September 13 – It Would Have Been A ‘Crime’ If This One Didn’t Get Noticed

Third time was the charm for Supertramp. After a couple of difficult-to-digest albums that flopped commercially, they got it right with their third album, Crime of the Century, which came out this day in 1974.

Needless to say, they’d had time to work out the kinks in their musical vision between albums. This came over three years after their almost-forgotten second one, Indelibly Stamped, and in the meantime, they’d added a new bassist (Dougie Thompson), drummer (Bob Seibenberg) and perhaps most importantly a horn player, John Helliwell, who helped shape their sound and add color to their stage show from thereonin. That said, as always, the band was a shared concept of Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, who collectively wrote dozens of songs in their downtime. The band ended up recording 42 tracks for the record, only eight of which made the final cut, although a few were later reworked and added to later albums. Although they tended to each write songs by themselves, the credit was shared equally just as the Beatles had done with the Lennon/McCartney partnership. Lead vocals were shared as well, with four songs each on Crime… being done by Hodgson and Davies.

With only eight used out of 42, there’s little wonder it was quite a strong collection. True to their prog rock labeling, the album still ran over 44 minutes, with three of the songs running well past six minutes.

Although they technically only issued one single from it, and it was only a modest seller, many of the tracks found a home on FM rock stations and remain “classic rock” staples to this day, among them “Bloody Well Right”, “School”, “Dreamer” and the “Hide In Your Shell.” They were fan faves too; no coincidence six of the eight songs made their way onto the band’s live album, Paris.

Although it wasn’t a concept album, it did look a lot at the loneliness of growing up and school life frequently. For instance, both “Bloody Well Right” (a Davies song) and “School” (by Hodgson) were rebukes of what they felt was a failing British educational system. It was probably still fresh in their memories; Roger’s at least. Hodgson was 24 at the time; Davies was already just turned 30. Hodgson said about “Hide in Your Shell”, “I wrote that when I was 23, confused about life…I’ve always been able to express my innermost feelings more openly in song.”

Rolling Stone graded it 3-stars while the Village Voice gave it a middling review, calling them “Queen without (the) preening, Yes without pianistics and meter shifts.” Later on, allmusic gave it 4-stars, calling it when they “came into their own” despite calling them “snarky collegiate elitists, an art rock variation of Steely Dan”.

They issued a two-sided single, so to speak, off it, “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right.” In the U.S., the latter was the A-side and gave them their first top 40 hit, in Europe, “Dreamer” got the radio love and made it to #13 at home and #6 in Germany. Overall, the album made it into the top 5 in Britain, Canada and Germany, going gold in the UK and U.S., platinum in New Zealand …but diamond status in Canada! They always had a curious special appeal in Canada, and although it took til after Breakfast In America also went diamond in 1979, it was one of the first records ever to hit that plateau in the Great White North. It also was a rarity in being an album, by a foreign act, that sold far more physical copies in Canada than the much larger U.S.

The album was of high sound quality too, needless to say, being co-produced by Ken Scott, an engineer for several Beatles albums under George Martin. Fittingly, A&M issued it as an enhanced “Audio Master Plus” version of CD in 1984.

August 27 – Alan & Eric Tipped Their Caps To The Fairer Sex

A couple of guys coming up with a feminist statement record? Well, close to it seems. The Alan Parsons Project put out their fourth album, Eve, on this day in 1979 and like many of their works, it was something of a concept album, even if a little loosely aligned. Alan had begun the work with an idea of writing songs about the greatest women through history, but eventually he and writing partner Eric Woolfson created a nine-song set designed to honor women and acknowledge some of the troubles they face in society.

As was typical of Parsons’ work, there was no one lead singer. In fact, he utilized six different ones for the eight songs with vocals. Included were regulars David Paton (ex of Pilot) and Lenny Zakatek – who took the mic for the album’s main hit, “Damned if I Do” – but there was also Lesley Duncan, and on “Don’t Hold Back”, Clare Torry, whom Parsons knew from her striking shriek-singing on Dark Side of the Moon, which he engineered for Pink Floyd. Paton, Ian Bairnson, Duncan MacKay and Woolfson comprised the main core of the band, and this time, Alan himself didn’t play on the record, only producing and mixing it. Many people are surprised to find that no matter which APP song they listen to, they’re not hearing Parsons sing. Also typical of Parsons work, it fell somewhere between prog rock and straight-ahead pop in sound (Prog Archives compare him to the Moody Blues), fitting for a man who was instrumental in getting greats from both Pink Floyd and the Beatles completed.

The record won mixed reviews overall, although it didn’t seem to get terribly much attention at all. Allmusic is correct when they describe it as “somewhat overlooked.”

Rolling Stone (2-stars) and the Village Voice (“D”) both panned it, but in Britain, Smash Hits gave it 8 out of 10… a curious reversal of its commercial fate. Later on, both allmusic and Album of the Year graded it as 4-stars. The former liked how it “involves some of the group’s most intricate songs” and state “gems include…the bitter but forceful ‘Damned if I Do’, the gorgeous ‘You Won’t Be There’ and the dominating fury of ‘Lucifer’”.

Two of those would go on to become hits, albeit on different sides of the ocean. The strident instrumental ‘Lucifer’ was a Euro-hit, notably in Germany, where it got to #8. Over here, “Damned if I Do” got to #16 in Canada and #27 in the U.S. Overall, the album did OK, being their first top 10 hit in Canada and New Zealand and reaching #13 in the States. It was actually a #1 hit in Germany, where they’d eventually score four. As usual though, the Brits didn’t warm to it and it stalled at #74 there.

Curiously, Eve was the only one of their records to be put out on 8-track tape, as well as LP and cassette. And although it took over 30 years, it finally came out on CD in 2011, with five added tracks, although they were all demos or alternate versions of songs on the original release.

August 20 – An ‘Empire’ Built On Prog Foundations And Metal

An album that made a band an overnight sensation… after a decade and three previous albums. People learned how to pronounce Queensryche this day in 1990, or soon after, as that’s when they put out their biggest album, Empire.

Queensryche were an unusual sort of band that had begun in Washington state a full decade earlier. As allmusic note, they work “drawing equally from guitar pyrotechnics and art rock.” Basically, it you like the big, artsy sounds of ’70s Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes as well as the in yer’ face rock of the ’80s Scorpions and Quiet Riot, Queensryche could be the band for you! They’d signed to EMI Records early in the ’80s, after changing their name. They’d originally gone by The Mob, but management wanted that changed, so they opted to co-opt one of their early songs for a name – “Queen of the Reich” became Queensryche. They changed the spelling of the second part to reduce the chance of being considered Nazi sympathists and added an accent – the dotted “umlaut” – over the “Y”, which they say “has haunted us for years. We spent 11 years trying to explain how to pronounce it.”

They didn’t have to try that often perhaps during the ’80s, since although they had a loyal fanbase, they never really connected on a big scale or had a legitimate hit record. This album would change that.

Like many Seattle acts, they headed across the border to Vancouver to record, and they got producer Peter Collins back to work with them. He’d worked on their previous release, Operation Mindcrime, and made a name for himself working on several records for another prog rock/hard rock crossover act, Rush.

Guitarist Chris Degarmo was the main writer for the 11 song, 63-minute effort, but singer Geoff Tate and guitarist Michael Wilton also took part. When it came out, it didn’t really jump out at most people as being a surefire hit or radio fodder…except for one song that almost didn’t make it on – “Silent Lucidity”.

The song many people figured sounded more like Pink Floyd than recent Pink Floyd had, was an elegant, orchestral piece about lucid dreaming (where one is aware of being in a dream while having it.) Degarmo wrote it but Tate says “I love that song. I think it’s a beautiful, beautiful piece.” However, producer Collins didn’t like it initially and lobbied to have it cut. That was in its original, acoustic guitar and vocals version. But the band liked it, and decided to bring in Michael Kamen and an orchestra to fatten up the sound for it, even drawing on a piece of Brahms classical music for it. Apparently it was worth the effort. The song alone got nominated for two Grammy Awards, and put the band on the musical map.

Other than that, the album was rather uneven in sound, but rooted in longer songs. Two topped seven minutes and only two clocked in just under five. Reaction was mixed. Rolling Stone gave it 3.5-stars but Entertainment Weekly reluctantly graded it “D”, calling it “tuneless bombast” by “relentless killjoys.” Later on, Record Collector gave it a middling 3-stars, and allmusic 4.5. The former praised it for being “intelligent, subtle and immaculately played” and for singer Geoff Tate “at his best throughout.” but they did suggest the album was “more progressive” than its predecessors making it “pleasant…also a little boring.” Allmusic liked that they seemed a little less “involved with the darker side of love,” and thought the love songs like “Another Rainy Night” and “Hand on Heart” were noteworthy, as was “Silent Lucidity.”

The album took awhile to take off, but eventually did thanks to the popularity of “Silent Lucidity” on FM rock stations. That one ended up being a #1 rock hit and top 10 single overall in the States and Canada (just missing it at #11 In New Zealand but failing to crack to top 40 in Australia). That was followed up by two more rock radio successes, “Jet City Woman” and “Another Rainy Night.” The album slowly lifted itself to #7 at home, and the top 20 in the UK, Canada, Norway and several other countries. At triple-platinum, it’s by far their biggest seller to date…but not for lack of trying. Since Empire, they’ve put out 11 more studio albums with another scheduled to drop this fall, featuring the new single “In Extremis”.

December 30 – EL&P Truly A Product Of The ’70s

They were the quintessential ’70s prog rock group – for good or bad – so perhaps it shouldn’t have been a surprise when they called it quits with the decade itself. Emerson, Lake & Palmer officially broke up on this day in 1979.

The British trio of keyboardist Keith Emerson, drummer Carl Palmer and singer/bassist Greg Lake formed around the beginning of the decade with the concept of creating music that blended the length and depth of classical music with the energy, instruments and lyrics of rock. They were in the words of allmusic, “the original prog rock supergroup”. Through the ’70s, they put out seven studio albums, one of which, Tarkus, hit #1 in their home of the UK. All seven went gold in the States, as did a couple of live albums – not a surprise since their reputation was built largely on their complex and extravagant concerts. All that without a real “hit single”… although “Lucky Man” did make the Canadian and German top 30 and got considerable radio on the growing American FM rock market in the ’70s. At the height of their popularity, they were headlining world tours and playing for as many as 78 000 fans on a night (as was the case in Montreal in 1977.)

However, they were becoming a bit bored and their seventh studio album, Love Beach, didn’t do well in comparison to previous works. That, according to Palmer was because it was produced just to fulfill their contractual obligation to Atlantic Records…never a good formula for success. They’d lost money on the previous tour, “Works”, which was supposed to be 120 shows but ended up culled by about 100! They took along a full orchestra for that one, which drove costs up, and tensions as well, as it was apparently Emerson’s desire against the wishes of the other two.

Palmer says “we had been together roughly eight, eight-and-a-half years. We’d made a lot of albums, and we’d toured a lot. We hadn’t really started families, except for Keith… so we wanted some time (apart) – we didn’t fall out, no fights, nothing like that. It just ended.”

End it did, although like lots of other groups of the era, they did reunite in the ’90s after about a dozen years apart. In the decade between, Emerson did some movie soundtrack work and he and Lake briefly formed the similar and similar-sounding Emerson, Lake & Powell with drummer Cozy Powell replacing Palmer. He also toured in 1990 with a short-lived act called The Best, which also included Joe Walsh, Skunk Baxter and John Entwistle. Carl Palmer went on to brief but big stardom with Asia, which Lake also joined very briefly (not being present on their smash debut record.)

Sadly of the three only Carl Palmer is still with us; Emerson and Lake both passed away in 2016.

October 21 – Kansas Carried On Towards The Top

It seemed like a fluke. It was the right song at the right time.” That applies to many hit records that made a career, but in this case it was guitarist Rich Williams of Kansas talking about the surprise success of “Carry on Wayward Son,” the single that vaulted them into the national spotlight in 1976. It was on Leftoverture, their fourth album, which came out this day 45 years ago.

Kansas, as allmusic put it, started out “fusing the complexity of British prog-rock with an American heartland sound.” Through their first three albums – and about three years of non-stop touring – they’d built up a decent following and sold tickets well but had lacked any real presence on radio or in the mainstream pop market. Leftoverture would change that, and quickly.

They recorded it in Louisiana, “in the middle of a swamp.” Singer Steve Walsh had done a fair bit of their writing in the past, but had writer’s block, leaving the task almost entirely to multi-instrumentalist Kerry Livgren to pen the new record. That he did, being the main writer on all eight of the songs and doing five of them all by himself. They didn’t arrive with much of it ready, recalls producer Jeff Glixman, who’s worked on seven of their studio albums to this point (plus live ones and remastered re-releases.) “Kerry was writing like a madman during the time we were in rehearsals,” he says.

Among the most notable of songs is the album’s finisher, “Magnum Opus” which runs over eight minutes and is actually a bit of a medley of six brief songs, rather like the Beatles “Abbey Road Medley” had been. Among the improbable titles of the parts of “Magnum Opus” are “Father Padilla Meets the Perfect Gnat” and “Release the beavers.” Apparently it consisted of bits and pieces of songs they’d not quite finished or fleshed out, put together. They were originally going to title the song “Leftoverture”, due to its nature of being “leftovers” making one “overture” but they changed their mind but salvaged that name for the entire album. Then as oft seems the case in music, they had seven songs done but needed just a bit more to complete the album…thankfully. Enter Livgren again, who brought in “Carry on Wayward Son” at the last moment.

It’s an autobiographical song…I’ve always been on a spiritual sojourn, looking for truth and meaning,” he reflected later, “it was a song of self-encouragement.” And it was done on the fly, since time was running out to finish. “The version you hear is probably the first time we played it correctly,” he told Ultimate Classic Rock.

When it arrived, late in the Bicentennial year, critics were of differing opinions. Rolling Stone called it their “best album to date,” a record that “warrants Kansas a spot right alongside Boston and Styx as one of the fresh, new American bands which combine hard-driving group instrumentation with short, tight melody lines and pleasant singing.” Robert Christgau of the Village Voice, however, graded it just “D+” comparing it too European prog rock without as much intelligence. Years later, allmusic would grade it decently – 3.5-stars – although considering it an “impenetrable conundrum” saved only by “Wayward Son”, “the greatest song Kansas ever cut” but “never manage to rival it anywhere.”

The masses agreed. Although the second single, “What’s on My Mind” flopped (not even charting in fact), “Carry on Wayward Son” was a huge FM hit and did respectably well on AM hit radio. It got to #11 at home, #5 in Canada and by now is 4X platinum as a single in the U.S. That pushed the album to #5 (#2 in Canada) and at 5X platinum, it’s not only Kansas’ most successful, it’s the biggest-selling album ever on Don Kirshner’s private Kirshner Records label.

Wayward or not, Kansas have carried on to this day, putting out 13 more new albums since Leftoverture

October 14 – Germany Signaled Heroic Change For Bowie

With his ever-changing looks and eclectic artistic leanings, David Bowie became a hero to many. And on this day in 1977, he introduced us to his “Heroes” – that is to say, his album, entitled that. It was his 12th studio album, and the middle one of his so-called “Berlin Trilogy.”

That set of albums of course, came out of the time in the late-’70s Bowie had moved to Germany for a couple of years, escaping his previous home, L.A. “Life in L.A. had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. I had approached the brink of drug-induced calamity one too many times and it was essential to take some sort of positive action,” he said later. That positive action turned out to be moving to the West Germany. “The city was cheap and it guaranteed anonymity,” journalist Sophie Harris explained as to his reasoning.

Going with him was equally eclectic musician Eno. The first record they did together there was Low with the British hit “Sound and Vision.” For this one they brought in guitarist Robert Fripp, of King Crimson to add a bit of edge but continued on with their mixing of styles and influences, recording in an old studio located only yards away from the Berlin Wall (which of course still divided the city and land – this was still at the height of the Cold War.)

The wall was partly the inspiration for the title track, loosely about a couple of lovers separated by it but meeting there. “A perfect expression of romantic defiance,” in the words of Harris. The rest of the album merged Eno’s tendencies towards atmospheric, ambient electronic music and Bowie’s glam rock with several dark instrumentals like “Neukolln” and “Sense of Doubt.” It was all interesting, ground-breaking and perhaps a bit ironic long before Generation Irony took over. Bowie explained that he used quotation marks on the title because he thought it ironic how the word “heroes” was bandied about in society.

RCA realized it could be a bit difficult to market properly. They ran ads saying “There’s old wave, there’s new wave. And there’s David Bowie.” Basically, critics noticed and loved the record. The public ignored it, or yawned if they did come across it. The title track was the first single, and despite how much a staple of “classic rock” radio it has become, at the time wasn’t a major hit. It rose to #24 in the UK and didn’t even chart in North America. Eventually it was certified gold in Britain, but not until his death had spurred on renewed interest in his career this decade. The album itself got to #3 in the UK but only #35 in the U.S., the lowest peak for any of his albums since 1971. Even in Germany, where it was birthed, it attracted little attention, going to #44, even with Bowie issuing a version that included some songs in German.

The few reviews at the time seemed positive, but the album’s stature has grown significantly through the years. Of late, Pitchfork gave it a perfect 10, declaring it “showed all the signs of an artist growing up. Part Little Richard boogie, part Krautrock… the unlikely stylistic combination (of Bowie and Eno) hints at man’s evolution with technology, while throwing off sparks of sweat.” Entertainment Weekly, looking back at his career upon his death in 2016 rated the record “A”, calling it “art rock… thickly layered songs that subtly reflect the rise of punk’s existential angst.” Allmusic grade it a perfect 5-stars, particularly liking Fripp’s added guitars and describing the results as “challenging and ground-breaking.” Which, we might add, could be a description of the man himself.

October 10 – Rock Progressed Into New Territory

If you like your rock “dramatic and doom-laden”, to quote Wikipedia, it was your day in 1969. That was when perhaps the ultimate Prog Rock band made their entrance – King Crimson with their debut record, In the Court of the Crimson King.

King Crimson was a group which had only formed within the year, but had built up a huge following almost overnight… something aided by opening for the Rolling Stones at a huge London concert that summer. The quintet were more or less led by guitarist Robert Fripp, who wanted to big classical music sounds with rock instruments and experimental sounds and songs. Michael Giles played drums, there was Pete Sinfield whose only roles were writing lyrics and helping produce the album, but the real standouts that “made” the King Crimson sound were bassist and lead singer Greg Lake (soon to be part of Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and Ian MacDonald, who was a played flutes, sax, and was a master of pretty much anything with keys, including piano, organ, and most notably, the mellotron. The complex keyboard with the distinctive sound had been used by the Beatles in songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever” and readily by the Moody blues, but King Crimson took it to another level, building much of their sound around it. Getting the record made for Island Records was a complicated procedure. They used a state-of-the-art studio, with 8-track recording, but so complicated was the music that many of the songs had five layers of tape, or about 40 separate tracks mixed in. Despite that, there were problems with the equipment, and originally some of the high end treble didn’t come through. The band has remixed it several times since to correct that to their satisfaction.

In the Court of The Crimson King had pretty much all the characteristics that would soon define “prog rock” – complex, lengthy songs (the album had just five songs, all running over six minutes) with confusing lyrics, mighty arrangements, plenty of over-dubbing and, also importantly, an odd artsy cover. In this case, it was a painting called “Schizoid Man”, which inspired the song “21st Century Schizoid Man” on it. Fripp would end up buying the original art. “What can one add? It reflects the music!” he says.

Side 2 of the LP was devoted to just two songs – “Moon Child” and the title track. A couple of years later Sinfield said “kids write and say ‘I don’t understand your lyrics. Who is the Crimson King?’”. He didn’t answer but we do know the song was musically based loosely on a Barber classical piece entitled “Essay for Orchestra”, and lyrically it poetically rails against the Vietnam War, with references to things like napalm. Some of the band did suggest it was a dig at American Vice President Spiro Agnew, but as with most art, the meanings probably best lie in the minds of those appreciating it.

In the Court of the Crimson king” was actually released as a single, but didn’t fare well sales-wise. It hit #80 in the States, and that was its best showing. Perhaps that was partly because you had to flip the single over in the middle of the song. It was so long they split it and had it start on the a-side and end on the b-side. Besides, the loyal fans were buying the entire LP. It hit #5 in their British homeland and #7 in Australia. It barely cracked the top 30 in North America, but it stayed popular long enough to hit gold in the U.S. and UK and platinum in Canada. While they have neared that level of success at times with their subsequent dozen albums, they never topped this entry for critical praise.

At the time, not many reviews seemed to be written, or at least archived. Rolling Stone did though, noting it “combines aspects of many musical forms to create a surreal work of force and originality.” Through the years though, the record’s stature has grown. Pitchfork, Mojo and allmusic all have given it perfect scores. The former called it a “monument” and referenced the Moody Blues, Brian Wilson and Pink Floyd by way of comparison. Allmusic consider it “one of the most daring debut albums ever recorded” and Greg Lake’s vocals to be the best of his career. In 2015, Rolling Stone ranked it as the second-greatest Progressive Rock album ever, behind only Dark Side of the Moon. Among its many fans was Peter Gabriel. He told reporters in the ’70s that Genesis “thought they were just magnificent! (They were) doing the same kind of things we were doing, but so much bigger, better.”

September 12 – So, Which One Was ‘Pink’?

Well they got their wish- and didn’t recognize him! Pink Floyd put out their excellent Wish You Were Here on this day in 1975, loosely an homage to their former band-mate Syd Barrett.

Syd actually showed up in the studio one day, and at first the band didn’t recognize the suddenly overweight and bald, odd man. He had taken to eating a lot of pork chops, and liked the demo of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” although he showed no signs of recognition of the subject matter being himself. Roger Waters recalled crying, saying “Syd sat ’round and talked for a bit, but wasn’t really there.” It was the last any of the band saw of him.

As for the follow-up to Dark Side Of the Moon, it was at the time often considered a disappointment and although it hit #1 in the U.S. and UK (and sold 6X platinum in the U.S.) it was considered a slight commercial misstep as well. Hard to imagine that, given that it was certified gold in the U.S. after only five days and set a record at the time for pre-orders. The album is not your typical rock record. It consists of only three songs, sandwiched by one long, 32 minute piece which is broken in half. Essentially it’s a thematic homage to their former bandmate, Barrett and at the same time a bashing of the music business (Blender would later note “Waters bitches beautifully, biting the hand that feeds him.”) David Gilmour sang lead on “Wish You Were Here” and “Welcome to the Machine”, Waters took the mic for the sprawling “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” while they recruited their friend Roy Harper to take lead on “Have A Cigar.” That track, mocking the glib, condescending industry types, was the only single released off Wish You Were Here, and even that, only in selected countries. (It was a top 20 hit in France for instance, but not released as a 7” vinyl in North America.)

Despite – or because of – the massive success they’d had with Dark Side of the Moon it wasn’t an overly happy time for ‘Floyd. Alan Parsons, who’d been so instrumental in the studio for their last album had declined to work on this one, being busy with his own new band. Instead, a new engineer was brought in to Abbey Road and had some technical difficulties including erasing some of the tapes, requiring re-recording. Drummer Nick Mason had a “sense of apathy,” according to David Gilmour, who noted that he wasn’t in an ideal mindset either. “All your childhood dreams had been sort of realized. We had the biggest-selling record in the world…the girls and the money, the fame. You had to reassess what you were in it for. (It was) sort of an empty time.” Perhaps it’s remarkable it turned out as well as it did.

Part of that apparently also comes back to Gilmour, who thought Dark Side‘s songs didn’t get the basic concept over well enough, so this time “I thought we should work harder marrying the idea to the vehicle that connects it.” Time has treated the record well. Rolling Stone, which at the time called it “lackadasical” and suggested the songs might as well have been about Waters’ brother-in-law getting a parking ticket, would later give it a perfect 5-star rating and Q in 1998 ranked it the 34th greatest album ever. David Gilmour has called it his favorite album of the Floyd’s catalog. 

September 11 – E.L.O.’s New World

Blending together two different styles of music can be risky – does anyone want “country rap”?- but can create something rather impressive if done right. Steely Dan worked towards mixing rock with jazz and became one of the defining groups of the ’70s, another one of those set out with the goal of mixing “classical overtones and instruments” into straight-ahead pop/rock. And for the most part, the Electric Light Orchestra, ELO for short, succeeded. They had a big day on this day in 1976 with the release of their sixth studio album, A New World Record. (In parts of the world, their listeners at home in Britain had to wait til November to get it,)

While A New World Record was the fifth album in less than four years for the Birmingham group, in their case it seemed practice made perfect. By this time the group was clearly a vehicle for Jeff Lynne’s musical vision and ambition, with co-founder Roy Wood long gone and Lynne writing all the songs and producing the record, as well as being the singer and playing a variety of guitars and keyboards on it. Indicative of quite an ego, perhaps, but even more, indicative of a huge musical talent!

Critics generally thought ELO had got it right this time with this one. Melody Maker noted that Lynne started the band with an idea to “merge the excitement and colour of rock and roll with the clean lines of classical” and decided this was “the closest (they) have come to realizing it.” They added that the band, which had prior only had middling success in the UK needed more recognition. “It’s time their standing was properly acknowledged at home”, they declared, something mirrored by the NME which added that it was “a very ambitious album, possibly the most sophisticated the band has put out.” On this side of the ocean, New York’s Robert Christgau said he’d changed his mind about ELO, liking the record which he figured showed “they’ve made a Moody Blues album with brains”.

Fans agreed. The Beatlesque album took the band to new heights, largely on the strength of two international hit singles – “Livin’ Thing” and “Telephone Line” and a third in North America, the rocker “Do Ya?” “Livin’ Thing”, which Lynne says was about a loss of love in general, not an anti-abortion or anti-suicide tome, hit #4 in the UK, best for any of their singles to that point. It also got to #8 in Canada and #13 in the U.S. “Telephone Line” got them their first U.S. gold single and went to #1 in Canada, their first chart-topper anywhere. In all, A New World Record went on to be their first top 10 album at home, to #5 in the U.S. where it was their first platinum album and was a #1 hit in Canada where it went double platinum.

While the glory continued for ELO for a couple more years, creativity and popularity lagged in the ’80s and they wrapped it up in 1986, with Lynne going to work in the Traveling Wilburys supergroup before re-starting ELO a couple of times this century.

July 14 – ‘Surely’ This Band Would Go On To Do Super Things

Yesterday we talked about the inauspicious debut album from a British prog rock band with big intentions who’d eventually go on to be worldwide superstars : Queen. Today we talk about the inauspicious debut from a British prog rock band with big intentions who’d eventually go on to be worldwide superstars : Supertramp. They put out their first album, in most places released as a self-titled one, on this day in 1970. If you’re a completist, you might want to look around online or when you travel to find a copy of it with the title And I’m Not Like Other or Surely, names used in a few European and Asian countries.

Supertramp had been formed about a year earlier by keyboardist/songwriter Rick Davies, who’d joined up with multi-talented singer Roger Hodgson. They brought in a couple of other players, drummer Robert Millar and guitarist Richard Palmer and quickly got signed to A&M Records. Although Palmer and Millar wouldn’t last long in the band (this was the only LP they appeared on), the duo of Davies and Hodgson were the core which propelled Supertramp to superstardom later in the decade and into the ’80s. Palmer’s tenure with the band was brief, but he certainly contributed in a big way on this record, penning all the lyrics. The music was then composed collectively by all the band. On disc, the standout was Hodgson though, with his distinctive voice being the main identifying characteristic of the band through the years. He sang lead on all but two of the tracks, with Davies taking “Shadow Song” and Palmer himself doing “Maybe I’m a Beggar.” Hodgson also played guitar, bass and even cello in places.

A&M let them produce the record themselves and the resultant 10 song, 48 minute album showed a lot of talent…but a lot of overblown, far-reaching prog rock excesses. One thing that did vary was the song length; “Surely” comes in under one minute while the monolithic “Try Again” logs in over 12.

Whether by design or simple pragmatism, A&M never released a single from the album, which didn’t lend itself to getting the release widely-heard. Perhaps not the worst thing as they were a few years away from seemingly being able to create short, hook-laden radio-friendly tunes. However, they did play live a fair bit that year, including the popular and influential Isle of Wight Festival. Even the band itself soon wearied of it. “It was very naïve,” Hodgson would later say of their first record, “but it has a good mood to it.” Good mood or not, they almost never played any of the songs live again after 1974.

A few publications, mostly in their homeland, noticed it and reviewed it, with so-so reactions. The Daily Express perhaps were most positive, calling them “a group of promising musicians” and the album “more melodic than most discs which pass under the label ‘progressive pop’”. Years later, allmusic would grade it 2-stars, pointing out this was “quite a bit different than their (later) radio presence” and complimenting the songwriting, which they felt “was going to be one of the band’s strengths.” However, the album didn’t sit that well with them due to being “inundated with pretentious instrumental meandering”.

The lack of a single, lack of a star profile for the band at the time and perhaps “pretentious” and overblown at times prog rock songs meant it might have had its fans…had they known about it. It failed to chart at home or elsewhere, although in Canada, where they’ve always been surprisingly popular, it would eventually sell enough to go gold (or better), as did their first nine studio albums, a live one and two “best of” compilations. Globally, the ‘Tramp would have to wait through one more comparative flop before hitting the bigtime in 1974 with Crime of the Century and its hits “Dreamer” and “Bloody Well Right.”