Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

Rock and roll couch potatoes unite! This week we're going behind the music with the latest entries in the critically-lauded Classic Albums series. These are the same programs that many of you may have caught recently on VH-1 Classic -- sans commercials of course.

Phil Collins -- Classic Albums: Face Value (Eagle Vision)

After gaining considerable success in conjunction with the UK-based progressive rockers Genesis, Phil Collins stepped out for the first time as a solo artist with the worldwide chart-topper Face Value (1981). As he reveals here, the project was as much an emotional catharsis as it was a celebration of Collins' unique blend of pop, rock and soul. The artist takes the viewer along for the ride, revisiting demo recordings and vintage home movies shot during the actual studio sessions.

Collins is joined by his producer Hugh Padgham, who disassembles the audio right before our ears to uncover previously hidden intricacies -- such as the 'true' inspiration behind the moody and oft-misunderstood "In The Air Tonight." He also recalls how a melancholy song about the absence of a loved one was tweaked into becoming the Top 20 hit "I Missed Again". Collins also talks about Eric Clapton's dobro contributions to the intimate and ethereal "The Roof Is Leaking," and his decision to venture away -- albeit temporarily -- from Genesis.

In addition to Clapton, the disc was filled with other notable musicians, many of whom lend their time and comments here. Particularly interesting is the reclusive L. Shankar (violin), as well as Louie Satterfield (trombone), Tom Tom Washington (horns), Alphonso Johnson (bass) and even the late, great Arif Mardin, who arranged the moving string section for the tune "If Leaving Me Is Easy".

Bob Marley & the Wailers -- Classic Albums: Catch a Fire (Eagle Vision)

Bob Marley has single-handedly done more in the name of reggae than any other. After nearly a decade of acclaim in his native Jamaica, it was Island Records' owner Chris Blackwell that launched Marley & the Wailers onto the international stage. Common musical goals allowed Blackwell and Marley to fuse ideas and ultimately join forces, providing an almost storybook meeting of the minds for the creation of Catch A Fire (1973).

Blackwell takes the viewer/listener through the stages of various songs. It is fascinating to hear the 'before' and 'after' when he added instrumental support from American studio players John 'Rabbit' Bundrick (keyboards) and Wayne Perkins (guitar). Both musicians are among those who punctuate the narrative with first-hand comments and observations. Other such luminaries include Marley's bandmates Bunny Wailer (percussion/vocals), Peter Tosh (keyboards/guitar/vocals), Aston 'Family Man' Barrett (bass), as well as Robbie Shakespeare (bass) and Rita Marley (backing vocals).

The interviews are interspersed with footage of "Slave Driver," "Stir It Up," "Stop That Train" and "Concrete Jungle." Plus, the show concludes with an incendiary live reading of "Get Up, Stand Up" that leaves you wanting more. Whether you are a learned reggae scholar, Marley aficionado, or simply curious as to the origins of the music's global popularity, Classic Albums: Catch A Fire is an exceptional audiovisual primer.

Meat Loaf -- Classic Albums: Bat Out of Hell (Eagle Vision)

You either love it or loathe it, but Bat Of Out Hell (1977) was an entity that could not be ignored. Released at a time when pop vacillated between disco and punk, the story here is as much about the larger-than-life characters who created the part-Broadway hard luck saga and part-Wagnerian masterpiece. The results are nothing short of 100% Grade-A Certified rock 'n' roll.

So, how is it that after literally years of rejection from every major label, Bat Out Of Hell ended up selling in excess of 30 million copies? That tale is told as Meatloaf and composer Jim Steinman are joined by producer extraordinaire Todd Rundgren, as well as backing vocalists Ellen Foley and Karla De Vito. They respectively relive the multitude of struggles encountered when simply trying to get record companies interested in the effort. However, keeping true to the classic 'epic tragedy', Bat Out Of Hell all but killed its creator -- who took himself to the point of physical exhaustion night-after-night while on the road promoting it.

There are a few rare performances of note, including the power ballad "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad," "Paradise By The Dashboard Lights" and a recent rendition of "Heaven Can Wait". The latter brings the power of the past together on the strength of Meatloaf's modern presentation. If you liked these songs, you're gonna love the stories behind them.     

The Who -- Classic Albums: Who's Next (Eagle Vision)

Taken on the surface -- as nothing more than an album of songs -- it is hard to beat Who's Next (1971). Even a partial track list could be likened to the 'Best Of The Who' with "Baba O' Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Goin' Mobile," "My Wife," and "Won't Get Fooled Again" all on the same record. But, as revealed in this riveting rock and roll biopic, the unsung legend would be a grander concept from Pete Townshend (guitar/vocals) called Lifehouse.

Townshend, Roger Daltrey (vocals/mouth harp), John Entwistle (bass/vocals/horns), producer Glyn Johns and Bob Pridden -- The Who's longtime live concert sound engineer -- are among those who provide insights and key commentary. Another priceless moment is hearing Daltrey take the viewer through "Behind Blue Eyes" playing just his lead vocal against the incorrigibly frenetic kit work of percussionist Keith Moon (drums). The two are perfectly in sync, as Moon complements the phrases with his own inimitable rhythmic flourishes.

Among the other treats are hearing Townshend's exclusive modern acoustic versions of "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Behind Blue Eyes" as well as "Pure & Easy," -- a tune that was central to the Lifehouse project, but left off of Who’s Next to make room for other equally strong songs. I mean, what are they gonna do leave "Won’t Get Fooled Again" or "Gettin' In Tune" off the record? I think not!

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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