Synth pop was at the height of its popularity in the mid ’80s. It was a music style that could easily provide addictive hooks and innovative sounds, but it could also be ruined if an artist was overly dependent on the musical technology they used and less confident in their musical ability. Howard Jones knows how to find the perfect balance between composition, musicianship, and innovation. His second album “Dream Into Action” is a perfect example.
Howard Jones had a knack of knowing when to keep the arrangement of song sweet and simple or make it densely complex. That intuition helped him create a trend-setting album tha is complexly powerful and beautifully simple in all the right places.
“Dream Into Action” was the second album by Howard Jones. Other than some background vocals and a few bass lines Jones had his brother lay down, he plays and sings every note on this album.
Often overlooked and underrated by music critics, Howard Jones’ music often didn’t receive the radio airplay his contemporaries, but that never deterred him and he continues to write, record, and perform his music today.
“Dream Into Action” remains one of my favorite albums from the ’80s. It includes the hits “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One is To Blame”. But like with many great albums, it’s the collection of songs that weren’t hits that truly define it. That’s where “Dream Into Action” is at its best.
When Rodger Hodgson had a fall out with Rick Davis and decided to leave Supertramp and release a solo album, he didn’t fool around. Almost as if he was out to prove who was the main creative Force in Supertramp, he wrote, arranged and produced every song on his debut solo album, “In the Eye of the Storm”. But he didn’t stop there. With only a handful of exceptions Rodger Hodgson please and since every vocal part on this album.
“In the Eye of the Storm” has a sound very reminiscent of Supertramp; progressive rock that is as powerful as it is insightful. It’s primarily keyboard oriented, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some fine guitar work too. But really, the overall strength of this album lies in the composition and arrangement of the songs on it.
Although Roger Hodgson’s first solo record did have better success than Supertramp’s first album without him, neither he or his former band ever achieved the level of success apart, compared to what they accomplished together. Regardless, I still rank it up there with the best of anything he did with Supertramp.
Sometimes, when I really like a band, I like to go back and check-out their origins. What bands and kind of music did their members make before they were in the band that made them famous. Today, the band is Yes and the musician is Rick Wakeman.
Strawbs started out in 1964 as a bluegrass band. But no Rick Wakeman did not play in a bluegrass band. In 1967 they shortened their name to Strawbs and signed a deal with A&M records. They released their first album in 1968. By that time their sound had evolved into more of a folk rock sound. By the time Rick Wakeman joined them in 1970, they were starting to incorporate elements of progressive rock into their repertoire and Wakeman’s impressive work on keyboards was an obvious asset for their developing style. Rick Wakeman would only stay with Strawbs for two albums. “From the Witchwood” was the last record he would play on with them before leaving to join Yes.
“From the Witchwood” is a combination of many different styles. At times having a strong European classical influence, combined with folk music, some songss feel like they would be right at home being played at a Renaissance Festival. This is most evident on the album’s opener, “A Glimpse of Heaven”. Other songs have a more aggressive sound to them.
Although Rick Wakeman has a few short keyboard flourishes on side one, “Sheep”, which starts off side two, seems to be written around his organ and Moog synthesizer work. If Wakeman had joined Genesis instead of yes, their music would have probably sounded something like this.
“From the Witchwood” is definitely a good album when you want to listen to music that mixes many different styles with an array of different instruments like clarinets, sitars, harpsichords, and recorder, along with traditional Rock instruments like the Mellotron, organ, guitar, bass, and drums. However, except for a few passages, it is not an album you would immediately associate with Rick Wakeman. It’s easy to see why he would have left to play on the more progressive rock songs by Yes.
More than any other Pink Floyd album, “Wish You Were Here” is a showcase for Rick Wright’s keyboards. Sure, David Gilmour lays down some impressive guitar work (as usual), but it’s really the synthesizers and other keys that set the mood of the songs on this record.
The album opens and closes with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, a tribute to Pink Floyd’s former guitarist and founding member Syd Barrett, who had tragically become a mental casualty of the late 1960’s drug culture. He had been kicked out of the band before the release of their second album because he just couldn’t function anymore. He went into seclusion shortly thereafter.
Sandwiched in between the opening and closing of “Shine On…”, were “Welcome To The Machine”, “Have A Cigar”, and the title track. The first two were somewhat scathing commentaries on the music industry. The song “Wish You Were Here” was a song about longing and isolation – it was also a tribute to Barrett. Throughout all the songs, Rick Wright’s jazz tinged keyboard style consistently sets the tone perfectly, making this one of my all-time favorite recordings – one I am elated to have a half speed master copy of.
Half-speed mastered albums were audiophile pressings that were done in very limited numbers and offered superior sound quality because of the slower speed used to cut the master disk that the copies were made from. “Wish You Were Here” is the first audiophile copy I owned of any album.