldwide.

"Grace" (Jeff Buckley's Debut Album) Came Out In 1994. While The Original Reception Was Tepid At Best, It Would Eventually Sell Over 2 Million Copies Worldwide.

“Grace” was to be Jeff Buckley’s one and only “proper” album. It was not that successful when it first came out (1994), but the early demise of Jeff brought a lot of notoriety to it – a notoriety that it actually deserved the first time around. The music is quite hard to classify, and that might have been the reason why the buying public was not that keen on it when it was released. The only was to describe Buckley’s music is by making a multiple reference, with the gentleman that defined his music as “folk/pop-rock with a slight Goth touch” coming near the mark. If that label is a bit hard to get around even today, imagine what it must have been like in the mid-90s when genres like Grunge were the order of the day. Jeff was clearly ahead of the curve.

The first track is not really a great song, but it is a great way to start the album with its alternation between dreams (as represented by the lulling verses) and reality (as portrayed in the increasingly-loud choruses). The disc on the whole has an incredibly oneiric quality, and that is why such a song works perfectly as an album opener. The song is left to interpretation, with Buckley himself having explicitly linked it to heroin at least once.

The album itself does not hit a high note until “Last Goodbye” comes around (track number 3). I have already talked about the song in the general introduction, and there is nothing to add except maybe saying that it captures the humanity of Jeff’s voice like nothing else. The song gained a lot of notoriety upon being used in Cameron Crowe’s film “Vanilla Sky”, too. I don’t know how many of you are aware that “Vanilla Sky” is actually a remake of a Spanish film named “Abre Los Ojos” – the Spanish version gets the nod when it comes to storytelling, but Crowe’s version (as you would imagine) is unbeatable musically. Continue reading