Lynyrd Skynyrd – (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (1973): 18 March 2019

Lynyrd Skynyrd – (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nerd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (1973)

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s debut album cover

This week on YDCS we’re going to take a look at the debut album by a southern rock band that has come to be strongly associated with arena rock anthems and has nearly single-handedly defined a genre, Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band, led by frontman Ronnie Van Zant, would go on to be a mega-act that spawned some of the most recognizable songs on classic rock radio with this self-titled debut that included tracks like Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, and Free Bird. Lynyrd Skynyrd would go on to craft four more legendary rock albums before taking a fourteen-year recording hiatus after a tragic plane crash that killed multiple band members, including Van Zant, guitarist and singer Steve Gaines, and backup singer Cassie Gaines.

Pronounced is one of the titans of the classic rock genre that few albums, past or present, can stand up to. This album re-defined southern rock for the decade, moving from a Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque sound to music that sounds like this and putting the band in line with other popular acts like the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. The “Lynyrd Skynyrd Sound” was on full display starting with this, their debut album. They knew exactly how they wanted to sound, executed it flawlessly here, and left it virtually untouched on their next few major releases. This is quality work from a class act. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

I Ain’t The One: This is a strong opening track on an album full of strong songs. This wasn’t one of the songs that the band was well-known for but it rocks as much as, for example, Gimme Three Steps later on the record. The musicianship on the instrumentation is really strong on this track and the drums to start the song off are unique and memorable. What I particularly like about this song is that you know exactly what kind of album you’re going to be listening to within the first minute of this song; you’re going to get big, free-wheelin’ guitar solos and southern rock. If you were looking for a song to skip, this “ain’t the one!” Dad’s Rating 8/10

Tuesday’s Gone: Tuesday’s Gone is the slowest track on the record. If there was an album that ever desperately needed a slower-paced track to break it up, then this album was it. There’s no big guitar solos here that you’ll peppered throughout other tracks, and this song doesn’t need it. I’m aware that this is one of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s more popular songs, but I can’t rate it higher in good conscience because it doesn’t show me anything amazing. This song doesn’t wow me or make me feel any particular way. I will say that the piano solo is fantastic and you shouldn’t skip over this song if only to listen to that. Tuesday’s Gone fulfills a purpose on this record and does it well. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Gimme Three Steps: Welcome back to classic Lynyrd Skynyrd after taking a break at Tuesday’s Gone. Your regularly scheduled loud guitar solos will now re-commence. Gimme Three Steps is a classic rock staple for a few good reasons: it’s easily recognizable, fun to listen to, and it rocks out! This isn’t a complex song, the instrumentation, vocals, and messaging are all clear. Try shredding out during the guitar solo on your way home from work, it’ll make the commute a little sweeter. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Simple Man: I really enjoy the easiness of Simple Man, and I think it’s one of the highlights of the album. Opening the song with the soft acoustic guitar that lets Van Zant’s vocals through does the song great justice. The vocals throughout the song are strong, even during the softer instrumental portions, and the swells throughout the song, particularly during the chorus, help keep it from going stale. Rossington’s guitar solo is so hot that the term “face-melting guitar solo” might have even originated here! Simple Man is a wholly deserving winner of the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award.”  Dad’s Rating 10/10

Things Goin’ On: Things Goin On, and the following track, Mississippi Kid are the two overlooked songs on this album, sandwiched between Simple Man and Free Bird. I like this song quite a bit actually and regret having previously passed it over. This track has more dynamic musicianship than some of the other deep cuts on Pronounced. Between the piano in the chorus and “oom-pah” feel of the song, I could almost imagine listening to this in a saloon. This is a prime example of the southern rock genre that Lynyrd Skynyrd worked in so well. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Mississippi Kid: The flow between Things Goin’ On and Mississippi Kid is fantastic. The former song rolls right into the latter. This is a great show of the band’s country roots coming through and is a nice break from loudness of the electric guitars found throughout almost every other song on the album. There are still electrics on this track but they are reduced to a supporting role for the acoustics. The harmonica solo is quite excellent and really ties feel of the song together nicely. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Poison Whiskey Poison Whiskey suffers for being buried in this album with mega-tracks like Free Bird and Simple Man rising above this one. This isn’t a bad song by any means, it’s just not particularly special. It doesn’t make you feel like the Big 3 do, and that’s actually okay because not every song has to. If every song made you think about grand ideas and messages, then you would be mentally exhausted after listening to an album. The instrumentation is solid here and the piano solo is funky and rocks out! All said, this is a fun song. It’s not musically or lyrically complex, but worth a listen if only for the fact that it’s not hard to listen to. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Free Bird: FREEEEEEEE BIRRRRRRRD!! (That’s the only time I’ll shout Free Bird in this review and I’ve been restraining myself up til now…) There’s really not much more you can say about Free Bird that hasn’t been said in the past 46 years since this record released. Free Bird is a classic because it displays some of the best musicianship, lyricism, and instrumentalism of 1970s classic rock. It incorporates orchestras, dynamic instrumentation, runs for over eleven minutes on the uncut version, and has what might be the most epic guitar solo ever laid down on a vinyl record. Words will never begin to give this song enough justice for how important it was in shaping classic rock for decades to come. This song alone could define the Southern Rock genre, and for that it earns the second “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award” on this album, making Pronounced the first album I have awarded multiple tracks 10/10 ratings. Well-deserved and literally well-played, this one’s for the band. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Pink Floyd- Animals (1977): 11 March 2019

Pink Floyd – Animals (1977)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re taking a look at one of Pink Floyd’s concept albums, Animals. The five-track album is a critical commentary on the socio-economic and political environment of late-1970s Britain. In particular, the album criticizes Margaret Thatcher’s government and the concept of capitalism through its use of allegory, comparing the different levels of the society to animals in a manner inspired by George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm. The album broadly splits society into three groups; the blind common people led by the pigs (the sheep), the businessmen (the dogs), and the greedy political leaders of the sheep (the pigs). Throughout the album, we hear descriptions of each group of society and what each group stands for. Starting with the dogs, our villains, they are the capitalistic businessmen that “[have} to be trusted by the people [they] lie to…” The pigs are the “big man, pig man.” The band describes them as charades, cheats, and liars multiple times throughout Pigs (Three Different Ones). The sheep are the most dynamic characters who, despite starting out as followers that are keen to “hopelessly pass [their] time in the grasslands away,” ultimately rise up against the capitalist dogs.

Animals is a complex album that could inspire essays on the dissolution of capitalistic societies in favor of socialist ones through the elimination of private business. Musically, this album is some of the band’s best work in my opinion. Pink Floyd began experimenting with new sounds and techniques that enhance the storytelling ability of the record and better frame their ideas. Amongst music lovers, this album is oft-forgotten and overshadowed when placed next to The Wall (Pink Floyd’s next studio album), Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Meddle. I believe this album should be included in those works, not overshadowed by them. Taken in context, Pink Floyd released fantastic concept albums and this is one of them. This review is also not enough to fully explain the intricacies of the record, but nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it and maybe find a meaning to it that I didn’t have time to discuss here.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Pigs on the Wing 1 and 2: I’m going to lump the first and last songs on this record into one for two reasons: Firstly, both songs are used to frame the rest of the album, and secondly, musically and lyrically these are one song split into two. Starkly different from the meat of the album, Pigs on the Wing 1 and 2 are the short prelude and epilogue to this story. They are simple songs with complex messages that attempt to convey Roger Waters’ love for his wife and stand against the bleak portrait painted by the middle three songs. Listening to both of these, the overt message that I get from them is that love can overcome anything and that anyone is capable of loving, even Waters, a self-described “dog” in the second part. The song also notes that love can bridge societal gaps and insulate people from stereotypical societal pressures. Having said that, I believe that there may be more than meets the eye to this song as Pink Floyd was never known for making it easy to decipher the meaning of their songs. If you start with the title Pigs on the Wing, it describes a flying pig, in reference to the saying “when pigs fly,” noting an impossibility or something so farcical as to believe it could never occur. Listening to the song, the message is almost spelled out and it’s a simple instrumental accompaniment, almost as if Waters wanted the listener to hear that message, like “sheep.” I believe that the point the band is actually trying to get across with this song is the opposite of the overt message, that even if you love someone, societal norms will often put a stop to it, and getting the chance to be with someone you love outside of your social class, well, you have a better chance of seeing a flying pig.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Dogs: Dogs is the first introduction we have to the main characters of the album, the predatory businessmen that will do anything to get ahead. There’s a lot to love about this song and it’s not as deep as Pigs on the Wing 1. Musically, this song will give you a little bit of everything to listen to. Some of the highlights for me are the first guitar solo at around two minutes in (I particularly like how Nick Mason used the drums to give a stronger presence to the solo), the funky downtempo portion of the song about halfway through, and the final build towards the end. The opening acoustic guitar carries throughout the song and is used as a transition between different musical themes to tie the whole piece together. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Pigs (Three Different Ones): This isn’t just my favorite song on the album, this is one of my favorite songs period. Starting with the characters, we’re introduced to the political elite in this song, the pigs. In particular, Waters and Gilmour wrote this song as a critique of pro-nationalist, pro-capitalist policies. Musically, Pigs displays some of Pink Floyd’s most experimental work, most notably the use of a squawk box on the guitar during the solo to mimic the sound of a pig snort and a voice modulator during the bridges. Not only did the band re-create pig sounds, they sampled actual pigs before coming in with the squawk box in what I think is an effort to show how close they were to art mimicking life. I can’t say enough good things about how masterfully this song is played, how well everything works together, how it swells or how different licks carry throughout the song giving it continuity. Every bit of this track deserves the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award,” listen to it for yourself! Dad’s Rating 10/10

Sheep: Sheep gets is often overlooked because of its proximity to Pigs on the album and it really shouldn’t be! This is another dynamic song that will hold your attention both lyrically and musically. Starting with the former, the song introduces the third main character, the sheep. The sheep here fill the same role here as they do in the source material, George Orwell’s Animal Farm. The sheep are supposed to embody the common folk who are fed lies by the pigs and preyed upon by the dogs. In this version of events, the sheep rise up to overpower the capitalist dogs, much unlike Orwell’s novel. Musically, the song opens with a great keyboard introduction overlaid over the sounds of birds to emphasize the peacefulness and naivety of the sheep. The guitar steadily builds to a climax throughout the song as the sheep begin to rise up and there are two major solos throughout the piece that allow David Gilmour artistic freedom. I rate this higher than Dogs because I think it’s more musically interesting to listen to and tells a better story than the former. Dad’s Rating 9/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

The Doors – Morrison Hotel (1970): 4 March 2019

The Doors – Morrison Hotel (1970)

Another week on YDCS and I think it is time we slow down and take a rest for a minute, maybe at the Morrison Hotel? That’s right, this week we’re covering Morrison Hotel by The Doors. Morrison Hotel was a comeback album of sorts for The Doors. Their previous album was commercially a flop, lead singer Jim Morrison had been involved in a string of civil involvements stemming from his abuse of alcohol, and the band needed something to lift them back up. While this album didn’t produce the band’s best-known works (those come, on the whole, from LA Woman and The Doors), Morrison Hotel was a return to form for the band and would be the penultimate studio album released during the life of Jim Morrison.

The Doors grew to popularity during the mid-1960s when psychedelic rock was the flavor of the day. Their early work has strong influences of the times, but the band was dynamic, shifting away from their psychedelic roots in the early 1970s towards a bluesy-er sound and incorporating more spoken word in their music, often written by Morrison himself. However, Jim Morrison is not the whole story of the band. It would be remiss to not mention the organ and keyboard present in all of their songs played by the masterful Ray Manzarek. Manzarek’s skill behind the keyboard is legendary and is on par with the best in the rock music industry. He, along with John Densmore and Robby Krieger all went on to have successful careers in music after the dissolution of the band. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Roadhouse Blues: The bluesy sound that The Doors transitioned to is immediately evident on the opening track to the album. This song sounds so different from any of the band’s earlier work and is entirely reminiscent of a traditional Mississippi Delta Blues track. Let it roll baby! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Waiting For The Sun: Keep in mind that this is still very much a transition album for The Doors. Waiting For The Sun is a return to their old form and the psychedelic influence is strong. Listen to the album Strange Days and I think you’ll find more like this. Musically this song isn’t particularly impressive. There are other psychedelic songs from the same two years on either side of this release that are more musically complex than this (White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane comes to mind), and frankly this song is slightly boring and repetitive. Dad’s Rating 6/10

You Make Me Real: You Make Me Real is one of the hidden gems of the album in my opinion. The piano throughout the song, but particularly in the opening seconds of the song, evokes thoughts of wild west saloons solely by its tonality. The just works really well together. Take into account the lyrics “I really want you, really do,” and combine that with the driving pace of the song and the music puts more urgency behind those words. This is definitely not one to skip over! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Peace Frog: This isn’t just one of my favorite songs by The Doors, this is one of my favorite songs period! The lyrics are a poem written by Morrison that he adapted into the lyrics for the song. Musically, this song hits all the notes…the drums give the song a little bit of a groove, the guitar is masterful, and the keys have a classic Doors sound. The guitar solo in this song is one of Robby Krieger’s best. It’s not a long solo so keep your ear out for it, but it rocks! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Blue Sunday: Peace Frog runs directly into Blue Sunday and the juxtaposition of the snappy pace of Peace Frog and the slowed down pace of this song is pleasant. Morrison’s vocals really shine through on this song, and up to this point, there aren’t any examples of his crooning ability. The prior four songs are all very rough vocally, so having a change of pace is a relief. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Ship Of Fools: Dynamically, Ship Of Fools might be one of the best songs on the album. Listen to how the songs builds from the beginning into the boisterous verses before retreating during the interlude and solo and rebuilding in the last third of the song. I always appreciate a song that manages to do that well because it keeps the song from going stale. You would be a fool to skip this song! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Land Ho!: This is an unusual song for me because I’m not particularly hot or cold on it either way. It flows well from Ship Of Fools but the message doesn’t resonate and the instrumentals are lackluster. If you’ve listened to the rest of the album up to this point then this one is worth skipping. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The Spy: The Spy is a combination of the blues-form that we’ve heard on earlier tracks on the album and the slowed down ballad where Morrison’s vocals shine through. The way the song swells and fades is stereotypical of down tempo blues tracks and they did a very good job with that here. This is the perfect song to sit back and enjoy listening to Manzarek’s fingers dance up and down the keys in the background. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Queen Of The Highway: This another one of those songs where the lyrics don’t resonate with me, but I’ll give it more credit than Land Ho! because the instrumentals pulled me in on this track. I almost completely ignored Morrison’s singing on this track and focused on how the three guitars interwove their parts together. Listening exclusively to the instruments, the song sounds like a garage jam session where all the personnel are in sync and enjoying what they do. If you approach the song from that angle as opposed o head on with the vocals taking front and center then I think you’ll find more enjoyment in it. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Indian Summer: I liked this song a lot. This is such a peaceful song to listen to with a timeless message about love. Nothing is overdone on this track which lets the listener focus on the lyrics and Morrison’s voice. Combining those two things together, the song seems much more personal and endearing. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Maggie McGill: There’s no more fitting way to close out The Doors’ blues inspired album than with a blues track. This song retains the iconic keyboard solo and growling Morrison voice, but lacks anything inspiring. Compared to the earlier part of the album, this song just doesn’t have any punch to it. I’m rating this song jointly as the lowest on the album but I wouldn’t skip this one like I would Land Ho!. This song redeems itself by showcasing the blues sound that hadn’t been heard on the band’s albums prior to this release. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Rush- Rush (1974): 25 February 2019

Rush – Rush (1974)

Rush over to whatever you use to play your music, because this week we’re going to take a look at the first entry in my favorite band’s discography, the self-titled debut, Rush. Formed in Toronto in the early 1970s, Rush was one of the leaders of the progressive rock genre and became well known for their epic, extended length songs, lyrics rooted in classic literature, and musicianship. Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart have all been recognized many times over for their mastery of their respective instruments; bass, lead guitar, and drums. The lineup of the band has only changed once, and it was after this album. John Rutsey was the first drummer for the band and was replaced with Peart due to his inability to sustain the grueling tour schedule that Lee and Lifeson wanted to continue with.

This first entry is arguably Rush trying to find their sound. Listening to the album you’ll hear strong influences from Led Zeppelin in the sound and fewer esoteric literary references in the lyrics. On their second album, Fly By Night, the band really finds their own sound and starts exploring story telling in their lyrics. By the time they reached their fourth album (and one of the most important albums in rock history), 2112, they had become leaders in the progressive rock genre, incorporating unusual time signatures and borrowing heavily from science fiction, dystopian, and collectivist literature to critique in their music. This first album is very similar to a Led Zeppelin I or more recently Anthem of the Peaceful Army by Greta Van Fleet. Both of those albums are from young bands that are borrowing heavily from their source material, and in the case of Greta Van Fleet, I believe that in time that they will take their source material and create their own path from it. This album is a rocker full of shredding guitar solos from Lifeson that were never as numerous as they were here, and it produced a hit single for the band, Working Man. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Finding My Way: What a way to open the album! Rush wanted to make an impactful start and they accomplished that. This is just pure early 1970s rock. The swell in the beginning towards the first verse is really impactful. The guitar riff that carries the song gets stuck in my head every time I listen to this song and solo before the final verse definitely rocks hard. This only gets a 9 because there’s other songs that hold up better than this song. Finding My Way never had the staying power of Working Man, but it definitely rocked! Let this help you find your way through Rush’s discography! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Need Some Love: Need Some Love is the shortest track on the album, but that doesn’t diminish its excellence at all. Dynamically, this song is less impressive than Finding My Way, and the instrumentals are less complex than on the former track too. This song actually reminds me of some of AC/DC’s work at the time, both were producing similar styles of hard rock before Rush moved in a different direction to produce more experimental music. Not much more to be said other than this is another rocking Rush track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Take A Friend: This is what would become the “Rush sound” all the way through their album Caress of Steel. Because this is what I would describe as the origin “Rush sound,” it’s not as polished as some of their later work and doesn’t hold up when you look at it in that light. The crescendo at the beginning of the song is where it all starts, that particular mix with an even amount of Geddy’s bass and Alex’s lead guitar working together with support from John on drums can be heard on albums for the next 15 years of Rush releases. On the rest of the song, Alex’s guitar is too turned up and it sounds like they’re just playing their own instruments and not a cohesive act like we hear later. Now, having said all of that, this is still a fantastic song, and it’s one of those deep cuts that never gets played on classic rock radio. Share this with a friend and give it a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Here Again: I would call this a power ballad before power ballads had a name. After speeding through the first three tracks, this song is a welcome break. The slowed tempo actually allows the band’s musicianship to shine through. Geddy sounds much more restrained and passionate in his singing here than on any other track on the album. This is also the longest track on the album, which to make a slow song the longest song is a bold move. Fortunately, the song doesn’t drag at all; it’s dynamic in the way it develops from a soft start towards the emotional, two-minute long guitar solo at around the halfway mark. This is one of the longest Alex Lifeson solos in Rush’s discography and he made sure to not waste it. Its passion and musical complexity make it worth more than one listen. Dad’s Rating 9/10

What You’re Doing: Led Zeppelin’s influence on Rush comes through strongly on What You’re Doing. It’s probably the least interesting song on the album. There’s nothing to make it stand out from the earlier songs that are more musically complex and rock harder. There’s also no hint of the developing “Rush sound,” which places this song as one of the ones lost in the early discography. One of the saving graces is John Rutsey’s drum rolls during Alex’s solo. Neil Peart was more restrained on their later albums and I can’t recall a song where he did anything similar. That uniqueness of Rutsey gives the song a little more sticking power. Dad’s Rating 7/10

In The Mood: This song shows another hint of the developing “Rush sound.” Compare this song to, what is arguably one of the worst Rush songs, I’m Going Bald from the band’s third album and you’;ll hear how the band shifted towards a more vocal forward sound and guitar to support the vocals. That’s a stark difference to what we hear on most of this album where many songs are guitar forward. This song put me in the mood to give it a 7/10, not because it’s a great song, but because we can hear the band’s potential.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Before and After: “This is only the second slower tempo song on the album and it’s a welcome break from the frenetic energy that we’ve experienced up until now,” is what I’m sure you’re thinking. Just wait. Rush is always full of surprises and this song is the earliest example of the band experimenting with their music. The transition between the down-tempo and up-tempo parts of the song is really smooth and it builds into a song with great energy and fantastic instrumentation from all the members. Rutsey’s drum work on this song is particularly good and Lifeson’s dual solos are both memorable. Don’t let this one fool you, there’s definitely a before and after part of this song. I think you’ll find them pretty quickly too! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Working Man: When you hear the opening chords to Working Man there’s no mistaking what song it is. This was Rush’s first hit single and the one that let the band grow. Initially the song was played on the radio in Cleveland, Ohio, and every time it played, the radio station received calls asking where people can buy the new Led Zeppelin album. The song resonated strongly in Cleveland at the time because the city was still a mostly working class, factory city. Now to the song itself, the instrumentation is par none. Lifeson shreds in his solo on this album and the band is one complete unit throughout the song. We even hear hints of the “Rush sound” after the guitar solos where the lead and bass guitars are supporting each other by playing the same riffs. We’ll hear the on more Rush track like Tom Sawyer and YYZ. I can’t say enough good things about this legendary classic rock track. This is the perfect way to closeout a debut album and leave people wanting more. This song is one of the few thus far to receive a “They Don’t Make Songs Like This Anymore Award” for a 10/10 rating. Well played lads. Dad’s Rating 10/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970): 18 February 2019

Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re tackling a band that has split opinions for the past four-and-a-half decades. People either love ‘em or hate ‘em; the Grateful Dead. The album of choice will be one of the Dead’s most successful albums, American Beauty. As the second album released by the Grateful Dead in 1970, American Beauty was a continuation of many of the themes found on their earlier album Workingman’s Dead and places the band in the center of what can be described as their “Americana” phase that would continue until the release of From the Mars Hotel in 1974. Much of the album centers around classic American folk, blues, bluegrass, rock, and country sounds mixed with quintessential Grateful Dead vocal harmonies and stellar musicianship.

American Beauty was the last studio album released by the Dead for the next three years. During this period, the band spent much of their time touring and released a handful of live albums before returning to the studio. This was also the last album to feature drummer Mickey Hart before his return on From the Mars Hotel, a vacancy that was filled by Bill Kreutzmann while on tour. American Beauty is best enjoyed when relaxing. This isn’t an album that you’re going to want to listen to while you’re at the gym. Sit back and try to pick out how complex the instrumental pieces are and let your mind wander to the music. When I listened to the album, the classic Americana sound immediately conjured images of big blue skies and road trips through the Western United States. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Box of Rain: The opening track on the album jumps in to a classic Grateful Dead sound with a soft, folksy instrumentals and soothing vocal harmonies. This isn’t the strongest song on the album (I’ll reserve that for the next two songs), but it is a classic Dead song. Listen to how the song slowly swells towards the end and how the instruments seem to finish each other’s riffs, in particular, the piano and lead guitar.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Friend of the Devil: This was a staple of Grateful Dead concerts for years for a very good reason, this is an infectious little song that will play on repeat in your head after you hear it. Friend of the Devil has a stronger bluegrass influence than Box of Rain, particularly in the beginning, before launching into a strongly folk-influenced song. I particularly enjoy the solo in the bridge and the addition of a syncopated drum to mark that section off. It’s a welcome touch that reminds you that you’re listening to musicians who really know their craft. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Sugar Magnolia: Sugar Magnolia moves away from the folk influence of the first songs to a soft, classic rock sound that is characteristic of the California Rock sound of the 1970s (think Eagles, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, etc.). Grateful Dead still manages to differentiate themselves from the sounds of the others with this song with their musicality. The way the play is starkly different and more refined and deliberate in my opinion. Listen to the Eagles self-titled debut album from 1972 (I know they were released 2 years apart, but they both exemplify the California Rock scene of the 1970s) and you’ll see how the Grateful Dead place every note exactly where they want. Excellent musicianship!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Operator: Operator is a transition in the album towards a more country sound than the folk heard on the front three songs on the album. What stands out about this song though is that it’s more than a simple country song; the drums drive the song in a way that wasn’t often heard in country music but in more of a rock setting. This is an interesting crossover song and worth the listen at just over two minutes in length. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Candyman: At first, I was going to rate this song lower than I did. Candyman didn’t initially stand out against the other tracks on the album. It’s got a classic, drug-fueled Dead sound but I think Box of Rain is a better example of that. The saving grace for this song is Jerry Garcia’s steel pedal guitar solo in the middle of the song. It’s chilling to listen to and almost makes the song sound other-worldly (granted, some of the people listening to the song on initial debut were on another planet and the band might have been too when they wrote it…). Dad’s Rating 6/10

Ripple: This is one of my favorite songs on the album. Ripple is a stripped-back folk song that really lets Garcia’s voice come through on Robert Hunter’s lyrics and swells towards a choir singing along with the band towards the end. Garcia singing Hunter’s lyrics is the central point of the song. Essays have been written about the meaning behind the lyrics of this song, but briefly, Hunter and Garcia explore whether words written by one person and sung by another carry the same weight and meaning as the original writer intended. These musings are punctuated at the end of each stanza with an interpretation of a biblical verse. You’ll get something new out of this song every time you listen to it.   Dad’s Rating 9/10

Brokedown Palace: Brokedown Palace doesn’t quite hold up to me after Ripple. The two songs flow from one into another quite nicely, but my problem with it is that this feels like a second, less deep, less polished part of Ripple. If you were just listening to the music and ignoring the lyrics it’s very possible that someone could come to this conclusion too. Stick to Box of Rain or Attics of My Life. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Till the Morning Comes: The Dead picked up the pace where it mattered. Up to this point the only up-tempo song on the album was Friend of the Devil and the album was about to start dragging. Country rock comes back in full-force with those Grateful Dead vocal harmonies. It doesn’t stand out amongst other country rock tracks or cuts from the album but it’s still a good song that’s worth a listen!Dad’s Rating 7/10

Attics of My Life: Aaaaaaand as quickly as we got an up-tempo song we went back to drug-fueled Grateful Dead. This is what most people think of when they think of the Dead, slowed down music with lyrics that sound like they’re straight off of a Jefferson Airplane album. Now, having said that, I think this is a great song. Sometimes these deep cuts on Dead albums drag on and it’s difficult to focus on the musicianship of the band, but this track actually shows how all of the band can play together and create a beautiful, unified sound.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Truckin’: Truckin’… This is one of the band’s most popular songs and was released as one of the singles for the album. I’m actually going to say that I don’t think this song holds up particularly well against some of the other songs on the album. It’s a good song, and it’s a distinguishable Grateful Dead sound that would be easy to play on the radio, but if you truck through the album and listen to everything, I believe there are other songs that were more lyrically and musically interesting to listen to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

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Blue Öyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin (1981): 11 February 2019

Blue Öyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin (1981)

This week on YDCS we’re going to take a look at one of Blue Oyster Cult’s (BOC from here on) concept albums, Fire of Unknown Origin. The album was originally written as a soundtrack of sorts to the parody film Heavy Metal, and ironically the only song on the album not explicitly written for the film, Veteran of the Psychic Wars, was the only one featured in the movie! Fire was also the last BOC album to feature the original band lineup of Donald Roeser, Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, and brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard and generally marks the end of the band’s most successful commercial era. Albert Bouchard had a falling out with the band while touring to support the album and was replaced on drums before the band’s next album, The Revolution By Night.

This album is a hidden gem of rock albums if you’ve never listened to it before. It was never a heavy hitter in terms of album sales, only being certified gold in the year that it was released, but every song on the album rocks or displays incredible musicianship and lyricism. The album produced one of BOC’s most popular singles, Burnin’ For You, that received increased attention after being played in heavy rotation on the newly created MTV. Burnin’ is still played on classic rock radio to this day, but it’s really a shame that the rest of the album never received the same attention. Give this one a shot, and hopefully you find a hidden gem on this album like I did.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Fire of Unknown Origin: The album starts with its namesake song and it’s a great start! I really like how rough the vocals sound on this song when they interact with well-polished instrumentation. That’s an interesting contrast that elevates the song. The instruments play off of each other really well on this album, with keyboards doing a call and response with the guitar and the bass doing a twiddly number in the back.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Burnin’ For You: This is one of BOC’s most famous songs and it certainly doesn’t disappoint! The transition from Fire to Burnin’ For You is nearly seamless, and I find that’s actually one of the hallmarks of the album. Listening to it, songs just roll from one into another and it helps you get lost in the music. Burnin’ has always had this smooth, driving beat to it that makes it so appealing and easy to listen to. The guitar solo in the bridge and final chorus is worth taking a closer listen to. Oftentimes when songs like this come on in the car, we just jam out and don’t actually actively listen to the music, but sitting and actively listening on this track will really add more depth to it for your next jam session! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Veteran of the Psychic Wars: This is the start of the hidden gems on the album and it’s a little bit out there as far as instrumentation goes. I also view this as the first part of two songs that play off of each other, this and the next song, Sole Survivor. As far as Veteran goes, it’s one of the more experimental songs on the album, adding in a marching drum beat during the chorus and, in my opinion, keeping instruments other than the keyboard and drums fairly toned back. That really gives the song a haunting quality that is hard to forget and amplifies the title, Veteran of the Psychic Wars. The marching drum combined with the eerie keyboard make you feel like you’re listening to the end of a psychic battle, maybe even one where you’re the sole survivor. That’s where I think the link is with these two songs. The two songs are distinct enough to be their own but are similar enough that they could be describing the same event. Don’t skip over this one, I don’t think you’ll forget it for a while. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Sole Survivor: Sole Survivor is a more standard rock track the Veteran that precedes it, but it never got much airplay on radio. This is what I call the second hidden gem on the album and is the second part of how I imagine the Veteran/Survivor song. This is just a great track with a blistering guitar solo over the bridge, keyboards to sound like a spaceship, and awesome vocal harmony through the chorus. Stereotypically early 80s rock, and so, so good. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver: Woooooo boy! This is the third hidden gem on the album and when you open with a shredding guitar like this one does, you know it’s going to rock! This song was one of those specifically written for the movie Heavy Metal that was not included in the release. I had never really paid much attention to this song on previous listens to this album, but for some reason I paid more attention on this listen and I’m glad I did because I had been missing a rocking track!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Vengeance: I wasn’t sure how I wanted to rate Vengeance at first because it meanders and is a little odd. It features backing vocals that sing “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” to emphasize the instrumentation and shifts between typical otherworldly/spacey rock that BOC is known for and something that sounds more reminiscent of stereotypical 80s rock. Vengeance then goes and takes off halfway through the song and speeds up into a heavy metal track. Ultimately, I decided that this was such a good song to actively listen to that I needed to rate it higher. It made me think and analyze how all of these elements work together and I appreciated that. Dad’s Rating 8/10

After Dark: After Dark is a rocker! The bass line almost gives the song a surf rock feeling to it, but overall, the song doesn’t stray from the otherworldly sound that features so prevalently on the rest of the album. If you listen to this, you get shredding solos, great harmony in the chorus that really emphasizes the lyrics well, and so much 80s rock.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Joan Crawford: I was a little unsure about this song when it first came on. The thought was “How is BOC going to open a song with a piano solo and get back to the sound of the rest of the album?” The next question was “How is a tribute song about actress Joan Crawford going to work into this album?” They did it. The album is already quirky and by referencing the revival of the legendary actress, it actually doesn’t feel out of place amongst psychic wars and songs written for Heavy Metal. It helps that the track is so well written and evolves from a piano ballad into a full-on rock track before calming out. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Don’t Turn Your Back: Don’t turn your back on this last song on the album! Firstly, the song has such a funky little groove to it that makes it so infectious. If space-funk were ever a subgenre of music, this song would fit right into it. BOC nailed a song that’s outside of what they normally do (that being heavy metal and rock), and put their own unmistakable twist on it. It really exemplifies what they did with this whole album, they took things that you would never believe could work together and did it through a common sound. Job well done gents. Dad’s Rating 8/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.

Yes- The Yes Album (1971): 4 February 2019

Yes – The Yes Album (1971)

We’re going back to 1971 this week on YDCS to take a look at one of the acts most responsible for the creation of progressive rock music, the English rock band Yes. For the thus far uninitiated, progressive rock was a subgenre of rock music that started developing in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was characterized by the use of unusual instruments, time signatures, fantastical, philosophical, or science fiction lyrics, and breaking the traditional moulds of song structure. Fortunately for the band, The Yes Album was a commercial breakthrough with songs like Yours is No Disgrace and I’ve Seen All Good People, especially considering that they were at risk of being dropped by their label if this album, their third, didn’t perform to expectation.

The Yes Album was the first Yes album to feature guitarist Steve Howe who would ultimately stay with the band through its most successful period through 1981 before the band broke up and reformed later in the year without him. This was also the last album to feature Tony Kaye on keyboard after he refused to branch out and play the mini-moog or synthesizer on their next album, Fragile. Kaye was quickly replaced by Rick Wakeman on Fragile leading to the band’s most successful lineup. If this is your first Yes album, don’t be off put by the runtimes on the songs. Yours is No Disgrace is the longest track on the album at around 9:40, but there are two other songs that give it a “runtime” for its money. Sit back and just enjoy letting the instruments weave between each other to create a stunning album.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Yours is No Disgrace: This is a rockin’ start to the album! The song transitions between a few themes including some fantastic keyboard playing from Kaye and insanely catchy guitar riffs from Howe in the middle of the track. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is my favorite because of how it uses the wah to add some groove to the track before transitioning back to a more traditional picking technique. Around that midpoint in the song is when we start to see the bass come more into the forefront too and drive the song forward. I think you’ll like the vocal harmony from the band through the entire song and don’t find it to be a disgrace! Dad’s Rating 9/10

The Clap: The Clap is a great little folksy guitar solo written by Howe. This is one of my favorite songs on the album even though it doesn’t really fit with the sound of the album. As he describes it, it was the first solo that he felt comfortable performing. I particularly enjoy the quick changes between picking and strumming that give this song a unique sound. Howe’s technical ability really shines through on this song. I’m not a guitar player but I definitely appreciate the difficulty of the song. This song always brings a smile to my face, and it’s hard to not be happy and smiling with a calm little ditty like this playing. Try not to bop your head along to the song, I dare you! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Starship Trooper (A. Life Seeker; B. Disillusion; C. Wurm): Starship Trooper is the first of two songs on this album that’s split into three parts. This is fairly common amongst progressive rock bands, where songs would be split into multiple parts that would explore a different theme in each section or would try to evoke a different emotion in each section. Yes did this on multiple albums, but most notably on Close to the Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans (stay tuned for album reviews on those later!). The song transitions between the different sections very nicely and it’s very clear where the transition from Life Seeker to Disillusion occurs, the same is true for Disillusion to Wurm. Disillusion is my favorite part of the song and sadly the shortest. It shows more technical guitar ability from Howe Dad’s Rating 7/10

I’ve Seen All Good People: a. Your Move, b. All Good People: This song is the second multi-part song on the album after Starship Trooper, and where Wurm was slightly lacking on the former, there’s not a bad part of this song. This song is classic Yes, classic prog rock, and is one of Yes’ best-known songs. Good People gives you a little bit of everything that makes Yes such a quirky band and so much fun to listen to: vocal harmony, accompaniment on a church organ, and a rocking up-tempo part after Your Move opens into All Good People.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

A Venture: A Venture is one of the more unique songs on the album, and like The Clap, it doesn’t seem to fit with the sound of the rest of the album. It’s much more restrained, features significantly less vocal harmony, and there’s not unusual instruments. A Venture gets credit for displaying Kaye’s skills on the piano with his solo at the end of this song. The solo feels fresh and, in my opinion, actually provides a breath of fresh air on the album. When every song on an album sounds the same, the album can become stale, but the different tone of this song actually refreshes the sound for the last song, Perpetual Change, which is more of a return to the more familiar “Yes sound” on this album. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Perpetual Change: Yes wanted to close this album out with a bang and a return to their signature sound. This song has philosophical lyrics, masterful instrumentation from the band members, and more time signature changes than you can count. That’s actually my favorite part of this song for two reasons: firstly, they keep you on your toes and make you actively listen to the song as opposed to passively listening to it and letting it wash over you, and secondly it fits the title of the song very appropriately! The song is titled perpetual change for a reason and the song does exactly that! One minute you’ll be listening to a soft ballad, then the song shifts to a ripping guitar solo, then it goes back to ballad, then you’ll be listening to something that sounds like it should be the song to lead in the evening news! (see if you can spot that part of the song) Yes was unapologetically themselves with this last song on their last ditch effort album, and it ended up paying off. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The opinion above is protected under the Fair Use provision of United States Copyright Law, 17 U.S.C §107 which allows for the fair use of a copyrighted work for criticism without infringement on the copyright.