While the Beatles still largely stuck to love songs on Rubber Soul, the lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities. Musically, too, it was a substantial leap forward, with intricate folk-rock arrangements that reflected the increasing influence of Dylan and the Byrds. The group and George Martin were also beginning to expand the conventional instrumental parameters of the rock group, using a sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown),” Greek-like guitar lines on “Michelle” and “Girl,” fuzz bass on “Think for Yourself,” and a piano made to sound like a harpsichord on the instrumental break of “In My Life.” While John and Paul were beginning to carve separate songwriting identities at this point, the album is full of great tunes, from “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and “Michelle” to “Girl,” “I’m Looking Through You,” “You Won’t See Me,” “Drive My Car,” and “Nowhere Man” (the last of which was the first Beatle song to move beyond romantic themes entirely). George Harrison was also developing into a fine songwriter with his two contributions, “Think for Yourself” and the Byrds-ish “If I Needed Someone.”
Equinox produced Styx’s first single with A&M, the highly spirited “Lorelei,” which found its way to number 27 on the charts. Although it was the only song to chart from Equinox, the album itself is a benchmark in the band’s career since it includes an instrumental nature reminiscent of their early progressive years, yet hints toward a more commercial-sounding future in its lyrics. “Light Up” is a brilliant display of keyboard bubbliness, with De Young’s vocals in full bloom, while “Lonely Child” and “Suite Madame Blue” show tighter songwriting and a slight drift toward radio amicability. Still harboring their synthesizer-led dramatics alongside Dennis De Young’s exaggerated vocal approach, the material on Equinox was a firm precursor of what was to come . After Equinox, guitarist John Curulewski parted ways with the band, replaced by Tommy Shaw, who debuted on 1976’s Crystal Ball album.
The band themselves were displeased with this record, feeling that the production did not capture their on-stage energy and excitement. Yet to most ears, this debut sounds pretty great, featuring some of their most melodic and accomplished songwriting and harmonies, delivered with a hard-rocking punch. “For What It’s Worth” was the hit single, but there are several other equally stunning treasures. Stephen Stills’ “Go and Say Goodbye” was a pioneering country-rock fusion; his “Sit Down I Think I Love You” was the band at their poppiest and most early Beatlesque; and his “Everybody’s Wrong” and “Pay the Price” were tough rockers. Although Neil Young has only two lead vocals on the record (Richie Furay sang three other Young compositions), he’s already a songwriter of great talent and enigmatic lyricism, particularly on “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” “Out of My Mind,” and “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong.” The entire album bursts with thrilling guitar and vocal interplay, with a bright exuberance that would tone down considerably by their second record. [A 1997 CD reissue presents both mono and stereo mixes of the album, and includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me” (which was on the first pressing of the record, but was soon replaced by “For What It’s Worth”).]
Patricia Lee “Patti” Smith (born December 30, 1946) is an American singer-songwriter, poet and visual artist, who became a highly influential component of the New York City punk rock movement with her 1975 debut album Horses.
Called the “Godmother of Punk”, her work was a fusion of rock and poetry. Smith’s most widely known song is “Because the Night”, which was co-written with Bruce Springsteen and reached number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1978. In 2005, Patti Smith was named a Commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2007, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On November 17, 2010, she won the National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids. She is also a recipient of the 2011 Polar Music Prize.
Jeffrey “Jeff” Lynne (born 30 December 1947) is an English songwriter, composer, arranger, singer, multi-instrumentalist and record producer who gained fame as the leader and sole constant member of Electric Light Orchestra. He was later a co-founder and member of the Traveling Wilburys together with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. Lynne has produced recordings for artists such as the Beatles, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Randy Newman, Roy Orbison, Dave Edmunds, Del Shannon and Tom Petty. He has co-written songs with Petty and also with George Harrison, whose 1987 album Cloud Nine was co-produced by Lynne and Harrison. Among the many compositions to his credit are such well-known hits as “Livin’ Thing”, “Evil Woman”, “Turn to Stone”, “Do Ya”, “Strange Magic”, “Sweet Talkin’ Woman”, “Telephone Line”, “Mr. Blue Sky”, “Hold on Tight”, “Don’t Bring Me Down”, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Free Fallin'”, “Handle with Care” and “End of the Line”.
Off the Wall was a massive success, spawning four Top Ten hits (two of them number ones), but nothing could have prepared Michael Jackson for Thriller. Nobody could have prepared anybody for the success of Thriller, since the magnitude of its success was simply unimaginable — an album that sold 40 million copies in its initial chart run, with seven of its nine tracks reaching the Top Ten (for the record, the terrific “Baby Be Mine” and the pretty good ballad “The Lady in My Life” are not like the others). This was a record that had something for everybody, building on the basic blueprint of Off the Wall by adding harder funk, hard rock, softer ballads, and smoother soul — expanding the approach to have something for every audience. That alone would have given the album a good shot at a huge audience, but it also arrived precisely when MTV was reaching its ascendancy, and Jackson helped the network by being not just its first superstar, but first black star as much as the network helped him. This all would have made it a success (and its success, in turn, served as a new standard for success), but it stayed on the charts, turning out singles, for nearly two years because it was really, really good. True, it wasn’t as tight as Off the Wall — and the ridiculous, late-night house-of-horrors title track is the prime culprit, arriving in the middle of the record and sucking out its momentum — but those one or two cuts don’t detract from a phenomenal set of music. It’s calculated, to be sure, but the chutzpah of those calculations (before this, nobody would even have thought to bring in metal virtuoso Eddie Van Halen to play on a disco cut) is outdone by their success. This is where a song as gentle and lovely as “Human Nature” coexists comfortably with the tough, scared “Beat It,” the sweet schmaltz of the Paul McCartney duet “The Girl Is Mine,” and the frizzy funk of “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing).” And, although this is an undeniably fun record, the paranoia is already creeping in, manifesting itself in the record’s two best songs: “Billie Jean,” where a woman claims Michael is the father of her child, and the delirious “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” the freshest funk on the album, but the most claustrophobic, scariest track Jackson ever recorded. These give the record its anchor and are part of the reason why the record is more than just a phenomenon. The other reason, of course, is that much of this is just simply great music.