Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Genesis of AOR

Ambrosia - Time waits for no one (Ambrosia, July 1975) Written by David Pack, Joe Puerta, Christopher North and Burleigh Drummond.

AOR music truly conquered the charts around the world in the late 70´s with bands like Journey, Toto and Survivor that would become giants in the genre.
And in the 80´s, AOR music ruled the the music business with million selling artists like Bon Jovi, Heart and Def Leppard but they were hardly the first.
The names of the pioneers belong to the following artists in this column.
The slightly prog-ish westcoast/AOR band Ambrosia had a Top 40 hit with "Holdin´ on to yesterday" in 1975 from their debut album but I chose another song, "Time waits for no one" where David Pack shows why he´s one of the top singers in this genre.

Hello - New York groove (Keeps us off the streets, August 1975) Written by Russ Ballard

Most AOR fans hold Russ Ballard´s two albums "Russ Ballard" (1984) and "The fire still burns" (1985) as classics in the genre, Russ also wrote AOR milestones like "I surrender" and "Since you been gone" (recorded by Rainbow) and "On the rebound" (recorded by Uriah Heep).
But he started much earlier in the progrock band Argent where we wrote "God gave rocknroll to you" (also recorded by Kiss), not to mention the superb "New York Groove" (made famous by Ace Frehley in 1978) but it was recorded originally by the British glamrock band Hello in 1975.
Perhaps more of a glamrock song but there are hints of AOR here, there´s no denying it.

Kansas - It takes a woman´s love to make a man (Masque, September 1975) Written by Steve Walsh

AOR, aka Album Oriented Rock didn´t really start out as the melodic genre it is today but more of strong albums released by bands like Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Kansas that didn´t stand or fall with one hitsingle. The main important thing in the early 70´s was to make a strong album from start to finish, it would take 5 albums before Kansas had their biggest hitsingle with "Dust in the wind in 1977.
But already in 1975, on their 3rd album "Masque", the band showed the way for how a perfect AOR song would sound like with "It takes a woman´s love".
Some might prefer the meaning of AOR as Adult Oriented Rock while others go for American Oriented Rock that I remember very well when I was a kid, reading about bands like Cheap Trick, Kiss and Angel playing American FM rock.

Styx - Lorelei (Equinox, December 1975) Written by Dennis DeYoung and James Young

1975 was an important year for this genre when progrock bands like Styx, Kansas and Supertramp started writing shorter songs, perfect for the radio format album oriented rock. That eventually led to the birth of artsy pomp AOR bands like City Boy and New England.
Styx with the classic line up of Dennis DeYoung, Tommy Shaw, James Young, Chuck and James Panozzo, released "Equinox" and the true Styx sound was created.
"Lorelei" might not be their biggest hit but it´s most certainly one of their best songs with cult status.
Theatrical AOR when it´s best.

REO Speedwagon - Keep pushin´ (REO, June 1976) Written by Kevin Cronin

It was hard to believe that the basic rock band REO Speedwagon would turn out to be one of the biggest selling AOR bands in the 80´s when we look back at their struggle of selling records in the early 70´s, it wasn´t until singer Kevin Cronin returned to the band for the "REO" album in 1976 that things started to happen for real. The opening track "Keep pushin´" can be considered as the foundation of the REO trademark with hits like "Roll with the changes" in 1978 and "Take it on the run" in 1981, listen to this song and you will clearly draw parallels.

Boston - More than a feeling (Boston, August 1976) Written by Tom Scholz

Along with Journey´s "Don´t stop believing", Boston´s "More than a feeling" is two of the most famous AOR songs in the history. Taken from their first album which is the 2nd best selling debut of all time after GNR´s "Appetite for destruction". Selling over 20 million copies, makes it the top 3rd best selling AOR album only beaten by Bon Jovi´s "Slippery when wet" (1986) with 26 million copies sold and Journey´s "Greatest hits" (1988) with 25 million copies.
More than a feeling has been featured in movies like Foxes, The men who stare at goats and Madagascar and also covered by artists like Ingram Hill, Hit the lights and Bad Habit.
You could say Boston´s first album is the true first AOR album, making the way for thousands of bands to be influenced by this legendary act.

Starz - Detroit girls (Starz, August 1976) Written by Richie Ranno, Pete Sweval and Michael Lee Smith

Although, the underrated band Starz doesn´t count as AOR, they surely wrote some AOR-ish songs like "Cherry baby" and "So young so bad" that even Jack Blades stole the riff from for the track "Sea of emotion" on his solo album in 2008.
The opening track "Detroit girls" on Starz debut album from 1976 is supermelodic and also one of my favorite songs with this overlooked band, but not for Poison, Motley Crue and Twisted Sister that refer to Starz as a major influence. Cool.

Rick Springfield - Jessica (Wait for night, September 1976) Written by Rick Springfield

By, 1981 a new rockstar was born and the hit song was "Jessie´s girl". His name is Rick Springfield and soon the hits would stand in line like an army parade with songs like "Love somebody", "Souls" and "Don´t talk to strangers".
Back in the 70´s, Rick focused on his acting career but released a few solo albums that failed to chart like "Wait for night" in 1976, however there´s no doubt that he showed his songwriting skills in the classic Rick Springfield style with cult songs such as "Life is a celebration" and "Jessica".
Listen to the wonderful piano in "Jessica", AOR or what?

The Babys - If you´ve got the time (The Babys, December 1976) Written by John Waite

Where would bands like Journey, Bad English and Styx be today without The Babys? This band has a major part in the history of AOR with members like John Waite, Tony Brock, Wally Stocker, Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips.
Their debut album from 1976 is truly one of the best AOR albums of that year along with Boston, Kansas - Leftoverture, Styx - Crystal Ball and REO Speedwagon - REO.
Check out the awesome track "If you´ve got the time" from this classic album, featuring the original keyboard player Michael Corby.

Foreigner - Feels like the first time (Foreigner, March 1977) Written by Mick Jones

Several important AOR bands were established in 1977 such as Shooting Star, Player and Def Leppard but this was also the year when Journey changed their direction from being a fusion oriented band to more radio friendly with their new frontman Robert Fleischman.
Fleischman left the band and was replaced by Steve Perry but he co-wrote their mega hit "Wheel in the sky" and got a well deserved star on the Hollywood walk of fame in 2005.
Another huge AOR band released their debut album this year, remember Foreigner?
Stupid question I know, but this album would put them on the map of rocknroll for decades to come with songs like "Cold as ice" and "Feels like the first time". Ohyeah, AOR was rising.

Blue Oyster Cult - Goin´ through the motions (Spectres, November 1977) Written by Eric Bloom and Ian Hunter

1978 was waiting around the corner with blockbuster albums like Toto´s first album, Journey - Infinity, City Boy - Book early, Foreigner - Double vision and the amazing pomp/AOR band Morningstar.
But at the end of 1977, even space rockers Blue Oyster Cult joined the trend and released "Spectres" with the E.L.O-ish and AOR flavered "Goin´ through the motions", surprisingly co-written by Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople.
Now the red carpet was out to mark the route of million selling albums like:
Bon Jovi - Slippery when wet 1986 - 26 million copies
Journey - Greatest hits 1988 - 25 million
Boston - Boston 1976 - 20 million
Def Leppard - Hysteria 1986 - 20 million
Bon Jovi - New Jersey 1988 - 18 million
Journey - Escape 1981 - 12 million
Bon Jovi - Keep the faith 1990 - 12 million
Michael Bolton - Soul provider 1989 - 12 million
Def Leppard - Pyromania 1983 - 10 million
REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity 1981 - 10 million
Journey - Frontiers 1983 - 8 million
Boston - Dont look back 1978 - 7 million
Foreigner - 4 1981 - 7 million
Chicago - 17  1984 - 7 million
Heart - Heart 1985 - 6 million
Heart - Bad animals 1987 - 5 million
Toto - IV 1982 - 5 million
Journey - Infinity 1978 - 4 million
Journey - Evolution 1979 - 4 million
Journey - Departure 1980 - 4 million
Boston - Third stage 1986 - 4 million
Survivor - Eye of the tiger 1982 - 3 million 
Styx - Paradise theater 1981 - 3 million

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