Santana- Abraxas (1970): 20 January 2020

Santana – Abraxas (1970)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! Today we’re going to take a listen to an album that hasn’t been on my list of albums to listen to for long but its impact is hard to overstate, Abraxas by Santana. Many people know Santana for his contribution to Rob Thomas’ song “Smooth” in the late 1990s, and a strong subset of that group probably know about his band that performed at Woodstock in 1969, months after their self-titled debut. Abraxas comes hot on the heels of Santana but it comes with a more refined, artistic style. A lot of the songs could be classified as progressive rock for their stylistic fusion across the record and occasionally odd application of solos and musical composition. Prog usually excludes bands like Santana because they didn’t make a traditional rock sound like Yes or Rush, but, arguably, prog rock is all about pushing the boundaries of what we can call rock. Santana did that really well on Abraxas in between creating some more traditional, face-melting rock songs.

This is a mind-blowing album and I’m genuinely surprised that it’s not often mentioned publicly as one of the heavyweights of early 1970s rock. Everyone knows Santana for their few big singles, but are left out in favor of albums by other groups like Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix. Abraxas went platinum five times! How can an album go platinum five times and miss out of the mainstream?! For reference, in 1970, Led Zeppelin III went six-times platinum and Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Let It Be by The Beatles BOTH went four-times platinum. Abraxas outsold Let It Be. Let that sink in for a second.  

Santana had their hits, two of which feature on this album, but this whole record is a rock and roll journey that keeps giving. The combination of Latin, jazz, and blues elements with rock make this such an interesting album to listen to and will keep you entranced the whole way through. Each song feels like an independent piece but they all work together to create a cohesive piece of music. The guitar work is nothing short of incredible and I have high praise for the early 1970s sound. There’s a lot of keyboard-forward sound on some tracks that was popular for the time, particularly for groups like The Doors, The Yardbirds, and The Animals, but Santana made the traditional rock sound all their own. It’s a little early to start calling this one of the best albums of the year, but I don’t think many albums will get this close to perfect. Please enjoy the iconic, innovative Santana.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Singing Winds, Crying Beasts: What a way to start an album! If you’ve never listened to Santana before picking this record up and heard this opening you might think that they were a progressive rock group (more on that later), because the Latin sound isn’t immediately apparent and really doesn’t come up much in this song. I love the titling of the song with what the band ended up putting together. Singing winds represented by the chimes with crying beasts represented by the loud guitar intrusions. This is a creative choice to open an album from a creative band and it works really well. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen: Goodness gracious. Santana turned up the heat with “Black Magic Woman” to create a beautiful Latin-inspired, blues rock song. Some singles are big for a reason, and this one deserves all of its attention. It’s a beautiful combination of a soft samba and a shredding guitar track. The back half of the song is “Gypsy Queen” and doesn’t get as much airplay as the front half, but its volume contributes significantly to the juxtaposition against the quieter “Black Magic Woman.” Smoooooooth. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Oye Como Va: The second big hit off of Abraxas was this song, “Oye Como Va.” Continuing the theme from “Black Magic Woman,” there’s a seamless integration of traditional blues rock elements with Lain backing instrumentation. I’ll highlight the keyboard on this song because it absolutely rocks. Not enough bands give the keyboardist a solo, but the playfulness between the keyboardist, Greg Rollie, and Carlos Santana’s solo afterwards is infectious and they play well off of each other. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Incident at Neshabur: I loved “Incident at Neshabur,” and I’d highlight it as one of two really good hidden gems on the album. This is an instrumental track that plays into the progressive rock realm. The keyboard forward sound and odd times signatures, combined with Santana’s samba sound and a sample of an Aretha Franklin song are a perfect blend of prog rock for me and make this a weird little number. I would have been interested to hear a whole album of songs like this. This is a great hidden gem for anyone interested in a different kind of Santana sound and shows great depth of musicianship on the part of the band. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Se a Cabo: I had to skip over “Se a Cabo” a few times writing this album review because I wasn’t sure what to say about it. Objectively, it’s a good rock track that showcases what the band represented with their fusion rock sound. On the other side of that, it doesn’t stand out among the other songs on the record. I think there’s better representations of the ‘Santana sound,’ and “Se a Cabo” gets lost in the mix. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Mother’s Daughter: “Mother’s Daughter” has a whirlwind of an opening that just doesn’t deliver through the rest of the track. I expected a fiery rock song, and while it’s good, it doesn’t live up to initial expectations. It has the same problem that “Se a Cabo” has, it gets lost in the middle of a lot of really good songs. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Samba Pa Ti: “Samba Pa Ti” shows that Santana took inspiration wherever it happened to be found, in this case coming from the jazz saxophone of someone playing outside Carlos Santana’s apartment. They hit the nail on the head trying to make a song that was a cross between a typical Santana-style rock song and a free-form jazz solo. The track is loose and easy going. It’s a very refreshing song in the middle of a complex album and a real joy. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Hope You’re Feeling Better: I’ve never listened to this song before this album review, but it has been on repeat for the past week. This is one of the best hidden gem rock songs on an album I’ve heard yet. It’s a classic rock song that strays from the band’s normal sound, and that may have been what caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting heavy use of fuzz (distortion) knowing Santana’s reputation and legitimately one of the best guitar solos I’ve reviewed. Santana lights up the fretboard on this track. It may be just another classic rock song, but I think this shows how invested the band were in the rock sound, and at the end of the day, they really turned the volume up to 11 here. Dad’s Rating 10/10

El Nicoya: “El Nicoya” is a huge shift away from “Hope You’re Feeling Better,” and I like to think that it shows the other side of the band’s influences. This is a straight Latin song featuring conga drums at the front of the band. When you pair the two songs and think back to the rest of the album where the styles of these two songs were paired together, you come to realize that they did a really good job of putting together styles of music that are fundamentally opposite. Job well done. Dad’s Rating 7/10

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Steely Dan- Can't Buy A Thrill (1972): 13 January 2020

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill (1972)

Welcome back to YDCS! It’s been a year since I last covered a Steely Dan album; despite wanting to review one for the past few months, I’ve controlled myself. This week is the week though, we’re taking a listen to Steely Dan’s first studio album, Can’t Buy A Thrill. Known for their cryptic lyrics, complex musical arrangements, and disregard for genre, Steely Dan cemented their sound from the first song on this record. They knew that they wanted to reject everyone’s expectations of what rock music was supposed to sound like and make their own music without compromise. Sometimes it came across as pretentious and others it came across as musically genius, but through all of that, Steely Dan has always had their loyal followers who love that rejection of the norm for the sake of good music. Can’t Buy A Thrill would be their starting point too. Albums would grow to be more experimental and cryptic up until the release of Aja.

I really enjoy Steely Dan, but the band has a problem as far as classic rock is concerned that I will coin the “Steely Dan Problem.” Is their music rock or pop/easy-listening? Each song has to be evaluated separately to get to that truth on their albums. Some are easier than others. “Do It Again” is solidly in the rock camp and “Brooklyn” is solidly in the easy-listening camp. Others like “Dirty Work” are a little more difficult. My criteria for deciding whether it’s rock or not is this: Would I be okay with it if I’m listening to a classic rock radio station, they just finished playing “Communication Breakdown” by the Zep and a Steely Dan song comes on. If I’m okay with that song following the Zep then it’s rock. If it makes me want to switch the channel then it’s not rock.

This sparks a larger conversation about what we can really call rock music. Is Steely Dan a rock band? Most of the time I would say yes. I think that the majority of their work could safely be called rock, however; a lot of the songs that are their most popular would not fall into that rock camp. If we call Steely Dan rock then what does that open us up to? Alternatively, we exclude them from the rock genre, who else are we leaving out? Arguably we would start to leave out people and groups like Jackson Brown, Crosby Stills and Nash, The Marshall Tucker Band, and a lot of the acts on the softer side of rock. I don’t think that’s the right answer. All of those acts have something in common and it pulls us back to a central question:” What’s rock about anyway?”. If you ask me, it’s about pushing boundaries and making new sounds. The Dan have clearly done that, and for that alone I’d be willing to call them a rock group.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Do It Again: I was 12 the first time I heard “Do It Again.” I remember exactly where I was and I remember thinking it was a Carlos Santana song. I had never heard anything like it before and I was instantly hooked. “Do It Again” was the perfect way for Steely Dan to open their first album and show the world the kind of music that they wanted to make; complex multi-instrumental rock that wouldn’t be bound to traditional influences. The latin flavor is strong on “Do It Again,” and I find myself still amazed at the high degree of musicianship and multi-tracking. Listening to it this time, I noticed more backing instruments than before and they’re all playing these absurdly difficult runs. No one else would think it’s necessary, but it adds greatly to the song. A classic song and great start to the album. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Dirty Work: “Dirty Work” is such a weird song and I love it. The slightly distorted vocal harmony that is hallmark of a recording from the late 60s-early 70s is one of my favorite sounds in music. The Dan was well-known for their tight harmonies and this is one of the best ones in their catalog. Having said that, it is also a prime example of the “Steely Dan Problem” though; is it rock or is it pop? Tough to say on this one, but I put it solidly in the soft rock camp. Maybe that’s so I can rate it higher than I would an easy listening song, but if I heard this on a classic rock radio station, I wouldn’t feel like it’s out of place.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Kings: “Kings” is one of the best hidden gems in Steely Dan’s discography and is gold mine of depth in lyrics and music. There aren’t many groups that would have the courage to do a song comparing medieval kings of England to drug bosses, but the Dan did it! If the comparison flies by, don’t worry because the song still stands up well on its own. It’s got a great, funky feeling to it and some of the best musical performances on the album. It’s one of my favorite Steely Dan songs and one of my favorite classic rock songs. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Midnite Cruiser: “Midnite Cruiser” is one of the least rocking songs on Can’t Buy A Thrill and about the limit for what I can call rockbefore I have to start classifying songs as easy listening. The song is average but it doesn’t make you want to rock out or push the boundary of the weird jazz fusion-rock that the band was known for. It feels more like an average pop song from the early 1970s than anything else but doesn’t quite cross into the realm of easy listening like some of the songs on this record do. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Only A Fool Would Say That: Now this is some elevator/yacht rock! Just imagine it; standing in an elevator in an office building with an instrumental version of this song playing. It fits so perfectly! Besides that, “Only A Fool” is a tight, latin/jazz-fusion inspired soft rock track. This just feels like a very polished piece with some great moments of jazz inspired guitar solos working to accent the lyrics. “Only A Fool” is on the softer side of rock, but it’s a high point for the album. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Reelin’ In The Years: If you’ve never heard of Steely Dan before, please allow me to introduce you to one of their songs that you might know without knowing it. “Reelin’ In The Years” was one of the most popular songs off this record and still receives heavy airplay. It’s a great rocker of a song, but I actually don’t think it’s one of their best. The Dan was known for complex musical arrangements and cryptic, poetic lyrics. “Reelin’ In The Years” feels like it was written to generate singles sales and I feel like it strays from their principles. It won’t stop me from listening to it, but there’s other songs on this record that are better representations of the band. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Fire In The Hole: As a song, I like “Fire In The Hole.” It has an interesting, free-flowing jazz structure in the solos that makes it great to listen to. The question we need to answer here though is, ‘Does it rock?’ Decidedly not. This is one of the problems with Steely Dan; because they weren’t limited by genre, you get some tracks that are great rockers and others that are more suited for easy listening radio. “Fire In The Hole” is in the latter camp. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Brooklyn (Owes The Charmer Under Me): See my comments on “Fire In The Hole.” I actually think this is worse than “Fire In The Hole” because it’s less interesting to listen to. There was some musical complexity to the former that has been replaced with a standard soft folk riff. Skip! Dad’s Rating 3/10

Change Of The Guard: “Change Of The Guard” improves on the last two songs significantly. We have a real rocker here, but it took me a minute to get there. I had to really think about whether this was rock or something else with the forward tambourine, keyboard driven riff and guitar that seems to be more backing vocals than actual guitar, but sure enough it’s rock! This is a track worth listening to in order to better understand Becker and Fagen’s genius and what they wanted the band to be; a laboratory for music. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Turn That Heartbeat Over Again: Skip. This is easy listening and it’s actually dull. It’s not what I expect from Steely Dan and doesn’t fit with the album. This is a real missed opportunity and an unfortunate closer to an otherwise great album. Dad’s Rating 2/10

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David Bowie- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972): 6 January 2020

David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)

Happy New Year and welcome to the first YDCS of 2020! We’re one year and going strong here and looking forward to another year full of great music. To start off 2020 we’re kicking it back to 1972 with David Bowie’s loose concept rock opera, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Ziggy Stardust wasn’t David Bowie’s first big hit, that honor goes to Hunky Dory, but Ziggy Stardust make him a legend. Widely considered one of the best albums ever written, Ziggy Stardust tells the story of a bisexual, androgynous alien from space come to save the Earth. The story of the main character of the record, Ziggy Stardust, was written after the album was recorded, explaining why some of the songs don’t always appear to continue the story of the hero.

Ziggy Stardust is a tough album to unpack as it is prototypical glam rock. David Bowie was the leader of a movement with this genre-breaker of an album, and bands like KISS, Mott the Hoople, and Roxy Music can all trace their origins to Ziggy Stardust. Looking back at it, I think the album is generally more culturally significant for making David Bowie a relevant entertainer and pioneering a genre than it was for its own music. The album stands up on its own, particularly on its big hits, but the question we have to ask is ‘Do we like the album because it’s a David Bowie album or do we like the album on its own merit?’ Ziggy Stardust crams a lot of passion and a lot of different elements of rock and roll into a fairly short album that features some great singles. I hope you enjoy the adventure of Ziggy Stardust!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Five Years: I’ll give credit where credit is due, David Bowie knew how to start a record. “Five Years” is a hauntingly beautiful song that immediately capitalizes on the space theme with an ethereal echo that carries through the song. It really sets the stage for a space adventure! My favorite part of this song is the raw emotion in Bowie’s voice though. It’s somewhere between a pleading cry and shout that amplifies through the song. Really a good start! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Soul Love: “Soul Love” takes the album in a funkier, horn-driven direction that wouldn’t work on a lot of albums after a passionate ballad but somehow feels right at home on a space odyssey. It works so well because the soul is present on both songs, just in different ways. Sure, the vocals are powerful on both (more so on “Five Years” than on “Soul Love”) but the soul comes out in the instrumentation here where it comes out in the vocals on the former. Definitely an interesting way to tie two songs together but it works well. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Moonage Daydream: Let’s try to listen to this song outside of the context of the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a minute… Yup. This holds up as a great song even when you do that! It’s the first real rocker that we get to hear on the album and it’s objectively a weird one too. There’s a lot of horn incorporation, a full string orchestra, and big guitar riffs and vocals. It all ties together into a glamorous, shiny song that doesn’t quite feel like it came from Earth. Bowie nailed it. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Starman: If we look at the big hits off Ziggy Stardust they can really be split into “Moonage Daydream,” “Suffragette City,” and this one, “Starman.” “Starman” is my favorite because it shows a more constrained side of Bowie that we don’t get to hear a lot on his record. The instrumentals are really crisp with a very prominent acoustic section and the vocals are insanely difficult but expertly performed. This is a classic rock track that is hard to beat. Dad’s Rating 9/10

It Ain’t Easy: I didn’t initially recognize “It Ain’t Easy” until I got to the chorus, but then it was immediate recognition. I rate this higher than the first two tracks on this album for one reason: Where Bowie only pulled on one source of soul on each of the first two songs, this one relies both on strong, soulful lyrics and a blues inspired guitar riff that elevates it. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Lady Stardust: Holy vocals. Bowie was always known for his singing ability and “Lady Stardust” might be the best example of that on this record. The amount of control and practice that goes into delivering a performance like this are almost immeasurable. Not only is this one of the more popular songs on the record, it’s musically very challenging.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Star: “Star” is one of the more forgettable songs on the album. It’s one of those that I won’t remember after this review unless I was the world’s biggest David Bowie fan and blends in to a lot of other songs of the early 70s. It’s not bad, it just doesn’t stand out. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Hang On to Yourself: Here’s one of the hidden gems on the record. “Hang On to Yourself” never gets a lot of attention sandwiched between some huge singles, but it’s a great example of the role that glam rock played in uniting old-school rock and roll and the emerging rock sound of the 1970s. This is fun song that’s worth listening to and not glossing over for the big tracks at the end of the record. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Ziggy Stardust: “Ziggy Stardust” is just about everything that I like in a good rock song. It’s progressive and conceptual in the fact that it has science fiction inspired lyrics and gives you the clearest description of the Ziggy Stardust character/David Bowie alter-ego. There are fantastic transitions between lyrical verses and harsh choruses that serve to remind you that this isn’t a song about a normal person, it’s a song about an alien. Fantastic song. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Suffragette City: ‘Hey man.’ “Suffragette City” is such a rocker. I’m not sure how much I can add to a song like this. It’s legendary in its own right and one of Bowie’s most recognizable songs. If you don’t know it then you need to listen to it. If you do know it, then you know what I mean. If this comes on in the car then you’re turning it up. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide: Lyrically, there may be no better way to end an album than with a song about a washed-up rock star. Musically, this is a solid song that is a mix of classic rock and roll and the showman, almost Broadway-like, musical style that Bowie was able to deliver so many songs in, including most of the ones on this record.  Dad’s Rating 6/10

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King Crimson- In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969): 30 December 2019

King Crimson – In The Court Of The Crimson King (1969)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’ve got a big one this week to close out 2019! Today we’re taking a listen to one of the most influential albums to the development of progressive rock, King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King. King Crimson was one of the first bands to take what rock was in the 1960s, mostly simple popular music that hadn’t quite begun to splinter off into sub-genres, and transformed it into art. King Crimson added instruments that weren’t typically associated with rock music, like flutes and horns, fantastical lyrics, and unusual musical structures to create the first true prog rock album. Their work would be followed up by some of their English contemporaries like Yes and Jethro Tull on albums like Close To The Edge, Aqualung, and Thick as a Brick before gaining mainstream popularity with bands like Rush and Pink Floyd.  

I’ll preface by saying that as big of a fan of prog rock as I am, I’ve never gotten around to listening to this album in particular, but when I did, I was blown away. This album has everything that I love about a good rock album. It’s consistently engaging and interesting to listen to and the musicianship and creativity are second to none. I particularly enjoy the creativity piece as this album pulls influences from jazz rock, the popular-at-the-time psychedelic rock, and more traditional blues rock to create a larger-than-life sound. The more that I listened to this album this week, the more that I wanted to listen back to it and discover something else about it. In The Court Of The Crimson King is one of those albums that you’ll find something new to like about it every time you listen, whether it’s a new horn section, symphonic piece, or shredding guitar solo. This is a quilted mélange of styles that was put together so perfectly that it inspired generations of musicians to think outside the box and push the boundaries of rock. I hope that you find as much to like about this record as I did. Enjoy the album, and welcome to the Court of The Crimson King.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

21st Century Schizoid Man: Wow. That was my first thought listening to this song. Just wow. I have never heard such a cacophonous and messy but intricately perfect piece of music outside of a Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart album. King Crimson was able to do something that Beefheart and Zappa either couldn’t do or didn’t want to do in the name of art; they brought order to chaos. Once you settle down from the introduction and get into the song you realize that every instrument fits together with the others perfectly behind a unified theme of a jazz-fusion-blues-rock song. Sure, you might have never heard something like those distorted lyrics, yelps from the guitar, or such furious drumming, but you can follow it. This is where prog started in earnest. Listening to this then going back and listening to other classics in the genre like Yes’ Close To The Edge or Genesis’ Nursery Cryme, you start to understand where all of this started; the manic panic of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”  Dad’s Rating 10/10

I Talk To The Wind: After the manic energy of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “I Talk To The Wind” is a great change of pace. I’ve said before that downtempo songs often have trouble holding my attention if they’re not musically interesting, but the moments of jazz fusion and flute overlay break the song up nicely and kept me tuned in. The flute solos are actually really stellar and remind me of a more peaceful version of a Jethro Tull flute solo. I’d also highlight the drumming on this track. It’s really quite complex and you could easily miss it because it’s so well incorporated. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Epitaph: This is a ‘proggy’ kind of sound! “Epitaph” is just a weird song and I love it! It’s almost more of an art piece than it is rock, and it goes to show the lengths that King Crimson were willing to go to push the boundaries of rock. The low horn (maybe bassoon??) portion towards the end is really unique and not something that you’ll find anywhere. “Epitaph” is a beautiful song that makes the most of unique instrumentation, powerful vocals, and pushes what we can call rock music. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Moonchild: “Moonchild” was an underwhelming one for me. I expected a lot more out of a 10-minute long song and I felt the band could have used the song for more. Maybe that’s the point of it, filling 6 minutes of a side of a record with near-silence is certainly ‘progressive,’ but it forgets the music part. Where there is music on the front half of the song it’s good! It’s everything you would expect from a King Crimson record. It’s different and makes you think about the music. “Moonchild” loses major marks for me though because only half of it showed up to the court. Dad’s Rating 4/10

The Court Of The Crimson King: “In The Court Of The Crimson King” is legendary in prog rock, specifically lyrically-focused prog. Prog is usually split into three factions: musically progressive (incorporating unusual instruments, time signatures, structures, etc.), lyrically progressive (incorporating fantastical or science fiction lyrics), or a combination of both. We definitely see elements of both on this track with a rocking flute solo and melloton section and a fantastical story about witches and kings. Musically this is a very complex song that you’ll find yourself listening to multiple times and finding something new each time; whether it’s a new drum flourish, instrument that you didn’t hear the first three times, or interesting combination of instruments. This is a great track that deserves it’s place among the prog rock greats. 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.

Rush- Caress of Steel (1975): 16 December 2019

Rush – Caress of Steel (1975)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week I have an album from my favorite band on deck, Rush! Caress of Steel was the band’s third studio album. Critically and commercially, this was the band’s least successful album, but I actually think there’s a lot to like about this record. First, there’s actually a few songs like “Bastille Day” and “The Necromancer” that are solid tracks and were staples of the band during their touring days, even on later tours. Second, the juxtaposition between goofy tracks like “I Think I’m Going Bald” and over-pretentious tracks like “The Fountain of Lamneth” shows me that the band were still learning. Third, this is the most progressive album that the band produced to date, so there was a lot of growing into their new progressive sound to be done. The first time we heard inklings of this was on their previous release with the fantasy elements in “By Tor and Snow Dog,” but they started to really push boundaries with longer format tracks like “The Necromancer” and the side-long song “The Fountain of Lamneth” (their first of three full side-long songs, the others being “2112” and “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres”).

Caress of Steel was almost the final nail in the coffin for the band. Fly By Night initially undersold and Caress of Steel continued that theme. They had one more chance on their next album and Rush doubled down on the prog rock sound creating one of the seminal works of the genre, 2112. After that, the rest was history. I don’t think we would have been able to experience 2112 without the experimentation of Caress of Steel. It’s one of my favorite albums by the band because of its rawness and because you can really see where the band was going to be in the future. Enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Bastille Day: “Bastille Day” is a rocking way to start an album, and no other band would be able to pull off a rock song about the French Revolution! There’s really not much to say about this song. Do you like great rock songs with stratospheric vocals and expert musicianship? Do you like lyrics about historical events and the use of the guillotine to bring down the bourgeoisie? If so, this is the song for you! Dad’s Rating 8/10

I Think I’m Going Bald: We started on such a high note and now we have what is arguably one of the worst songs in Rush’s collection “I Think I’m Going Bald.” I see what they were trying to go for. They tried making a statement on ageing and how getting old isn’t the end of the world but they were so off the mark with it. It’s really a shame that the lyrics let this one down because the instrumentals are pretty good! Every time this song comes on though, I shake my head a little bit and sigh. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Lakeside Park: We got a recovery from “I Think I’m Going Bald” with “Lakeside Park.” This is a good song and gives the band a chance to show off their softer side. What interests me on this song is that the band had to run multiple tracks and splice them together to get the full sound. Remember, there’s only the three band members attributed to this song, but during the chorus you can hear drums, bass, a lead electric guitar, and a backing acoustic. I know that they’re all multi-instrumentalists, but two guitars at the same seems to be a little too much to handle. This is a good softer rock song to calm you down before launching into some more progressive elements. Dad’s Rating 6/10

The Necromancer: “The Necromancer” is a rocking track that features some of the best of ‘Old Rush’ and ‘New Rush.’ The solos are straight out of their self-titled debut, but they manage to tie it together with the same guitar riff from “Bastille Day” and some prog elements with the over-tracked vocals leading into different sections of the song. This is one of those tracks where you can see the struggle between old and new play out most clearly. It’s a 12-minute long song featuring fantasy lyrics but with a decidedly harder sound than they would come to put with those lyrics in the future. It’s a great mashup of a song. Lifeson’s guitar skills are on display front and center on this track and somebody needs to arrest Lee during the instrumental because he lit up that guitar! Make sure to check out this oddity of a track from Rush’s deeper cuts. Dad’s Rating 9/10

The Fountain of Lamneth: “The Fountain of Lamneth.” Rush fans either love or hate this track, there’s really not a lot of indifference towards it. This stems from the fact that the lyrics are ‘pretentious,’ but the music is what fans think about when they think about classic Rush. Fortunately, I’m more of a music than lyrics kind of guy, so I fall on the favorable side of the fence. I’ll admit, the lyrics are overdone, but the instrumental portion is the Rush that I love. It’s ever-changing, interesting to listen to, shows a high degree of musicianship, and above all else, it’s progressive. Peart has a banging solo at the four-minute mark that may have been the inspiration for his longer solos on tour. Fun fact, during the first few minutes of the song you can actually hear a guitar riff that would be re-used at the end of “2112” to launch the second round of solos after the main character is disgraced for finding the guitar and showing it to the High Priests. “The Fountain of Lamneth” has areas where it comes up short, but it was the band’s first attempt at a 20-minute long song and ended up being a great launching ground for their next one. Top notch stuff. Dad’s Rating 8/10

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Sex Pistols- Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977): 2 December 2019

Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)

Welcome back to YDCS! I had a bit of a break last week with Thanksgiving and family in town, but we’re back this week with the singularly most influential album in the history of the punk movement, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols (Shorted to Here’s The Sex Pistols from here out) by the Sex Pistols. A controversial group to say the least, the band was barred from performing in parts of Great Britain and were led by hardcore anarcho-anti-establishmentarian Johnny Rotten. After being dropped by their record label and being rejected by almost every other label out there, they were picked up by Virgin Records for their one and only studio album. When you have one album to espouse your feelings against ‘The Man,’ what do you do? You make sure you fit as many of your radical ideas in as possible, and shout for the heavens and ears of the crowds to hear. Here’s The Sex Pistols was a massive hit and the attempted censorship by the British government did more to fuel the flames of interest than it did to quell them. Although the band never had another studio album, the punk legacy that they started in 38 minutes revolutionized music for the next four decades.

Here’s The Sex Pistols is the grandfather of the punk movement that started to form around this time, and I would assert that this album influenced the later development of grunge, alternative, and indie. Countless bands, from Nirvana to Guns ‘N Roses and more, have gone on to credit their success, in part, due to the groundbreaking nature of the Sex Pistols. Here’s The Sex Pistols is a rock album at its core and embodies the essence of rock and roll. You may not agree with the band, their politics, or even like their sound, but what you can’t deny is that they stood up for what they believed in, in the face of government and commercial censorship, and shouted for everyone to hear. Rock and roll is all about standing up for yourself and standing up to ‘The Man.’ The Sex Pistols were the first ones to do it with anger, incorporating obscene language, controversial ideas, and a sound that had never been heard before. I hope you enjoy this slice of musical history! Never mind my commentary, here’s the Sex Pistols!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Holidays in the Sun: Could you imagine putting a record on in 1977 and this is the first song that you hear?! Rolling Stone magazine’s top albums for 1977 were this, two albums by the Ramones, then Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Low by David Bowie, Aja by Steely Dan, and a Jimmy Buffet album. A split clearly occurred in 1977 between mainstream pop rock and emerging subgenres in rock. “Holidays in the Sun” sounds absolutely nothing like anything else on that list, and you know exactly what you’ll be listening to as soon as that wailing guitar opens up and the ‘Johnny Rotten sneer vocals’ start. The lyrics tell the story of a band vacation to the Jersey shore that turned in to a trip to West Berlin, and the song features a shredder of a solo in the middle. This is stereotypical punk and a fantastic track. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Bodies: A song that has maybe never captured the emotion of an abortion quite so clearly, “Bodies” is a shocking song now and was part of the reason for the original censorship of the album. Not only did the band present their reality of abortion (leaving interpretation up to the listener), they managed to use no fewer than five ‘f-words’ to do it. I don’t care for the subject matter, but I do respect that the band was brave enough to speak their mind, and like true artists, let the listener make up their mind. They don’t tell you what to think, just angrily present their experience.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

No Feelings: I liked “No Feelings” quite a bit. Musically this is one of the more engaging songs on the record with a great breakdown in the middle that’s definitely worth checking out. If you’re not keen on Rotten’s voice then this is probably the softest introduction to it. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Liar: “Liar” initially doesn’t sound like anything else on the album with a simple drum beat and single strummed chord introduction. Where the rest of the album features guitars turned up to 11 and almost indistinguishable lyrics, “Liar” goes a step above by showing that even on a ‘soft’ song the band manages to be brash. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Problems: One of the best displays of musicality on the album, there’s a lot of skill shown across every section on “Problems.” Rotten’s vocals are at some of their most dynamic on this track, Steve Jones’ ability on the guitar is on full display, both in the solo and on the rocking bass line, and Paul Cook’s drums are in full fury. I recommend listening to this one a few times to get the full effect of each section, but even if you only listen to it once, it’s a great track. Ending with lyrics that drone “Problem” is a great artistic decision. It’s an awesome example of how when there are too many problems for society to fix and they require personal action, no matter how much you hear droning about the problem, you’re not going to be incentivized to change until it affects you personally. Great track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

God Save the Queen: A song so controversial that it was banned from airplay in England. You know what they say about things that are banned, it just makes people want it more. “God Save the Queen” is a stunning rebuke of the monarchy, likening it to fascism, and statement on the future of England under a monarch, making tongue-in-cheek use of the title of the national anthem. This is possibly one of the most politically charged and significant songs in the history of rock. Songs like this show the fullest extent of freedom of speech. Without challenging the status quo, we become complacent as a society. Challenging the status quo reminds us that there are people who don’t agree with it and reminds us of our basic rights. Most people won’t agree with the band likening the monarchy to fascism, but it’s important to hear their voice. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Seventeen: “Seventeen” is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I interpreted it to be a satirical look at people who are lazy and don’t want to contribute to society, but I think it’s a little too well done to hit that on the nose. It comes off as autobiographical as opposed to satirical. Not their best piece. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Anarchy in the U.K.: I think that the message on this one is pretty clear. This is the most punk rock song to ever punk rock. A call to arms advocating violent anarchy, particularly from the militarized political groups of the 1970s, including the groups involved in the civil wars in Ireland and Angola, “Anarchy in the U.K.” is legendary in punk rock circles. Musically, this is a wall of sound. There’s almost no discerning different track loops, the instruments are all playing on top of each other, and it’s a fantastic song. Again, not agreeing with the message, but its cultural significance can’t be understated. “Anarchy in the U.K.” set the standard for what punk would sound like, and there’s only a few songs that can claim something similar. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Sub-Mission: “Sub-Mission” is a lot like “Liar” in that it doesn’t sound like the rest of the album. That’s particularly refreshing considering that if you’ve listened up to this point then you’ve been assaulted with sound for the past 30 minutes. This is one of the more experimental and comparatively restrained songs on the album. It features what sounds like a synthesizer but may also be tapping on the guitar interspersed throughout the song. I liked this song, it’s a great song that doesn’t get as much attention as the big ones on this record. It’s a very different sound for the band and shows the range of what punk can be. Give this one a listen! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Pretty Vacant:  This is probably the most standard rock track on the album. It kicks off a softer sounding end to the album that focuses more on the message in the lyrics than throwing a deafening sound at your face. “Pretty Vacant” is an unsurprising rock track that condemns mindless public thought. It’s not the best song on the album, it just doesn’t stick out. Dad’s Rating 6/10

New York: I like “New York” more than I do “Pretty Vacant.” It has a harder rock sound than the former, however; it displays the same level of musicianship and more vitriolic songwriting than before. I suppose I expected every song to be about taking down ‘The Man,’ and when these last few songs turned into more personal critiques, I became less interested. Dad’s Rating 6/10

EMI: “EMI” is a good way to finish the album! Is there a better way to finish an album off than giving the proverbial finger to your old record label?! Not only did they call them out on their record with a different label, but it’s a legitimately good song! You won’t find bands doing this anymore, and it goes to show that the Sex Pistols were about more than making money, they were about making a statement.  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.

Black Sabbath- Master of Reality (1971): 18 November 2019

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality (1971)

Welcome back to YDCS! Remember that you can check out a playlist of the top songs from the blog HERE on Spotify! This week we’re taking a look at Black Sabbath’s third album, Master of Reality. I actually planned on reviewing a different album this week until “Children of the Grave” came on at work and I said, ‘Now that’s an album I need to cover!’ Master of Reality is a significant album for the band for a few reasons. First, the production cycle on this record was double what they had for their first two releases, and that shows in the both the quality of the recording and the musicianship put forward on every song. Second, Master of Reality is the first example of a full-fledged “Black Sabbath sound.” Yes, Paranoid was probably one of the most influential albums in the early development of heavy metal, black metal, and sludge rock, but Master of Reality is the first Sabbath album to feature their signature down-tuned guitars, giving the album a deeper, darker sound.

As an album, I can’t get enough of this one. I prefer Paranoid as a full body of work, but some of the songs on this album are the stuff of rock gods (looking at you “Children of the Grave”). There were even some tracks that I was surprised I liked as much as I did, notably “Sweet Leaf” and “Orchid.” Some of the album’s main themes are a continuation of the anti-war themes from Paranoid, drug use, and Christianity. It’s an odd combination that works well for an experimental album that features everything from loud, rocking solos to classical guitar pieces. This is an album for everyone, and I think you’ll find something to like about it. Enjoy!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Sweet Leaf: Ahh sweet leaf. La ganga estranja. That sticky icky. A friend named Mary Jane. An ode to marijuana. I’ve never been a drug user so I’m not even going to try and explain the lyrics except as possibly the most striking and overt tribute to marijuana. Now musically, this is a hell of a way to start an album! The multi-track cough taking from Tommy Iommi actually smoking a joint in the studio is an ingenious way to start a song, nevermind an album! On top of that, the first time I heard the solo on “Sweet Leaf” my mind was blown. The energy in Bill Ward’s drumming is infectious and I love how the song picks up to a frenetic tempo. “Sweet Leaf” is one of those hidden gems that unless you’re a Sabbath fan, you probably won’t know, but I strongly recommend giving it a listen. Dad’s Rating 9/10

After Forever: “After Forever” is an interesting song that may have been written just to quiet those who believed Sabbath were a bunch of Satanists. The whole song’s lyrics focus overtly on Christian themes but they’re sung over hard rock backing instrumentation. The instrumentation is good but the song feels like it’s missing something. Maybe it was too much of a lyrical push in one direction, and maybe it was that the instrumentation just didn’t stand up to the rest of the album, but it feels a bit hollow. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Embryo/Children of the Grave: I’d like to combine “Embryo” and “Children of the Grave” as the first acts as a great introduction to the other. On “Children of the Grave,” this is one of the baddest, most rocking songs ever written. Hands down. Let’s break it down. Ward drums like a madman on those backing high drums, Iommi’s guitar riff is absolutely iconic, and Osbourne’s vocals howl over everything else. The loud instrumentals are a great contrast to the lyrics advocating civil disobedience and non-violent change. The solos are stellar, the music is amazing, the composition and production are top-notch, and this is a 10/10. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Orchid: After a track like “Children of the Grave” you almost need something to calm down, and Black Sabbath completely went the other direction on Orchid, making an entirely acoustic, soft, classical guitar song. It’s almost as if the civil disobedience advocated for in the earlier song has blossomed. This is a really beautiful piece and completely unexpected on a Sabbath album. I really recommend listening to “Embryo,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Orchid” in order to get the effect of a full story, starting with the beginning of a journey, the adventure itself, and the resulting peace. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Lord of this World: This is the Sabbath that I know and love. “Lord of this World” perfectly captures the final evolution of the dark, down-tuned, heavy metal sound that Sabbath would be known for. This bass driven track has a little bit of groove, one of the better instrumental sections on the record, and I think it’s bassist Geezer Butler’s best work on the album. They really let him shine through here and it paid off. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Solitude: Black Sabbath struck the perfect balance between soft tracks and head bangers on Master of Reality, and “Solitude” is a great example of how to do a peaceful song that stays true to rock roots. There’s no real build to a loud finish, just a peaceful solitude. You really get the sense that the band tried to show more of their colors on this record with songs like this. They were multi-faceted musicians capable of telling a deeper story of peaceful resistance, belief in a higher power, and coming to terms with oneself. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Into the Void: We’re going to finish the record off with a hard rocker! I’d like to take a moment to appreciate that the song is driven by a pounding percussion session from Ward and Geezer. Osbourne’s vocal work on this track is the best on the record. He’s keeping up with some quick, complicated phrases and the final take is a great reflection of his work on that. The band has said this was their hardest song to record, both because of the vocals and because the song has an unnatural, syncopated beat. Ending the way they did with no notice is a great way to “mic drop” on their way out the door. They put together an awesome album and tied it together with a rocker of a final track. Well done! 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.