UFO- Phenomenon (1974): 11 May 2020

UFO – Phenomenon (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re having a listen to an album from an important, if rarely mentioned group, UFO. Phenomenon is UFO’s third studio album. Previously known for their space rock albums, UFO transitioned to what we would now define as a traditional classic rock sound for this third release. In reality, Phenomenon was a landmark album for classic rock and served as one of the bridges between the blues rock tinted sound of the early 1970s and the development of the heavy metal sound and commercial success of the genre through the late 1970s into the 1980s, first introduced to a wider audience by the likes of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Phenomenon is an interesting album in the way that it combines the two rock sounds. It sounds distinctly different than other rock albums of 1974 (ie. 461 Ocean Boulevard by Clapton, Not Fragile by Bachman Turner Overdrive, etc.), but also didn’t embrace a core fan base, causing the album to suffer commercially. Most frequently, the songs on the album feature a softer verse with a heavy metal tinge to the chorus to combine the two sounds, and it works well to create a very cohesive sound.

I respect what UFO did on this album as I do most trailblazers. It’s the infancy of the rock sound that would become iconic in the 1980s. Most of the tracks are middling rock songs, although there are a few standouts on this record (most notably “Doctor Doctor,” “Rock Bottom,” and “Queen of the Deep”). That’s honestly okay in my book. This was one of the first times we start to see the sound of rock changing in the 1970s, and like most first attempts, it’ll take a few more attempts to make the full transition, in this case to a heavier rock sound. I like looking to see where music came from and seeing how it changes over time, and even if you’ve never heard of UFO or Phenomenon¸ give it a shot. You might find yourself with a new group that you like and it’s cool to see how rock changes over time. With that, Phenomenon!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Too Young to Know: We start Phenomenon with a great rock track that is basically what I think of when I think of a classic rock song. The production is great and fuzzes the vocals a bit, there’s the requisite guitar solo, and it’s a little soft on lyrical content and instrumental prowess. “Too Young to Know” doesn’t do any one thing well in particular, but it’s a great example of transitional classic rock. It combines the softer, early 70s sound in the verses with more of a screaming guitar through the chorus. Great example of what’s to come. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Crystal Light: I liked “Crystal Light” which surprised me because it’s one of those traditional slow ballads that I normally don’t enjoy. To me, “Crystal Light” sounds like the beginnings of what would become the power ballad; the tempo fits perfectly with the power ballads of the 1980s and is designed to show that the band has a softer side (particularly important between two up-tempo songs). This is a pleasant, peaceful song that is enjoyable to listen to. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Doctor Doctor: “Doctor Doctor” was one of UFO’s biggest hits (see also “Rock Bottom”) and it’s one of the best examples of how they combined heavy metal and classic rock on one album. We’ve already heard what happens when you combine a traditional rock sound with heavy metal on “Too Young to Know” and we’ll hear more straight traditional classic rock later, but “Doctor Doctor” goes completely in the other direction and is a straight heavy metal track. It sounds like it could have come off of a Deep Purple album and is one of the most rocking songs on the album. It’s definitely not worth missing this one. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Space Child: “Space Child” is a holdover from the sound of the older UFO sound, featuring spacey lyrics and a sound that doesn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the album. The solo is one of the best on the album and is a sort of swan song for the old UFO. Check it out to see if the old UFO sits well with you and to ear a face-melting guitar solo. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Rock Bottom: This was my favorite song on the album and it reminds me that UFO was here to rock out. “Rock Bottom” could have just easily come from a Blue Oyster Cult or Deep Purple album but it didn’t. This is such a rocker and I dare you to not nod your head along with it. Fantastic guitar, powerful vocals, and incredibly high energy are the hallmarks of this song. The professionalism of the musicians shines through in the extended solo too. Don’t skip out on “Rock Bottom!” Dad’s Rating 8/10

Oh My: We go from a nearly 7-minute long extended guitar demonstration to one of the shortest songs on the album at just short of 2:30. To me, this means one thing: They were trying to fluff the length of the album and hide a song in the middle of the record. It’s the first song of the B-side and it definitely feels like a B-side track. Nothing particularly special going on here. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Time on My Hands: Where “Doctor Doctor” was the most extreme example of heavy metal on the album, “Time on My Hands” is perhaps the most extreme example of the ‘old school’ rock sound. It features a softer guitar and more emphasis on the vocals than “Doctor Doctor,” and it’s a really good song too. The vocals are raw and powerful. Lead singer Phil Mogg didn’t have the best rock voice, but he knew how to use what he had to wring every bit of emotion out of it. “Time on My Hands” is a pleasant find. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Built for Comfort: Here’s a track dripping in blues rock sound. It’s slow and dirty, just the way you want a good southern blues rock track to be. Having said that, the lyrics are pretty terrible; they’re clichéd not particularly exciting, but “Built for Comfort” rides on its musical ability, not lyrical. It’s just another facet of an already multi-faceted album and makes it that much more interesting to listen to from beginning to end. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Lipstick Traces: Wouldn’t you know it, but the shortest song on the album is also one of the most provoking. “Lipstick Traces” is a beautiful instrumental piece that lets the music do the talking. It’s one of the better songs on the album and is a good chance for the band to show their worth as musicians. Good hidden gem here! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Queen of the Deep: We round out Phenomenon with “Queen of the Deep” and one parting shot at combining an old school sound with a new school sound. We get a little bit of everything on this track from a soft introduction to highlight the old school and a heavy middle section with a great funk to it. The instrumental, short of “Rock Bottom’s” is my second favorite on this record. “Lipstick Traces” is great for a calm sound, but I’m a sucker for a funky instrumental section and “Queen of the Deep” delivers a boisterous finale to an eccentric album. Make sure you listen all the way through the end! Dad’s Rating 8/10

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Rainbow- Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975): 4 May 2020

Rainbow – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’ve got an interesting album on the table this week, the studio debut from the band Rainbow titled Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. Rainbow is a group that a lot of people aren’t familiar with, even if they recognize Richie Blackmore’s name. Blackmore was the lead guitarist for Deep Purple through the mid-70s before breaking off to form his own group with members of Deep Purple’s opening act, Elf (of whom Ronnie James Dio was the lead vocalist). Blackmore would go on to record this album with the members of Elf before firing everyone except for Dio, rehiring the rest of the band, and continuing to tour and record as Rainbow. Blackmore was notoriously difficult to please and went so far as to fire band members who he didn’t feel were contributing meaningfully to the band. As a result, he has been the only consistent fixture of Rainbow since the band’s formation.

Rainbow was known for more fantastical lyrics than Deep Purple had been, combining heavy metal and fantasy into a proto-prog metal genre. Rainbow feels like a more grown up version of Deep Purple in a sense, where there’s still plenty of heavy sound but the band got more experimental. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow is a cool album that has lots of great rock moments. The whole record is a hidden gem in a genre that likes to sing the praises of acts AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Motorhead. If you’ve never listened to Rainbow before but like Deep Purple, Dio, or the early Scorpions then you should definitely check this album out. Enjoy Rainbow’s debut album, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Man On The Silver Mountain: We start of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow with one of the band’s most popular songs, “Man On The Silver Mountain.” This track is one of the most heavily influenced by Blackmore’s time with Deep Purple. It has a distinctly heavy sound that doesn’t carry through the rest of the album. Dio’s vocals on this track are one of his best performances on the record and show why he was such a good rock vocalist. Really good track. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Self Portrait: “Self Portrait” is the start of something new for Blackmore et al. This is a track that would have never made it with his old group and shows an increased focus on lyricism. “Self Portrait” is could be considered an early power ballad too. It’s got elements of strong vocals, introspective lyrics, and heavy guitar between the verses. It’s not the best song on the album, and I think there’s another ballad that captured the band better, but it’s a decent song. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Black Sheep Of The Family: This is the song that started Rainbow. Blackmore initially pitched “Black Sheep Of The Family” to Deep Purple, but the band didn’t want to record it, so he wet and recorded it himself! I like that “Black Sheep Of The Family” shows that Rainbow was more than power chords and flimsy lyrics; they had the ability to be melodic and do something different than your typical heavy metal group. Musically, I’m actually not a fan of this song, but I do like that they tried something new. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Catch The Rainbow: When I first heard “Catch The Rainbow” I thought I might have started a Pink Floyd song on accident, particularly on the opening instrumental. “Catch The Rainbow” is one of the best ballads that I’ve listened to in a long time. The instrumentation is haunting and the vocals are beautifully smooth. I’m not a big lyrics person, but talking about chasing the rainbow and never catching it makes me wonder if Starcastle was recording in the next studio over. This is a song to sit back to and let it envelop you. You feel the pain and the sadness in the realization that you’ll never get where you wanted to be. It’s a downer, but a top track for sure. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Snake Charmer: We come out of “Catch The Rainbow” unscathed into an upbeat rock track. “Snake Charmer” plays very similarly to “Man On The Silver Mountain;” it’s just a rocking song. I’m a big fan of the wah effect used on the lead guitar to give the song a bit of a funky feeling too. For those more into bass work, check out the bass line during the guitar solo. You have to listen closely but you can hear Craig Gruber getting after it! Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Temple Of The King: Honestly, this is not what I would have expected on a heavy metal album. “The Temple Of The King” sounds like it should have been on a Rush album. It’s so different from the rest of the record because of its primarily acoustic sound, but it has moments where you hear a heavier sound (particularly during the choruses and the solo) that help pull it into the rest of the record. This is a beautiful ballad and another fantastic performance from Ronnie James Dio. Dad’s Rating 8/10

If You Don’t Like Rock N Roll: “If You Don’t Like Rock N Roll” is the weakest song on the album for me. It doesn’t fit with the heavy metal theme of the rest of the album and plays heavily into the traditional 1950s rock sound. I’ll give it credit for one thing though: Songs like this are exactly why Blackmore formed Rainbow. He had more freedom to explore different sounds than he would have with Deep Purple and he had more control over the content creation process. Kudos for trying something different, but it didn’t work for this album. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Sixteenth Century Greensleeves: Were you expecting a traditional rendition of “Greensleeves?” If you were then I hope you were as surprised as I was. Lyrics about medieval battles set to heavy metal?! Yes please! “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” also has the distinction of featuring the best guitar solo on the album. This is a rocking track that demonstrated prog metal in its full glory. Great song! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Still I’m Sad: The drum part for this song combined with the divebomb on guitar during the intro is really cool. Everyone talks about divebombing but no one puts it on their records so it was neat to hear it used practically. “Still I’m Sad” is a funky instrumental that is a very satisfying finish to a rocking album. You get a little bit of the experimentation that you’ve heard all throughout the album in terms of combining funk, metal, and even a bit of surf rock at times (in terms of the chord progressions). “Still I’m Sad” shows what Rainbow could do and where they were headed in the future, bound by no rules except ‘Rock on!’ Dad’s Rating 7/10

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Starcastle- Starcastle (1976): 27 April 2020

Starcastle – Starcastle (1976)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’re really diving into the depths of classic prog rock this week with the self-titled studio debut from a band called Starcastle. Starcastle was a prog rock group that formed part of the American prog movement, along with acts the likes of Kansas and Frank Zappa. Starcastle is a pure prog album that features a much lighter sound than other acts of the time. While bands like Rush and Jethro Tull were trending towards a heavy rock-influenced sound, Starcastle opted for an airy, ethereal debut album. The album is a very pleasant mix of guitar, synthesizer, and breathy harmonies. Most of it is instrumental to boot, making you feel like you’re travelling through the stars. The album is a delight to listen to and one that you’ll need multiple listens to catch everything happening in each song.

I really love Starcastle. They’re such a weird group to have come out of the prog rock movement and they never really gained a lot of attention. They opened for some of the big acts in prog like Jethro Tull, Rush, and Yes to name a few but never really garnered their own fanbase. I feel like I owe it to groups like this to care about them. Starcastle is a delightful prog album. Sure, it sounds a lot like a Yes album, but would you complain about having another Yes album to listen to? I wouldn’t! I like finding music that’s really good but bubbled just under the surface and Starcastle is one of those albums that had it gotten more press, we would be mentioning Starcastle right next to Jethro Tull and Yes. I hope you enjoy this lesser-known album from the history books of progressive rock!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Lady of the Lake: “Lady of the Lake” is a bold opening track. Not many bands can pull off a 10-minute long epic to start their DEBUT album, but I will say two things about it. First, I’ll give credit to Starcastle for knowing immediately what kind of band they wanted to be. It’s immediately apparent that they’re a prog group from the lengthy opening track, unconventional song structure, and heavy use of synthesizer to create a gleaming sound. Second, they nailed this song. “Lady of the Lake” tells a great story and the musicianship is captivating. This track makes you feel like you’re soaring through space looking for an intergalactic ‘Lady of the Lake,’ all capped off with tight vocal harmony (I’ll mention that a lot on this album, the band was known for it). “Lady of the Lake” shows that Starcastle had a lot to offer and they could play with the best of the big prog acts of the mid-1970s. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Elliptical Seasons: “Elliptical Seasons” is one of the first songs where you can really hear the close comparison between Starcastle and Yes. Compare this song to any off of Tales From Topographic Oceans or Close to the Edge and it feels right at home on either album. One of the highlights for “Elliptical Seasons” though that makes it stand out from the rest of the pack is the slight funk influence. There’s an audible jazz bass that makes an appearance towards the end of the song that adds a cool twist and is something fun to wait for. Otherwise, this is a pretty standard prog song. Good effort! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Forces: I liked “Forces” quite a bit. Tuning up the bass on this track made it feel like an early Rush song with more keyboard. It’s still distinctly a different band, but the comparison can be drawn. There are lots of little additions that make this a cool song, from interspersed claps to vocal harmonies that sound like they came out of a “Katamari Damacy” video game. “Forces” has a solid rocking moment in the middle solo, and it’s one of two real rock out moments on the whole album. This is an interesting track with enough to be found throughout that you’ll want to listen to it more than once. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Stargate: This second shortest song on the album is sandwiched between two of substantially longer length, and it doesn’t help it stand out. While “Stargate” hits the theme of ‘flying through space’ well with the twinkling synth, there’s not much to it and it feels like fluff. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Sunfield: While the whole album is a hidden gem, “Sunfield” is the first of two songs that are highlights from the B-side, the second being the following song, “To The Fire Wind.” It’s just as much of an epic adventure as “Lady of the Lake” while barely missing that bar. This track is the most reminiscent of any track off of a Yes album. The vocal harmonies are the highlights of these two tracks, and the song structure is, like most prog, more closely resembles that of a story than an actual song. If you like high vocals and a really cool guitar segment that’s more digestible than most prog, this is a good one for you. Dad’s Rating 8/10

To The Fire Wind: “To The Fire Wind” is one of the more rocking tracks on the album. It’s another great example of the band’s exceptionally tight vocal harmonies but also gives their lead guitarist a little room to breathe in the opening and closing riffs before their synth player opens up the throttle with a blistering solo at the midway point. The vocal harmony is really the highlight for this track though, and it’s cool to hear so much emphasis being put on a part that doesn’t get as much attention. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Nova: We’re finishing Starcastle with a big explosion, a “Nova” if you will! One of the best things about progressive rock is that it’s not afraid to experiment with something different, and on “Nova” we get a big drum solo to open this closing track before launching into an instrumental synth solo. It’s not a spectacular song since it doesn’t really have time to get going (it’s also the shortest song on the album), but it is, perhaps, the most fitting they could have chosen to close a sparkling, prog story. Dad’s Rating 5/10

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My Desert 10 Albums: 20 April 2020

Welcome back to YDCS! I’ve been working on a project for a couple of months now and I’m finally ready to unveil it. I’ve spent months putting albums in and out of this list, adjusting the order, taking them all out to try again, and finally settling on my Desert 10. “What is a Desert 10” you might ask? Your Desert 10 is the ten albums that you would take with you to a deserted island to listen to forever. Basically, if you could only listen to ten albums for the rest of your life, what would they be? The rules are simple: No compilations, “Best Of” Albums, and no box sets. Each album must be the original release. With that, we’re going to hop right in! I hope you enjoy my Desert 10 and encourage you to put together your own as well!

Honorable Mentions

In the Wee Small Hours– Frank Sinatra

It’s not a rock album, but In the Wee Small Hours was Frank Sinatra at his finest. His silky voice is irresistible on this album and still has an ability to enchant people to this day.

Trout Mask Replica– Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band

An album that pushed what we could call music. Many portions feature spoken word and the whole album was written by plucking out melodies on a piano and a horn, by a man who had no idea how to play the piano or the horn, nor had an idea what a time signature was.

Takin’ It To The Streets– The Doobie Brothers

I love the Doobie Brothers and it hurt me to not include them in the Desert 10. Unfortunately for the Doobies, most of their best songs are spread across multiple albums, making it difficult to pick just one to include without breaking the rule excluding ‘Best Ofs.’ If there were one that would make the cut, it would be Takin’ It To The Streets for having three of my favorite songs by the Doobies, the eponymous song, “Wheels of Fortune,” and “It Keeps You Runnin’.”

Hemispheres– Rush

This is my second favorite Rush album, and it almost bumped the Number 10 album off the list. Hemispheres is a musical masterpiece and one of the best displays of musicianship that Rush ever put to record. They were quoted as saying that it was the most technically challenging album that the wrote, and listening to it you’ll believe it.

One Of These Nights– Eagles

One Of These Nights holds a special place for me as the first album to really get me interested in the Eagles and folk rock in general. For that, it almost made my list. Ultimately, I think there is one other album that is a better representation of what the Eagles were as a band.

From The Mars Hotel– Grateful Dead

From The Mars Hotel was the album that I played with including the most because every song on the album is really good. “Scarlet Begonias” is one of my favorites of all time and “Loose Lucy,” “US Blues,” “Ship of Fools,” and “Pride of Cucamonga” are right there next to it. Ultimately, it came down to would I want to listen to the Grateful Dead for the rest of my life. Answering that honestly my answer was no. I love the Dead, but there are other albums that would be easier listening.

Dad’s Desert 10

10. Animals– Pink Floyd

We open the list with my favorite Pink Floyd album and one of their best concept albums, Animals. The idea to write an album portraying British society as different animals based on their class was the perfect way for the band to describe their problems with the class system. “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” is one of the best songs on the album and the instrumentation was so innovative (particularly using the guitar and a squawk box to imitate pig squeals) that it still doesn’t get old to listen to.

9. Aqualung– Jethro Tull

At Number 9 we get Jethro Tull’s fourth studio album, Aqualung. They had been bubbling under the surface of mainstream prog rock for a few years before this album came out, and all of the work that they put into their first three albums came to fruition on this one. There’s really not a bad song on the album, and listening to a band headed by a flautist is truly a unique experience. The highlights are the song of the same name, “Aqualung,” but also include “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Hymn 43,” and “Locomotive Breath.”

8. Bat Out Of Hell– Meat Loaf

Bat Out Of Hell is an album that means so much to me. Every time one of the songs on this album comes on the radio, I instantly think about my Dad and singing the whole album with him in the car. We love Meat Loaf and Bat Out Of Hell, and the album is absolutely spectacular. It’s hard to believe that Meat Loaf could barely get a record deal for this one, considering that it would go on to be one of the best-selling albums of all time and a landmark for rock opera. If I were on a desert island, Bat Out Of Hell would let me rock out, and I’d be thinking of my Dad every time I played it. That’s good company. Check out “Bat Out Of Hell,” “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth,” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

7. Led Zeppelin IV– Led Zeppelin

Three words: Stairway. To. Heaven. Led Zeppelin IV is so much more than “Stairway to Heaven,” but that’s a real high point. Led Zeppelin IV was a landmark album for rock music and proved that people wanted to hear long-form rock music. It was one of the first true mainstream progressive rock albums too, and I don’t think that the genre would have seen as much popularity without the benefit of some of the longer songs on this record like “When the Levee Breaks” or the more artistic songs like “The Battle of Evermore.” Prog rock acts were playing and performing, but Led Zeppelin IV gave them a leg to stand on.

6. Hotel California– Eagles

I wanted to include multiple Eagles albums in my Desert 10 but made myself settle on one, so I went with Hotel California for two reasons. First, I think it’s the best representation of the Eagles sound after having taken a few albums to come in to their own. This could arguably be extended to One Of These Nights as well, but there’s just enough experimental tracks on that album that it didn’t quite feel complete (See “The Sorcerer”). Second, I think that Hotel California had better singles than One Of These Nights. I love “Witchy Woman” and the song “One Of These Nights,” but “Hotel California” is literally the baseline for the modern guitar solo and “Victim of Love” and “Life in the Fast Lane” scratch the same itch for tight vocal harmony that I want from the former tracks. Great album and deservedly regarded as one of the best.  

5. Are You Experienced?– Jimi Hendrix

Halfway through the Desert 10 and it’s time to talk about the first album from Jimi Hendrix, Are You Experienced?. I like this album because it’s chock full of rock classics and lots of hidden gems that never make it on to ‘Best Of’ lists of Jimi’s work like “Fire,” “51st Anniversary,” and “Third Stone From The Sun.” It also features some of Hendrix’s most iconic songs like “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” “Manic Depression,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” and “Foxey Lady.” All in all, this album just has too many big hits to exclude. The only song I wish it had on it is “Little Wing,” but I could live with “The Wind Cries Mary” in its place.

4. At Fillmore East– Allman Brothers Band

The only live album on this list, At Fillmore East is one of those albums that everyone talks about because it was a legendary, two-night performance from the Allman Brothers, but listening to the album you realize how good those shows really were. The whole band was firing on all cylinders those nights and laid down one of the best southern rock albums ever. Even at 78 minutes long, the album never feels long and will keep you entertained the whole way through. High points on this record are the immoral 23-minute long rendition of “Whipping Post,” “Hot Lanta,” and my favorite, “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”

3. Paranoid– Black Sabbath

Coming in at Number 3 is Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. While all of the albums on this list are my tops, Paranoid was one of the first albums that I listened to as part of Your Dad’s Car Stereo that made me think “This album couldn’t be any better, even if they tried.” The album has moments where you know it’s a rocker, moments that slow down to give you a break, and it’s one of the best displays of musicianship on this list. Let’s not forget its historical significance either as one of the precursors to heavy metal! When you put it all together, Paranoid is one of the most complete rock albums ever recorded. High points include “War Pigs/Luke’s Wall,” “Electric Funeral,” and “Hand of Doom.”

2. Close To The Edge– Yes

It may only be three songs long, but progressive rock would have never reached its true potential without those three songs that make up Close To The Edge. Nearly every major prog rock act has acknowledged that Close To The Edge influenced them in some way to follow the way of prog. It’s truly a beautiful album that features shining vocals from Jon Anderson, masterful, emotional guitar from Steve Howe, and some cool keyboard parts on everything from claviers to church organs from Rick Wakeman. I love the whole album, but if you don’t have time to listen to the whole album then “Siberian Khatru” is a must-listen-to song and will give you an idea how the whole album sounds.

1. 2112– Rush

My favorite album. I may have mentioned it on the blog during my review of 2112, but I think this is the perfect album that all others will hope to rival. The song of the same name is perfectly constructed and features so many ‘moments’ that you’ll hear something new each time you put it on. “The Twilight Zone” and “Lessons” are complete rockers, “Tears” is a beautiful, emotional ballad, and “Something for Nothing” rounds out the album with a barn burner! For me, 2112 is classic rock and what I think of when I think of prog rock or classic rock in general.

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Van Halen- 1984 (1984): 13 April 2020

Van Halen – 1984 (1984)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’re taking a listen to one of the biggest albums of the mid-1980s rock scene, 1984 by Van Halen. This album is notable for two things: First, it was the last Van Halen album to feature the original band lineup as frontman David Lee Roth would leave shortly after the album released due to creative differences (bassist Michael Anthony would go on to leave in the 1990s). Secondly, the album features a more commercially appealing, synth driven sound than previous Van Halen albums. 1984 was the band’s most successful album, thanks in no small part to the heavy airplay that the iconic music videos for “Hot for Teacher” and “Jump” received on the then-new MTV.

For me, this is one of the last great Van Halen albums. 5150 and For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge have some good singles, but the sound of the band shifted more towards a commercial rock sound with the debut of Sammy Hagar (all credit to Hagar where it’s due, he’s a fantastic vocalist). While there are a lot of synth rock tracks designed to chart on this album thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s persistence, there are still plenty of classic rockers to keep purists entertained. “Girl Gone Bad” and “House of Pain” are two of the most prime examples of that. I prefer that more classic rock sound personally but understand that the synthesizer drove the commercial success of the album. There are some great Van Halen tracks on this record so let’s ‘Jump’ in!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

1984: This is an interesting way to start the album. You immediately know that you’re not listening to the Van Halen of old, this is new Van Halen. This synthesizer track makes that abundantly clear. The clean transition into “Jump” is a nice touch. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Jump: I’ll go ahead and say it, “Jump” is overrated. It’s not particularly musically interesting and I dislike the synth-driven sound; it’s just not Van Halen for me. “Jump” feels like Van Halen sold out. The one thing that it does have going for it is a pretty killer guitar solo, but then it transitions straight back into a synth solo. As far as iconic songs go, this one is up there, but there are better Van Halen songs out there that display their ability to rock out (See On Fire from their debut album). Dad’s Rating 6/10

Panama: David Lee Roth actually wrote this song in response to a reporter who said that he only sang songs about partying, women, and cars. Roth realized that he had actually never written one about a car and “Panama” was born! This is a Van Halen staple and one of the most rocking songs on the album. The guitar riff is heavy and one of those that makes you want to break out the air guitar. “Panama” is a great rock song that you’ll want to turn up the volume for every time it comes on. Great track! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Top Jimmy: “Top Jimmy” is an okay song. It’s not particularly exciting and understandably buried in the middle of the album. One of the high points that it does have going for it is that the soft guitar that picks up a few times throughout the song is a cool throwback to songs like “Spanish Fly.” It’s a nice touch in an otherwise standard rock track. At the very least it doesn’t have a heavy synth line! Dad’s Rating 5/10

Drop Dead Legs: “Drop Dead Legs” is a real heavy rock track! If you just listen to the instrumentation at the beginning you could almost be mistaken for thinking this was an AC/DC song. This track suffers from the same problem that “Top Jimmy” does though, it’s entirely forgettable. Not to say that it’s bad, but you’re not going to write home saying that “Drop Dead Legs” was your favorite song on the album. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Hot for Teacher: “Hot for Teacher” is a perfect rock song in my book; it really hits all the marks! Iconic opening with that pounding drum solo? Check. Rocking guitar riff and shredding solo? Check. Howling vocals? Check. Top all of that off with a not-so-absurd concept about a student with a crush on a teacher, delivered with hilarity I would add, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a great song. The high mark (get it?!) is always on the opening drum solo. I could press repeat for that all day long. Top marks for “Hot for Teacher!” Dad’s Rating 10/10

I’ll Wait: I’ll admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Van Halen’s synth sound (you might have figured that out by now though…), but “I’ll Wait” does as good a job of using it as any other song on the album. Something interesting that I found with “I’ll Wait” is that the song is almost completely devoid of a guitar portion, nearly being a complete drum/synthesizer song. I tie it with “Jump” because it shows a slightly higher degree of musicianship, particularly in Roth’s vocal performance, than “Jump” does, but “Jump” has the iconic factor going for it. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Girl Gone Bad: We make a shift back to the classic Van Halen sound on “Girl Gone Bad” from the synth rock of “I’ll Wait.” I really liked “Girl Gone Bad,” and it even has some slightly proggy guitar riffs on the beginning and incorporates a few more prog elements through the solo to show an elevated musical ability. It almost reminds me of a Rush song at points! All of that combined makes this a fun song to listen to and makes it stand out from the rest of the band’s catalog. This is a solid, straight rock track! Dad’s Rating 7/10

House of Pain: We close 1984 with a solid heavy rock track that doesn’t pull any punches. I’m not sure what else you should have expected out of a song titled “House of Pain!” “House of Pain” doesn’t do anything special as far as rock songs go, but the performance is clean and it feels like a fitting way to close the album. The musicianship is really good as far as the instrumental performances, and I really enjoyed listening to Eddie’s guitar line on this track; it’s one of the better ones on the album. Dad’s Rating 7/10

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