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Posts Tagged ‘Pink Floyd’

Most rock bands have one primary singer. Though other members might contribute background vocals, harmonies, or an off-beat album track, it’s somewhat unusual to see different vocalists in the lead role, on a consistent basis.  There are some bands that consistently featured two lead singers (e.g. Cream – Bruce/Clapton, Simon and Garfunkel, Styx – DeYoung/Shaw, The Cars – Ocasek/Orr), but few who exceeded that.  Even more uncommon is to see a band have a string of hit songs, featuring different lead vocalists.  The bands listed below have done just that.

  1. Chicago (Robert Lamm – “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, Terry Kath – “Colour My World”, Peter Cetera – “25 or 6 to 4”)
  2. The Doobie Brothers (Tom Johnston – “China Grove”, Patrick Simmons – “Black Water”, Michael McDonald – “Takin’ It to the Streets”)
  3. Pink Floyd (Roger Waters – “Another Brick in the Wall”, David Gilmour – “Money”, Richard Wright – some lead vocals on “Time”, Syd Barrett – “Astronomy Domine”)
  4. The Monkees (Micky Dolenz- “Last Train to Clarksville”, Davy Jones – “Daydream Believer”, Michael Nesmith – “Listen to the Band”)
  5. Jefferson Airplane/Starship (Grace Slick – “White Rabbit”, Marty Balin – “Miracles”, Mickey Thomas – “Jane”) Founding member Paul Kantner also sang lead on many of the groups popular album cuts.
  6. The Mama’s and the Papa’s (Though they almost always sang as an ensemble, you can find some lead vocals, like John Phillips – “California Dreamin”, Michelle Phillips – “Dedicated to the One I Love”, Cass Elliot – “Dream a Little Dream of Me”)
  7. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (Stephen Stills – “Woodstock”, Graham Nash – “Our House”, David Crosby – “Wooden Ships”, Neil Young – “Helpless”)
  8. Fleetwood Mac (Stevie Nicks – “Dreams”, Christie McVie – “You Make Loving Fun”, Lindsey Buckingham – “Go Your Own Way”, Peter Green – “Black Magic Woman”)
  9. The Eagles (Don Henley – “Hotel California”, Glenn Frey – “Tequila Sunrise”, Randy Meisner – “Take It to the Limit”, Joe Walsh – “In the City”, Timothy B. Schmit – “I Can’t Tell You Why”)
  10. The Beatles (Paul McCartney – “Yesterday”, John Lennon – “All You Need is Love”, George Harrison – “Something”, Ringo Starr – “Yellow Submarine”)
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1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin: Originally hired as a bassist for the popular English band, “The Yardbirds”, Jimmy Page eventually came to share guitar duties with the legendary Jeff Beck. But as the group began to unravel, Page attempted to put together a new lineup, and tour as, “The New Yardbirds”. Allegedly, John Entwistle of “The Who” joked that this new band was going to go down like a lead balloon, so when the original band members forbade Page to use the Yardbirds name, “Led Zeppelin” was born. Despite the bumpy transition, Led Zeppelin’s debut album was an immediate success, and went on to become a rock classic.
2. Achtung Baby – U2: From the band’s debut album, “Boy” (released in 1980) until their classic 1987 release, “The Joshua Tree”, U2 had experienced a steady rise in both artistic and commercial success. It wasn’t until the release of their 1988 documentary, “Rattle and Hum”, that the band received its first notable criticism, with some describing it as, “bombastic” and “overly pretentious”. Disillusioned by the music industry in general, and bored with what had become their signature sound, the group’s 1991 album, “Achtung Baby” was a radical departure in almost every way.
3. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson: The Jackson Five’s departure from Motown records in 1975 seemed to mark the end of an era. Though the group continued to tour and release records, their popularity steadily dwindled. Because Michael was the main songwriter, and focal point of the band, there was no reason to believe that a new solo record would do much to change that trend. But the 1979 release of the album, “Off the Wall” set off a new era of stardom for the singer that eventually eclipsed everything that had come before it. An artistic leap forward, it laid the foundation for the phenomenal “Thriller” album, which was released just a few years later, and went on to become the biggest selling album of all time.
4. 1984 – Van Halen: The years that followed the band’s spectacular 1978 debut release, “Van Halen”, found the group steadily touring and recording. And though it would be difficult to argue their ongoing success, it was hard not to notice the progressively declining quality of their albums. Despite its commercial success, longtime fans couldn’t help but be dismayed by the remake filled album, “Diver Down” from 1982. Given those factors, there was no reason to expect the stunning return to form that “1984” represented. On many levels it was the band’s most successful album.
5. A Momentary Lapse of Reason – Pink Floyd: For long time fans, it didn’t seem possible to make a legitimate Pink Floyd record without founding member Roger Waters. But guitarist David Gilmour and company did just that with this 1987 release. Though not necessarily ranked with their best work, this album was highly successful, and proved to be a credible addition to the bands enduring legacy.
6. Fleetwood Mac (1975) – Fleetwood Mac: By the time that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrived, “Fleetwood Mac” had already been a band for almost a decade, and had released nine albums. But the addition of these two distinctive artists radically changed the chemistry within the group, and propelled them to a whole new level of popularity. This album not only topped the chart, it sold over 5 million copies, and produced three big radio hits (i.e. Rhiannon, Over My Head, and Say You Love Me). More importantly, it set the stage for the group’s next album, “Rumours”, which went on to be one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
7. Infinity – Journey: Originally formed in 1973, the band was made up of veteran players from the San Francisco bay area; including Santana alum Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon. But after the groups first three albums failed to consistently connect with a sizeable audience, their record company recommended a change in direction, including the incorporation of another vocalist. This shift from a jazz/rock to pop/rock style, and the addition of Steve Perry’s striking vocals, proved to be a winning combination, as their 1978 release, “Infinity” went on to achieve platinum status, and set off a string of highly successful albums.
8. Back in Black – AC/DC: The death of lead singer, Bon Scott, seemed to signal the end for Australian rock outfit AC/DC. His charisma, and distinctive growl, were at the heart of the band’s sound, and looked to be irreplaceable. At that time, few could have anticipated the emergence of new singer Brian Johnson, and the release of what is arguably the bands most complete album.
9. Third Stage – Boston: Though not considered to be on a par with the band’s first two albums (i.e. 1976’s “Boston” and 1978’s “Don’t Look Back”), this album is notable for the eight year span that preceded it’s 1986 release. Multiple law suits, and techno-wiz/guitarist/producer Tom Scholz’s constant tinkering, led to the delay. Despite the gap, this album did manage to continue the bands string of multi-platinum success.
10. Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath: Considering that Ozzy Osbourne was the face, the voice, and ultimately the stage persona of the band, it seemed unlikely that the group could be successful without him. But when his rampant drug & alcohol abuse caused the band to “fire” him in 1979, they decided to regroup with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Surprisingly, this new lineup reinvigorated the band’s music, and was well-received by die hard Sabbath fans. It’s interesting to note that it was the daughter of the band’s manager, Don Arden who recommended Dio as Ozzy’s replacement, and that years later she (Sharon Arden) became Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne.

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I must clarify that I was not attempting to list the ten “most epic” songs of the rock era.  Indeed, there have been many more “epic” recordings than these; especially by art-rock bands like Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd.  Even bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles had more ambitious works than the ones I’ve listed here; but what makes these songs extraordinary is that they were able to stand on their own merit (in some cases apart from the concept albums that spawned them) and that they achieved a level of notoriety (including substantial radio airplay) that is rare for such intricate music.  Most of them are structured more like classical compositions than the standard three minute pop anthems that generally rule the airwaves and yet these songs still managed to carve a niche for themselves in pop music lore.

  1. Nights in White Satin – The Moody Blues:  Though the use of orchestration within pop music was nothing new, the Moody Blues took that element to a whole new level with their 1967 album “Days of Future Past”.  This song’s darkly poetic lyrics (which seem to tell a tale of unrequited love), combined with the dramatic epilogue of “Late Lament”, form the perfect match for the roiling symphonic waves of the musical accompaniment.  Considering the state of pop music in that era, it seems doubtful that many executives at their record label had this song pegged as a potential chart topper.
  2. Day in the Life – The Beatles:  Taken from the 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, this song was a defining moment in the Lennon/McCartney collaboration.  Part lament, part wry humor, part political commentary; it hinted at the ever expanding musical landscape the Beatles would go on to explore on 1968’s “The Beatles” (a.k.a. The White Album) and 1969’s “Abbey Road”.  It also created an appropriately grand finale to one of the greatest albums of the rock era.
  3. Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen:  Easily one of the most elaborate recordings of all time, there is no popular song from the rock and roll era that remotely resembles this classic from the 1975 album “A Night at the Opera”.  While each member of the group made invaluable contributions to the songs creation, it was first and foremost a reflection of the band’s enigmatic lead singer Freddie Mercury.  Like Mercury himself, the song is at once theatrical, frenetic, oddly humorous, tragic and ultimately unforgettable.
  4. American Pie – Don McLean:  While Don McLean’s folk balladry may seem out of place on a list of “epic” songs, it would be hard to deny that the intense cultural poetry of this classic doesn’t qualify.  While much has been made of McLean’s use of the phrase “the day the music died” (which is purportedly a reference to the plane crash that claimed the lives of rock pioneers Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper), that line is merely a thread in a much broader and richer tapestry.  Though the author has steadily refused to offer a literal interpretation of the song’s lyrics, their vivid imagery remains nonetheless profound and compelling.
  5. Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin:  Though Led Zeppelin is primarily thought of as a hard rock band, their music was just as much rooted in blues, folk, psychedelia and mysticism.  With virtuosic musicianship and Robert Plant’s otherworldly vocals, they seemed to effortlessly flow from genre to genre.  Several of those elements came together on this landmark track, as the song builds from is haunting intro to its exhilarating crescendo.  Like the band itself, there is little that could legitimately be compared to it.
  6. Jungleland – Bruce Springsteen:  This nine and a half minute opus, which creates the emotional centerpiece of the classic “Born to Run” album, takes the listener on an emotional journey like no other rock track.  At points hopeful, haunting, exhilarating, and ultimately heartbreaking, Bruce and his brilliant band create an unforgettable slice of rock opera.
  7. Roundabout – Yes:  When it comes to sheer musical ability, few bands could approach the incredible array of gifted musicians who’ve passed through the membership of the band “Yes”.  At the time this tune (from the 1971 album “Fragile”) was recorded, the group could rightly boast at least three of the finest players in rock music; Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass and Rick Wakeman on keyboards.  Their collective talent, combined with Jon Anderson’s distinctive high register vocals, made for a sound that pushed the boundaries of conventional rock.  Because of the dizzying intricacies of their music, it was likely the relatively fluid and lucid quality of this song that made it more palatable to the masses.
  8. Scarborough Fair / Canticle – Simon & Garfunkel:    Like Don McLean’s, “American Pie”, some might disagree with the application of the term “epic” to this arty folk song; but I would suggest that few songs from this period can boast such a lush and complex musical/vocal arrangement (especially within a standard 4:00 minute pop format).  With their voices seamlessly joined, they begin the old English folk song “Scarborough Fair” and then almost immediately begin trading leads to the delicate counterpoint of “Canticle”.  As the song builds, layer upon layer of vocals are weaved over a fabric of guitar and harpsichord.  Both beautiful and haunting, it is a great example of all that made this collaboration so memorable.
  9. Aqualung – Jethro Tull:  Despite a lack of radio-friendly singles, Ian Anderson and his band “Jethro Tull” have enjoyed a hugely successful career, that’s spanned five decades and resulted in records sales in excess of 50 million worldwide.  Anderson’s infamous theatrics, wry sense of humor, unique vocal style and deft musicianship have been at the core of that success.  In what is perhaps their best known song, from their most popular album, this entertaining portrait of the eccentric title character (Aqualung) is the perfect primer for those not familiar with the bands larger body of work.
  10. Us and Them – Pink Floyd: Few albums in the history of recorded music have been more successful than Pink Floyd’s 1973 release, “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which stayed on the charts for 15 consecutive years and has sold over 45 million copies worldwide.  Along with the classic “Money”, this song was one of two singles released from the album.  An unpredictable collage of David Gilmour’s ethereal vocals, Roger Waters manic lyrics, unexpected saxophone solo’s, choir filled choruses and a dazzling array of studio effects; it seemed to be an unlikely candidate for significant radio airplay and yet today stands as one of the bands most popular songs.

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1. Art Garfunkel (Simon & Garfunkel):  Undoubtedly Art Garfunkel possessed one of the most distinctive voices in popular music; but despite his moderate success as a solo artist, it was really his collaboration with Paul Simon that allowed his gifts to be fully realized. Simon’s amazing songwriting and his deft vocal interplay were the perfect vehicle for Garfunkel to shine. While Simon’s career continued to soar as a solo artist, Garfunkel never again scaled the heights he visited in this partnership.

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2. David Crosby (The Bryds, Crosby Stills Nash & Young):  Like Art Garfunkel, David Crosby possessed a truly unique and beautiful voice. Though he was also an able songwriter and musician, it was his collaborations with people like Roger McGuinn (The Byrds), Gene Clark (The Bryds), Graham Nash (The Hollies), Stephen Stills (Buffalo Springfield) and Neil Young that created a lasting impact.

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3. Eddie Van Halen (Van Halen):  Eddie Van Halen is not only a tremendous guitar player, but a multifaceted musician and the creative force behind the band “Van Halen”. Yet despite his ample talent, it is unlikely that he would have ever achieved the same level of success without finding someone to be the face and voice of his band. Needless to say, he found two of rock’s most memorable showmen in David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar.

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4. Freddie Mercury (Queen):  Almost the polar opposite of Eddie Van Halen, Freddie Mercury was a quintessential showman, in need of collaborators to create the proper setting to showcase his talent. He found that in Brian May and the other members of the band Queen. This highly underrated group of musicians provided an accessible context and added valuable substance to Mercury’s eccentric persona.

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5. Ric Ocasek (The Cars):  Undoubtedly the quirky pop genius of Ric Ocasek was the driving creative force behind the music of “The Cars”. And while it seems unlikely that they would have had been noticed without him, the band’s best work occurred when Elliot Easton’s edgy guitar and Benjamin Orr’s emotive vocals were allowed to balance out his off beat lyrics and synth-pop sensibilities.

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6. Dennis DeYoung (Styx):  Like Ric Ocasek of the Cars, Dennis DeYoung of the band “Styx” was the pop visionary behind their most successful music. His creative flourishes fueled the concept albums and stage productions that distinguished the band from its peers. But at its core, Styx worked best as a rock band and in those moments, Tommy Shaw and James Young were essential in balancing DeYoung’s more theatrical sensibilities. Neither DeYoung nor the remaining members of Styx (who perform without him), have been as compelling since they parted company.

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7. Elton John:  Without question, Elton John is a tremendously gifted musician, singer and performer in his own right; but it is through his 40+ year songwriting collaboration with Bernie Taupin that his most memorable work has been produced. It is difficult to know what his career would have been without Mr. Taupin’s contributions.

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8. Roger Waters (Pink Floyd):  Certainly Roger Water’s dark cynicism and disdain for standard musical conventions were at the heart of Pink Floyd’s most memorable recordings, but without the balancing contributions of his band mates (most especially David Gilmour), his solo work has been erratic and far less compelling. Considering his sizable contributions to the band’s collective identity, the remaining members have made some surprisingly worthwhile music without him.

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9. Eric Clapton:  Though Eric Clapton has enjoyed a long and successful career as a solo artist, his most notable moments have almost always come through his collaboration with other artists. His contributions to bands like “The Yardbirds”, “John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers”, “Cream”, “Blind Faith” and “Derek & the Domino’s” were legendary and even much of his most memorable solo work showcased other songwriters like J.J. Cale (After Midnight), Robert Johnson (Crossroads) and Bob Marley (I Shot the Sheriff).

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10. Lennon & McCartney (The Beatles):  While inferring that either one of these musical legends wasn’t talented enough to stand alone would amount to sacrilege in the minds of most people, I would submit that both benefited greatly from their collaboration. Though they each created some classic music on their own, neither consistently produced anything that rivaled their work together.

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