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Various Artists

Riding the Rock Machine - British Seventies Classic Rock

Review by Gary Hill

I have heard arguments that say that the 1970s were the decade with the best music. Like any decade, they had a lot of garbage music. However, I think that for me, a lot of my favorite stuff that I still listen to today was released in that decade. That might be a function of the generation I'm in and what we were listening to when I got into music heavily, though. However you feel about it, though, this three-CD collection really gathers up some exceptional tunes (and a few that are just a little less monumental) into a set that should really entertain.

There are a lot of big names here, and other acts that aren't as well known, at least here in the states. The whole set comes in a cardboard clamshell box. Each CD has its own cardboard sleeve, and there is a great booklet included. It all makes for quite a nice set.

I should mention that I've landed this under non-prog. Don't take that to mean there is no progressive rock on the set. There is definitely some. It's just not the dominant genre. It is also important to note that I have reviewed quite a few of these songs on other albums. For the sake of consistency I have either copied those reviews here, or at least modified them and augmented them for use here.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Disc One
             
Rainbow - Long Live Rock 'n' Roll

Drums lead things out, Dio says, "alright," and the guitar joins the fray. This is a killer hard rocking number. It's classic Dio and classic Blackmore. While the titular lyrics might be generic, for some reason it never feels trite or clichéd. This is a great tune and an excellent introduction to the album. That was true on its original album (where it was also the lead track) and here. This is just so classy and classic.

Uriah Heep - Easy Livin'
I've always wondered if this song was an influence on the galloping style of heavy metal, because it really does have that aspect to it. This song is literally a classic, and it really rocks. I dig the fuzz sound on it, and the organ lends intriguing flavors. Honestly, the rich vocal arrangement is one of the biggest selling points of this song, though.
The Moody Blues - I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)

I’ve always loved how this song starts with a slow percussive element that builds like a sprin,g being pulled taut. This is one of the hardest rockers the Moody Blues have ever done and it’s a great tune. It still has plenty of their symphonic prog sounds and frankly, it still holds up as a true classic even today. Does it sound a little dated? Yeah, but not enough to feel like a remnant of past era. It still feels vital. It’s a safe bet that pretty much everyone reading this has heard this song so, we’ll leave the description at that.

The Alan Parsons Project - I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You
With a dramatic and mysterious opening segment this rocks out quite well as it gets going. I think you could think of it as a more soulful Pink Floyd in a lot of ways. The guitar solo on this is especially tasty.
Foghat - Slow Ride (single version) –
Another tune that starts on drums, the tasty guitar riff joins. From there the arrangement fills out, and we're in serious blues rocking zones. The funky bass work on the bridge is classy. This cut still holds up and seems relevant today. Here's what I said about the album version of this, "This classic riff rocker is still very tasty. I love the funky bass line and the whole thing just grooves."
Spencer Davis Group - Catch You on the Rebop
The sound on this is more modern than some of this band's other music. It makes me think of some of Klaatu’s more pop oriented stuff, but with a definite Spencer Davis soulful groove at its heart. It’s not that far removed from some of Steve Miller’s music, either.
Yvonne Elliman - I Can't Explain (album version)
I don't think of Yvonne Elliman as rocking out like this. The tune musically seems like a bit more pop version of The Who's sound on the original. The vocals do bring more of that contemporary pop vibe, but the whole tune really works well.
Faces - Cindy Incidentally
Rod Stewart's vocals are unmistakable here. The tune has a lot of the kind of sound that you expect from his early solo albums, too. This is a killer number that still holds up well.
Procol Harum - Robert's Box
Another with unmistakable vocals, there is a tasty kind of classic rock groove on this piece. It has some cool changes, and the chorus in particular is energized and intriguing. This gets very bombastic and powerful as it continues. It also has some hints of Beatlesesque elements.
Blackfoot Sue - Standing in the Road
Here we get a bouncing kind of classy rock mode. There is some glam in the mix, too. It feels somewhat anthemic, too. I'm reminded of Slade and Sweet. There is a short percussive psychedelic workout mid-track.
Medicine Head - Back to the Wall
I love the hard-edged guitar sound that brings this into being. The cut has almost an early heavy metal sound to the instrumental arrangement. The vocals seem a little too far up in the mix, but once they enter the tune feels a bit more like psychedelia meet Peter Green.
The Who - Success Story
This is definitely not one of The Who's better known tunes. It has a trademark early Who sound, though. This is a strong rocking number. I love it. It has some real psychedelia in the mix.
Trapeze - Black Cloud
I dig the cool rock riff that opens this track a lot. The number works to a melodic rock concept as it continues. I love the killer guitar work on this cut. The tune makes me think of Humble Pie a bit.
Chris Squire - Hold Out Your Hand
Starting on keys, of course Chris Squire's bass (which drives this up tempo prog rocker) is unmistakable. So, too are his vocals. Certainly The Fish has a voice that would be quite up to par with Jon Anderson's, meaning that he could conceivably have been the lead singer of any incarnation of Yes as this shows. For a song that's only a little over four minutes in length, Squire packs a lot of intriguing twists into the structure. There's even a nice instrumental break where the keys seem to alternate between the stylings of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman. Symphonic bursts accentuate the chord changes on the segment that leads up to the killer change up for the outro. The ascending bass line that serves as the conclusion here, actually segues into the next track on the original album.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band - Spirits in the Night
This band really seemed to like to do versions of Bruce Springsteen songs. This cut has a mid-tempo sort of vibe, and some particularly cool hooks. The approach is similar to the group's take on "Blinded by the Light." I would say that this isn't quite as effective as that one, but it comes pretty close. I love the instrumental break. It's packed with cool and charm.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band - The Boston Tea Party
Coming in rather subdued, this works out to a pretty mainstream rock texture. I dig the instrumental break on this. It has some classy guitar work. The whole tune has a bit of a dramatic almost psychedelic edge to it.
Jethro Tull - Bungle in the Jungle
This one is a good fairly mellow rocker, even if a bit silly lyrically. Well, that's what I said about it when I reviewed a Tull best of album. I dig the guitar fills on the number, and the wildlife sounds at the start are a nice touch, too.
Agnes Strange - Clever Fool
The guitar riff that opens this has a mean edge to it. The track works through an introductory section before launching into the song proper. This has a rather raw and somewhat generic vibe. It makes me think of the Yardbirds to some degree, but there is definitely an early Jethro Tull edge to it, too.
Fancy - She's Riding the Rock Machine (single version)
I like the rocking groove on this tune. There is a real disco kind of edge to this groove. The tune is soulful. It's not bad, but it's not one of my favorites here.
Sweet - Action (single version)
Sweet certainly were capable of creating a lot of strong singles. This was one of those. The hard rocking, glam-edged sound on this was so potent. I've always wondered how much of an influence Sweet was on Queen. I hear a lot of the kind of sound that band would develop in this. There are some great changes built into this stomper.
Disc Two
                       
Foreigner - Feels Like the First Time

Say what you will about Foreigner, but their first few albums were classic. I’ve always loved this melodic rocker. It’s just such a great tune. It still holds up well, as far as I’m concerned.

Nazareth - This Flight Tonight
I am actually a pretty big fan of Nazareth, and I've always loved this tune. It has a lot of almost mysterious cool in the arrangement along with a classy rocking texture. It should be noted that this is not a Nazareth composition, but rather it was originally done by Joni Mitchell. Nazareth did a great job of making it their own, though. This is gritty and classy rock and roll.
Free - Wishing Well
This rocker feels a lot like what you might get if Paul Rodgers were the lead singer of Nazareth. It has some meaty guitar work and Rodgers' really shines on this stomper.
Man - Out of Your Head
There is a weirdness that seems built around psychedelia and even some folk textures. Yet there are plenty of progressive rock elements at play, too. Unusual as this is, it works pretty well. Some parts of this remind me of Sweet just a little. There are also some space rock angles to the closing section of this.
Strawbs - My Friend Peter

This rocks out a bit more than some Strawbs tunes do. It's a fun stomper. It has a lot of style and some cool hooks.

Hawkwind - Quark Strangeness and Charm
I said this about this tune when I reviewed it on its original album, "the title track, this one is bouncy, fun and classic Hawkwind." That is still true. There is a bouncy kind of punky edge to this, but it's trademark Hawkind. There is a commercial for a topical treatment for joint pain that I swear copies this song, mind you just a little slower. This is such a fun number.
Silverhead - Ace Supreme (single version)
A high energy, punky rocker, this is another cool cut. That's what I said about the original album version when I reviewed it on its original album.  I should have mentioned how meaty the guitar hooks are. Beyond that I stand by that description.
Status Quo - Mystery Song (album version)
This tune seems to be mixed a lot lower in volume than the previous one was. There are some cool psychedelia meets prog aspects to the number. All that applies to the first movement. That cut drives out to louder and more energized rocking zones from there. It is a particularly strong piece of music. The fun insdtrumental romp at ther end makes me want to move.
Curved Air - U.H.F.
There are definitely hints of Led Zeppelin on this, but the cut also works more into pure psychedelia and fusion at times. It's a powerhouse with some exceptional instrumental work. As it approaches the minute and half mark the sound fades away, leaving just the piano to continue. It works out from there into more rocking sounds again, this time with more of a melodic vibe. Eventually it shifts to a dramatic prog building mode to continue. They finally make their way back to the first section of the track for the next vocals.
Magnum - Baby I Need
There is a bit of a glam rock edge to this rocker. It also has plenty of early 1970s blues rock in the mix. I'm reminded to some degree of some of Eric Clapton's solo work.
Electric Light Orchestra - Showdown
This combines a soulful, rather funky texture with some killer classically tinged prog rock. It’s a great piece of music. Then again, I'm a big fan of ELO, so I guess it makes sense that I'd love this number.
City Boy - Momma's Boy
Another that calls to mind Sweet to some degree, this has a lot of that classic glam rock texture to it.
Duffy - The 1959 Rock'N'Roll Bop
This has a pretty mainstream hard rocking sound. It is rather generic, really. It's also solid, though. I wouldn't consider it a highlight of the set, but it's entertaining.
Rococo - Hoodlum Fun
I love the glam sound on this tune. It has a killer main riff driving it. I'm reminded of things ranging from The Strawbs to Sweet, The Syn and Mott the Hoople. This is a dramatic number that's really among the better stuff here. It has a cool instrumental break that really brings it all home in style.
Mick Ronson - Only After Dark
As you might expect, this feels a lot like Mott the Hoople. There are definitely David Bowie like angles to it. This is rather generic, but also quite effective.
Strider - Straddle
A classy 1970s hard rock vibe is on display here. This sounds a lot like a myriad of other acts, but on the other hand it does a great job of presenting that kind of vibe. I dig the killer instrumental break a lot.
Stray - Move It
I really dig the riff that opens this cut. The tune is another that falls into the sort of mainstream hard rock sound. However, there are some hints of the kind of thing that would become punk rock. I'm reminded a little of the New York Dolls.
Bullfrog - Ice Cold Dick
Even more blues rock based, this is a screaming hot number. I'm reminded of early Jethro Tull to some degree, but even more so of things like The Yardbirds.
Maggot - Shoelace

This feels like something that could have come out in the late 1960s. It's packed full of psychedelia and folk rock. I really dig the guitar work on the tune. The whole thing just has a cool vibe. There are some proggy moments in some of the instrumental work later.

Emerson Lake & Palmer - Lucky Man
For my money, ELP shines the brightest on evocative balladic numbers like this one. The thing is, they take that sort of a format and work it out in all its glory before tearing into some serious progressive rock territory. That’s the formula here and this is one of ELP’s most successful tracks as far as I’m concerned. This is a classic and rightfully so.
Disc Three
                   
Roxy Music - Street Life

There is a reason this act is well regarded in both art rock and punk circles. They definitely have plenty of both in the mix that makes up their sound. This rocker definitely showcases that connection. It's edgy and suitably odd, but yet somehow compelling.

Be-Bop Deluxe - Maid in Heaven
More glam rock based at the opening, there are definitely Bowie and Mott the Hoople references to be made here. This has quire a bit of an arena rock vibe. Still, there are proggy breaks here and there. The guitar fills on this are great.
Atomic Rooster - Devil's Answer (US album version)
There is some cool jazzy prog in the mix here. This rocker has a lot of energy and style. I dig the dropped back movement. It has a cool bit of bass and keyboard showcase. Eventually we get some driving guitar soloing. This has a real psychedelic edge to it.
Family - In My Own Time
This is a hard-rocking number with a lot of style and charm. This is not one of my favorites here, though.
Dana Gillespie - Get My Rocks Off
This reminds me a lot of Jefferson Starship in some ways. It's a psychedelic rocker with some real blues edge to it. This is unusual and particularly effective.There are some rather questionable things in the lyrics, though.
Hello - New York Groove
I always thought Ace Frehley wrote this song. It turns out it was written by Russ Ballard who wrote such other hits as "Since You Been Gone" and "God Gave Rock and Roll To You," which actually closes this disc. This rocker is a fun romp. I think I prefer Frehley's version, but this isn't hugely different, and it works really well.
Thin Lizzy - Jailhreak
Here we get one of Thin Lizzy's best known tunes. You can't beat that main guitar riff. This is just such a meaty stomper. It's one of the highlights of the whole set. The instrumental break, with its sirens blaring, is on fire.
Tucky Buzzard - Can't Live Without It
There is a great glam rock meets edgy, proto punk on this tune. It calls to mind acts like Mott the Hoople. The horn arrangement is a classy touch.
National Flag - Blowing a Million
Classic hard-edged blues rock is the concept here. I love the guitar sound on the piece. This isn't exceptionally unique or original, but it's very strong.
Hard Stuff - Monster in Paradise
This act is well named, as this is a killer hard rocking number. While not hugely different from some of the rest here, it's stronger than a lot of the competition. It really rocks.
Fat Mattress - Black Sheep of the Family
I know this song from when Rainbow did a version of it. This version has a cool roots rock meets bluesy psychedelia approach. It's another classy number. While I prefer the Rainbow version, I really like this one a lot, too. It has some inventive things, cool vocal arrangement and an intriguing instrumental section at the end.
10cc - Life is a Minestrone (album version)
I dig the bouncy prog pop approach on this cut. it has some real class and cool twists and turns. This is both fun and meaty.
Sutherland Brothers & Quiver - Dream Kid
Another that's rather bouncy and playful this is more hard rocking than the song that preceded it.
Smokestack Crumble - Got a Bad Leg
I really love how far the bass is up in the mix here. This calls to mind things like Humble Pie and Free. It's an energized hard rocker that works really well.
The Winkies - Fever
While the main song concept here is an old chestnut, they turn in some cool, psychedelic jamming later on along the run of the piece. This is classy stuff.
Mott the Hoople - Ready for Love / After Lights
You might be familiar with this song as it was done by Bad Company. I think I might like this version even better. It's tasty, hard rocking so classy. Of course, this is also the original of the song, Bad Company covering it. Well, perhaps it's not precisely a cover as Bad Company's Mick Ralphs was part of Mott the Hoople at the time and one of the writers of the song. The "After Lights" section is a classy instrumental movement at the end of the tune.
Sad Cafe - My Oh My (single version)
I dig the piano on this. There is a great mellow rock sound to the first movement of this. It has some bluesy angles and a lot of style. The cut rocks out on the chorus, but drops back to the more sedate for the verses. This has a great balance between the two moods.
Babe Ruth - Jack O'Lantern
I really dig the hard rocking, energized vibe of this screamer. It's a Halloween referencing song so it gets points from me on that aspect, too. It's a powerhouse that's one of the better tunes here.
Argent - God Gave Rock and Roll To You
There is sort of a classical kind of vibe on the introduction to this. It drives out to a harder rocking jam from there to bring in the song proper. There is plenty of proggy and anthemic rock in the mix here. This is a powerhouse that works really well.
 
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