Led Zeppelin- Untitled (Led Zeppelin IV) (1971): 24 June 2019

Led Zeppelin – Untitled (1971)

We’ve made it through June and Led Zeppelin Month! We’re on the last album in the Led Zeppelin I-IV Anthology this week, and now is as good a time as any to bring up the fact that “Led Zeppelin IV” isn’t actually the name of the album we’ve been building towards. After poor reception to Led Zeppelin III, the band decided to release their fourth album without a title or any text on the outer record sleeve, effectively making this an untitled album. For ease of reference, we’re going to follow long-standing tradition here and call the untitled fourth album Led Zeppelin IV. No more beating around the bush, let’s talk about the album.

Led Zeppelin IV is what I would describe as a culmination of three years-worth of evolution, learning, and finding themselves as a band. Think back to Led Zeppelin I and the sound on that record. The album was brash, loud, and uncomplicated. It was also an announcement that these gents were here to rock. Led Zeppelin II took the sound of the first album and started to refine it, moving from a bluesier sound to a folksier sound. Led Zeppelin III expanded on the early folk influences of II and started to show more musical dynamism and thoughtful songwriting. Finally, Led Zeppelin IV pulls all of that together into an album for the ages. It’s dynamic, musical, thoughtful, complex but accessible, and is the culmination of a journey. This wasn’t the band’s last album, and they would go on to have more successful albums in the future, but this album is where all of those albums start. Enjoy the climax of our journey through Led Zeppelin’s early discography and one of the most important rock albums of all time.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Black Dog: Every single Led Zeppelin album up to this point has opened with a really strong start, and “Black Dog” is no exception to that rule. Make it four in a row! “Black Dog” was released as one of the singles for the album and has gone on to be one of the songs most synonymous with Led Zeppelin.  Musically, the song sounds different to most rock songs of the early 1970s and stands out because of its odd time signature. It also features a call-and-response throughout the song that wasn’t a commonly employed musical technique in rock at the time. Lots of musical experimentation going on with this song, and that theme will carry us through the album. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rock and Roll: “Rock and Roll” is a great rock track. It actually stands out among rock tracks for me. The energy in this song is contagious and helps it stand out from the crowded field of “simple rock songs” from the early 70s. That energy really is the most important part of this song. Sure, it relies on the Led Zeppelin-tested blues rock base with loud guitars and wailing vocals on top, but this sounds more refined than what we’ve heard on early albums. The blues aren’t quite so forward and the instrumentation has its dynamic moments. This shows that the band really has developed and incorporated different techniques into their music across the four albums we’ve covered. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Battle of Evermore: There’s quite a lot going on with “The Battle of Evermore,” and I think the best way to look at it is by breaking it down into elements. The lyrics are great and based on high fantasy themes, particular the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The stringed instrumentation (a guitar and mandolin in this case) provide the perfect mix of folk rock to, what could almost be considered, an adventure song found in a movie or the pub of a fantasy world. Plant’s vocals weave you through the story with exceptional attention paid to the highs and lows. This is probably the most progressive piece in the group’s catalog up to this point, and it is a really good song. If you’ve never had a listen, don’t skip this one. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Stairway to Heaven: Wow. I get goosebumps every time I listen to “Stairway,” and if it’s not the best rock song ever written, it’s in the top 5. There are NO words to describe the pure emotion behind the lyrics, nor the exquisite instrumentals. I honestly don’t want to write about this song because I will never do it the justice that it deserves; I would prefer to let it speak for itself. Take seven minutes, put headphones on, and immerse yourself in “Stairway.” That’s all I feel I can say without insulting this beautiful song. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Misty Mountain Hop: We’ve moved on to the B Side of Led Zeppelin IV, and it opens with “Misty Mountain Hop.” There’s a lot that I like about this song, from the heaviness compared to “Stairway” and “Evermore” and how refined it sounds compared to some of the earliest rockers from Zep. The heaviness on this song actually reminded me of Deep Purple songs from around this time. There is one unsettling part of this track for me, and that’s the vocal harmonies during the verses. I think they were meant to clash, but it was surprising to me from, particularly from Zeppelin. I appreciate the effort to try new musical techniques, so it gets points for that, but the execution was a little odd. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Four Sticks: “Four Sticks” was one of the songs that I had never listened to before I put the album on, and it’s a great track! It has a really interesting, drum-driven feel that makes the song like it’s consistently racing forward and Jones’ bass work is really solid on this song. There aren’t many places where these guys really get the chance to shine through on this album but they made the most of that opportunity here! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Going to California: “Going to California” is exactly the kind of song you don’t expect to come from Led Zeppelin unless you’ve been following the progression of their music. This is a beautifully performed ballad with a great folk rock influence. This acoustic track is simple and elegant all the way through. Plant’s vocals shine through on this song, and the modulation that they did to them on the chorus shows that they’re not done experimenting with new techniques to make their music sound better.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

When the Levee Breaks: This was the only cover on this album, taken from an old blues classic of the same name by Memphis Minnie. The blues are immediately apparent with the introduction of the harmonica, the slower pace, and blues chord structure, but this feels like a more refined way of incorporating it into rock music. Where they had previously just played blues tracks on rock and roll instruments, this feels like there was specific attention paid to the composition to give the original a rocking sound. Job well done. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Thanks for sticking with Led Zeppelin Month! Next week we move into July and back to regular programming with a different artist every week. Next week: Jefferson Airplane!

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.

Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin III (1970): 18 June 2019

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin III (1970)

Welcome back to YDCS! I’m a little late with this third installment in Led Zeppelin month, but I’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming next week with Led Zeppelin IV as the closer on this magnificent month of rock music. Stay tuned next month too for more classic rock albums! This week we take a look at Led Zeppelin III. Released in 1970 approximately one year after the release of Led Zeppelin II, the third album is a more eclectic look from the band that incorporates elements of folk rock into their well-known blues and hard rock sound. Much of the material for Led Zeppelin III was recorded while the band took a hiatus in northern Wales to recover from the heavy touring and production cycles of their first two albums. Maybe it was the slower pace of life and closeness to nature that caused the stylistic shift in their music, but Led Zeppelin III is the most in-line with the creative songwriting and technical mastery of later Led Zeppelin releases that came to define the band.

Led Zeppelin III was one of the most awaited albums of 1970, and that’s saying something considering that Paranoid, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Let It Be, Idlewild South, and more were all released in the same year. That’s one year for music and speaks to the frenzy that Led Zeppelin had created over the course of the nearly two years they had been active. When Led Zeppelin III finally released, it was met with confusion. Many critics were unsure about this new “softer” sound in a way. There were some critics that said that the shift was a welcome change from the last two albums and that the hard rocking moments were just as good as before. Personally, I fall between the two camps on this album. I appreciate the musicality of this album as a stand-alone album only. Within the context of Led Zeppelin’s discography, Led Zeppelin III is like my black sheep, sandwiched in between two powerhouse albums. Having said that, there is still a lot to love about this record. There are many moments where the band displays more musicality than they ever have before and it holds up as a great classic rock album. Enjoy!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Immigrant Song: Wooooo boy! I know I said it about the last album too, but Led Zeppelin really knows how to open an album. When you hear that screeching wail, you know exactly what you’re in for; a hard rocking Zep track! As a rock track, “Immigrant Song” really can’t get any better, but this song almost feels out of place on this album. This feels like a regression from Led Zeppelin II, and for a band that strove to innovate and change their sound, that’s not a great thing. Musically, this song is solid. The instrumentation is superb, dynamic and every other adjective that I can’t fit here, but it’s just not right. I’m giving this song two ratings, one as a song only and one within a greater context of the album because I can’t think of a fairer way to do it. Dad’s Rating 9/10 as a song, Dad’s Rating, 5/10 within the context of the album

Friends: This is what I’m talking about when I mean that “Immigrant Song” feels out of place. We go from a classic hard rocker to a folk influenced song with a full string orchestra accompaniment. This song is much more stereotypical of the style of the rest of the album, and when consistent, is more representative of what Led Zeppelin always wanted to become. I like “Friends” a lot. The acoustic guitar is really interesting and almost hypnotic in the way that it drives the song. Plant’s vocals are at, at times, atmospheric on this track, really giving it an ethereal feeling.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Celebration Day: The tape running together from “Friends” into “Celebration Day” is a really cool transition and is done well enough that if you’re just listening to the album, you could be forgiven for thinking that it was one song! This is a return to a more blues rock-oriented sound found on the first and second albums, but it has enough folk elements to fit cohesively with the album, particularly in the guitar line. “Celebration Day” is a good song, but not a standout in the band’s catalog. It’s worth a listen if you’ve never heard it before, but in my opinion, “Friends” is better. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Since I’ve Been Loving You: Alternatively, this song could be titled “Led Zeppelin Learns How to do a Proper Power Ballad.” They finally did it!! It took them two albums, but they made a proper ballad, and when they finally got around to it, they did it right. The first thing that I heard when I listened to this was the similarity to early Pink Floyd songs. The grandeur of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” can’t be overstated. The band made it feel like this is their opus in a very similar way to contemporary Floyd. There’s a great keyboard line that features more prominently than we’ve really heard before, and the instrumentation is just great on this song. Page tore out one hell of a solo on this song that I’m sure influenced power rockers for the next decade, then the band expertly pulled the song back, just to unleash a furious sound again. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Out on the Tiles: This is a Led Zeppelin track if I’ve ever heard one. “Out on the Tiles” is one of those songs that you can just immediately attribute to the band after hearing about five seconds of it. This a stereotypical Zep track, and my favorite part actually comes in the breakdown towards the end. I could actually listen to that on repeat. It has a little bit of funk and enough attitude to nod your head along to. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Gallows Pole: “Gallows Pole” is another example of the folk-rock sound that features heavily on this album and follows along the same vein as “Friends” and “Celebration Day.” The addition of a banjo to the backing instrumentation, coupled with primarily switching over to the acoustic guitar, gives this song a great folk drive. I don’t really have much more to add on this song. It’s really tight and a good deep cut! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Tangerine: We’re sticking with the acoustic guitar on the next song, and “Tangerine” is the first time I’ve heard anything that sounds remotely like the legendary “Stairway.” Listen to the verses of this song, hold that in your mind, then come back next week and listen to “Stairway to Heaven.” I think you’ll find that “Tangerine” foreshadows what would come. On to “Tangerine” specifically, this is a beautiful, simple song that pulls from the band’s time on retreat in Wales and features influences from American country music with an added “wah” effect to give it a more rock-focused sound. Dad’s Rating 8/10

That’s the Way: “Tangerine” runs right into “That’s the Way” with no break, and the two should really be listened to together for the best effect. The little bit of rock sound that was present in “Tangerine” is nearly vanished in “That’s the Way,” turning this into almost a purely country/ folk track. I criticized “Immigrant Song” for feeling out of place on this album, and I can see this song receiving similar criticism for skewing too far in the folk direction, but I think it’s closer to what the band intended the sound of the album to be. This is a beautiful song that I find more to like on every listen. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Bron-Y-Aur Stomp: The Stomp named for the cottage where the band stayed during their retreat, Bron-Yr-Aur. “The Stomp” is probably the most folk-oriented song on the album, but Plant’s vocals give it a little more of a bluesy vibe. If you’ve ever wanted to get introduced to a folk sound in a very listener-friendly way, Led Zeppelin does it perfectly here. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Hats off To (Roy) Harper: The experimentation has begun, and it started with Roy Harper. The closing track on Led Zeppelin III features heavily distorted vocals a la “American Woman”, a typical folk guitar line, no percussion, and no bass. This whole song is carried by Plant and Page, and somehow it works?! This is where I draw the line to start the band’s experimental phase. This is an unusual song and worth listening to just to hear the beginning of the band expanding out on their way to find their pinnacle. Dad’s Rating 6/10

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.

Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin II (1969): 10 June 2019

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II (1969)

Here we go! Week 2 of Led Zeppelin Month with the second album in the I-IV series. Led Zeppelin II is often cited as one of the band’s best works, was a board-topping album around the world, and sold over 12 million copies. The production cycle on this album was unusually short at nine months, even by the standards of the late 1960s where bands would often release an album every year or twice per year. The material for the album was written and recorded while the band was still touring to support their first album. Led Zeppelin II was actually recorded at a few different studios, and that contributed to the audible differences in quality on some of the tracks. Listen to “Heartbreaker,” and you can hear how fuzzy it sounds, but then “Living Loving Maid” follows it up and the sound instantly sharpens up. This is just one example, but the audio differences can be heard across the album.

Despite the fact that there were only nine months between Led Zeppelin’s first and second releases, there is a distinct evolution in the band’s sound over that period. I noted in my earlier review of Led Zeppelin that the band had two volumes; loud and less loud, and that while the band was clearly influenced by the blues rockers that came before them, it was oftentimes very forward. Led Zeppelin II is a course corrects on all of my criticisms from the first album. The band shows a more dynamic playing ability, particularly on songs like “The Lemon Song” and “Whole Lotta Love,” and tones back the blues sound to use it as a base for their songs without relying on a blues structured song. There is one exception on “Bring It on Home,” but I’ll give it a pass since it’s the only song on the album that is that bluesy, and it doesn’t feature for the whole song. This album starts to show some of the experimentation with expanded diversity of sounds and musicality that the band would become known for in the hard rock genre. Led Zeppelin II is an absolute classic, and I had never listened to it from side-to-side before this review, only the highlights. There’s a whole lotta more to love about this album though than the big tracks, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Whole Lotta Love: What a way to open an album! Led Zeppelin open with one of their most well-known tracks, and if you listen to the song out of context on the radio, I don’t think it does the song enough justice. When you put it in the context of an album opener, it says, “Hello, I’m here to rock!” “Whole Lotta Love” is immediately different from the work on their last album. The sound effects included in the overdubbing during the interlude are haunting, but then you’re brought back to earth by a shattering guitar. Where the band showed very little dynamic playing on their first album, they blew this song out of the water, taking you through highs and lows that are a joy to listen to. Dad’s Rating 9/10

What Is and What Should Never Be: This another great example of a dynamic track. One of my primary criticisms on Led Zeppelin was that the band didn’t know how to play a proper ballad, but this song shows more comfort with playing softly and letting their talent shine through. John Paul Jones gets a shoutout for being the driving force on this song. His bass playing is melodic and enrapturing on this song. I was actually more lost in that than in rest of the action.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Lemon Song: I wasn’t sure what to think of “The Lemon Song” at first. It presents itself as a stereotypical rock track with a shredding solo, but then it calms back down into almost a round robin jam session! Plant gets time to freeform some vocals, Jones gets a funky bass line, Bonham gets a groovy drum part, and Page gets to do a call and response on the guitar with Plant. During this it’s actually easy to forget that you’re listening to a Led Zeppelin album, until you’re yanked out by the guitar. This is an interesting track that has a lot to offer, and after listening to it a few times, it started to grow on me. I enjoyed the funkiness of the breakdown, but it doesn’t compromise anything that the band had worked to build. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Thank You: This is a beautiful track that shows how you do a ballad. It’s not often that I get caught up in the lyrics of a song, but Plant does a great job of making sure that they tenderly shine through. The acoustic backing is a great break from the rest of the album and doesn’t make the rest of the record feel overloaded with heavy rock songs. “Thank You” is the perfect bridge between two hard rocking songs. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Heartbreaker: Who doesn’t love “Heatbreaker?!” This is one of my favorite Zep songs, and I believe it features THE stereotypical guitar solo. Think about a what a guitar solo sounds like, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? What does it sound like? I’d be willing to bet that “Heartbreaker’s” solo is pretty close to what you imagined. If that’s not enough for you, the riff on this song is HEAVY! The opening chords let you know this is going to be a rocking song, and it doesn’t fail to deliver. “Heartbreaker” is best-described as “An Exercise in Showing What Jimmy Page Can Really Do.” Enjoy the practical lesson rockers. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Living Loving Maid (She’s Just a Woman): “Living Loving Maid” is one of those tracks that doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album. It’s not quite a hard rocker, it’s not a showcase of musical talent, and it doesn’t show any musical experimentation. I feel like it’s a filler song; there’s not much special about it. It’s forgettable and a shame that it was sandwiched between “Heartbreaker” and “Ramble On.” It honestly sounds more like a song by The Doors than Led Zeppelin. Do yourself a favor and press skip. Dad’s Rating 3/10

Ramble On: “Ramble On” shows the best of Led Zeppelin. Everything the band wanted to be at this point and everything they were going to become; this is like the teaser for that. I see this as the precursor to some of the band’s more musically complex works like “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Both of those show a depth that is rarely displayed and “Ramble On” shows some of the first flashes of that experimentation and complexity. The soft verses with the acoustic guitar for accompaniment juxtapose beautifully with the hard rocking verses. The acoustic opening is a highlight of the album because, to me, it shows how much the band learned between their first and second releases and is musically, very pleasant to listen to. I’m not going to ramble on, so just enjoy the song! Dad’s Rating 10/10

Moby Dick: “Moby Dick” is one of the deep cuts on this album that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and that’s not even remotely fair to this track. This instrumental immediately caught my ear. Bonham’s drumming skills are the main feature, and I can’t say that I’ve listened to many albums that place a drum solo front and center. While he was known for being an energetic drummer, “Moby Dick” really shows that Bonham can play a more melodic, emotional piece as well. It’s really neat that both Bonham and Page got time to shine on this album, Page’s being the solo on “Heartbreaker.” To another point, the guitar riff on this song is fantastic and I almost wish they had picked a different one so that it could have featured more on another song.  Dad’s Rating 9/10

Bring It on Home: I’m not a fan of how blues-forward the band is at the start of this song, but once you get past that, “Bring It on Home” brings the album home! They continue into a classic Led Zeppelin heavy rock sound, for which they would one day be synonymous. I feel like this track really does bring the band home in a way. It shows us where they started with their influences and shows us where they’re going in the future. Make sure to come back for Led Zeppelin III! 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.

Led Zeppelin- Led Zeppelin (1969): 3 June 2019

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin (1969)

Welcome to Led Zeppelin month! As promised, this month we’re going to be taking a listen to the first four Led Zeppelin albums, released from 1969-1971. Led Zeppelin is arguably the best act to come out of the early days of heavy rock and was influential in the crafting the sound of rock and roll in the 1970s. Featuring a constant lineup of Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, the band was formed in the wake of the breakup of the Yardbirds, of which Jimmy Page was a member. When he had tour dates that still needed to be filled, the other three gents stepped up to perform some shows with him and realized they had good musical chemistry. When they got back from touring, they changed their name to Led Zeppelin, went into the studio, and self-funded their first album to take to label executives. The rest was history.

Led Zeppelin received mixed reviews when it debuted. Critics believed that the band was going to be lost in the throng of rock bands that formed in the late 1960s, including the Jeff Beck Group and Cream. Some reviewers were more favorable, saying that while they were inspired by blues rock, that blues was rarely in your face and when it was, it was done tastefully. The album would go on to be certified multi-platinum and become the gold standard for how a debut album can set a band up for success. Sometimes after such a strong debut like this, bands can fizzle out and never reach the same heights again, but Zep did it. Again. And again. And again. And arguably a few more times after that on Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti.

Musically, Led Zeppelin is a band-defining album. It sets the stage for what you should expect over the next few weeks of reviews; big guitar riffs, big guitar solos, wailing vocals, and masterful musicianship. The experimentation that the band later became known for, with incorporating odd time signatures, playing out of phase, or some of their more epochal pieces, wasn’t quite there yet on this record, but they certainly established their sound! Led Zeppelin is the roughest cut of the quartet. I often found myself wondering if the band knew that they could play at a volume other than “loud,” even on the songs that could loosely be called “ballads.” That wasn’t part of how the band wanted to set themselves up though, and they were unapologetically loud on this album. Credit goes where credit is due, and they knew what they wanted to do. Enjoy this particularly big and loud album from some of the Gods of Rock.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Good Times Bad Times: This is as strong of a start to an album that you’re going to have. Bonham’s drumming is a particular highlight on this track, and the little rolls that he does during the verse add a new flavor to the song. Jones’ interludes on the bass between verses are a fun element and reflects well on how much the band enjoyed recording this album. I’m not even sure if mentioning guitar solos is worth it for the next three weeks since these records are full of them, but this is a wailer!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Babe I’m Gonna Leave You: This is the first “ballad” of Zep’s career and it starts out starkly different from “Good Times Bad Times.” I put quotation marks around ballad because, at this point, I’m not sure the band had figured out how to do a proper one. On this album, songs just slow down and feature the same high-energy guitar and stratospheric vocals, they never reach a fully calmed down level. This carries on throughout the band’s career though and goes to show how much they were innovating and sticking to their guns. Where most bands would have caved, Led Zeppelin knew that being dynamic in their slower songs was important to them and they stuck to that. There’s almost a Spanish guitar element that pops up during the choruses and some parts in verses that I haven’t heard on any other tracks on the album. The highlight on this song for me is the energy behind Plant’s vocals. I think this might be his best performance on the album as he wails through the chorus and takes us back down in the chorus. Dad’s Rating 8/10

You Shook Me: “You Shook Me” is one of the most obvious uses of a traditional blues structure on the album. While too much of a god thing can be boring, because it wasn’t overused, this plays out like any other influence, shaping the sound of the band. It’s really interesting to hear a typical Mississippi Delta Blues structure overlaid with electric guitars and the only keyboard and harmonica solos on the album. This one is worth listening to if only because it’s a clear indication of the band’s influences.  Dad’s Rating 6/10

Dazed and Confused: “Dazed and Confused” is one of the big ones on the album. The song is immediately impactful, opening on that solo bass line before launching into Plant’s powerful vocals accompanied by a guitar that feels like it came out of nowhere. “Dazed and Confused” hits on some psychedelic elements in the interlude before Page rips one of the best solos on the album. He’s frenetic in his playing, and the technicality can’t be overlooked. The solo actually sounds like it came off of a Black Sabbath record from around the same time. Tommy Iommi and Jimmy Page had a very similar style around this time when they were let loose, exemplified here. Bonham’s drumming deserves a close listen on this track too. He really drives this song, shifting easily from a soft accompaniment to a heavy, driving roll during the chorus. This is a stellar track that has a little bit of everything and shows how skillful these musicians were at shifting between moods, tempos, and even genres. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Your Time Is Gonna Come: Opening with organs is a bold move on a rock album, but it works really well on this track. It sets the song up for a slower pace and gives the song an ethereal, almost religious atmosphere. I really like this song a lot, and there’s a lot of elements to keep you interested as you listen. There are slides on the guitar that hark back to the band’s blues influences, a great chorus with a beautiful harmony (particularly for a rock band!) that adds to that church atmosphere created by the synthesized organ. There’s really nothing to fault here, this is a great track. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Black Mountain Side: “Black Mountain Side” clearly starts with a much different influence than the rest of the album. There’s a very strong Indian influence on this album and the acoustic guitar is played almost like a sitar would be played. What’s most interesting to me is that Jimmy Page was taught this as an Irish folk song and decided to change the feeling of it completely! That’s a bold artistic decision but I think it payed off for a unique instrumental track. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Communication Breakdown: “Communication Breakdown” is my favorite song on the album. I really like that it’s a simple rock track with not a lot of frills, but when you take a closer look there’s more than meets the eye. The song builds towards the last verse and chorus after the solo, consistently adding new elements until the whole band is playing together. The song starts with only the recognizable guitar riff, adding drums, bass, and a rhythm guitar. On the topic of the solo, I really like how the song quiets before going into that heated solo a lot! There are some rock songs that don’t have a lot of frills, and that’s because they don’t need it. Superior musicianship and ability to write music well goes a long way. Dad’s Rating 9/10

I Can’t Quit You Baby: I wasn’t sure what to expect when the song opened only on Plant’s vocals, but then the big guitar chords hit and I knew exactly what we were dealing with; another strong blues inspired track. This one is better than “You Shook Me” in my opinion for two reasons. First, I think the musicianship is cleaner and nicer to listen to on this track. By comparison, the former sounds very busy. “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is more stripped back, and the band lets their instruments speak for them. Second, I like how it’s not quite as overtly a blues rock track. I like blues rock a lot, but it can be overwhelming when presented in a typical I-IV-V chord progression with little deviation like the earlier track is. Musically, John Paul Jones is fantastic on the bass on this track and really leads the way with Bonham taking a back seat on the driving duties. There’s even a bass solo to let him show what he’s got and he delivers! Dad’s Rating 7/10

How Many More Times: The last track is a return to what the band knows how to do best; play big chords and riffs really loudly! I’ll actually say that this is one of my least favorite songs on the album. I wasn’t able to get that droning riff out of my head until the interlude, but by the time that was over, the song moved on to a different movement that I enjoyed much more…before ending on that droning riff. The sound from around the 5:30-7:00 markers should have been more prevalent. I think that would have made for a more interesting song. Either that or adding some kind of dynamics to the track to keep the listener engaged. 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.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience- Are You Experienced? (1967): 27 May 2019

The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced? (1967)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re tackling one of the big ones; one of the most influential and recognizable albums in the history of rock and roll. First though, remember that next week starts Led Zeppelin month where I’m covering Led Zeppelin I-IV back-to-back, so if another couple of the best rock and roll albums suit your fancy, make sure to check them out! Now this week, we’re taking a listen to the debut album from the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Are You Experienced?. Contrary to popular belief, Hendrix was never a solo artist, but the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was formed to place his guitar abilities in the front and center. Experienced was an immediate commercial success and landed the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the Monterey Pop Music Festival two months after the album released in the U.K. and before the album even released in the U.S. This performance, amongst the likes of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who, and Jefferson Airplane, launched Hendrix’s career in the U.S. and generated excitement for his upcoming debut album.

Jimi only released three studio albums before his untimely death in 1970, but each one furthered the development and legitimacy of the rock genre. Specifically, Experienced features a wide variety of genres and musical influences, from R&B to jazz and contemporary rock. The album itself can be best characterized as psychedelic rock, and no song on the album sounds quite like another. Listen straight through the album and you’ll hear Hendrix’s range of ability, from straight rock songs like “Manic Depression,” to ballads like “The Wind Cries Mary,” to funk and blues inspired “Fire.” This may be one of the best albums we’ve listened to on this blog, so I hope you can take some time to listen to this piece of history from start to finish. As an aside, note that I’m covering the album as it was originally issued in the United States, not the United Kingdom nor re-issued albums that have different track orders. No matter which version you listen to, I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Purple Haze: What a way to start a song! Think about what people must have thought back in the 60s when they put this record on and they’re assaulted with this huge guitar sound and Hendrix’s filtered vocals. Are You Experienced? opens with one of my favorite Hendrix tracks and I think it will always hold up as a classic rock staple and a song that’s had a significant cultural impact on the development of rock and roll. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Manic Depression: “Manic Depression” has a much different sound than Purple Haze, and most of that can be attributed to the time signature that the song is written in. We talked a little bit about time signatures in the “YYZ” review on Moving Pictures, but the gist of it is that the song is written in the style of a waltz but performed like a rock song!  The instrumental section on this song after the second verse might be one of my favorites on the album and the frenetic drumming really adds to the manic feeling. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Hey Joe: When people think of Hendrix, they either think of bombastic guitar solos and modernization of electric guitar techniques or they think of his blues and folk roots. Those roots can be heard in most of the songs on the album and across his discography, but there may not be a better example of it on Experienced than “Hey Joe.” This track was one of the few that weren’t actually written by Hendrix on this album. Instead, it was written by a man named Bill Roberts in the early 1960s and has been covered by multitudes of artists. The Hendrix version is usually the most well-known, and I think listening to it shows why. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Love Or Confusion: “Love Or Confusion” wasn’t my favorite track on the album, but it has some redeeming qualities that I actually enjoyed. I found the song more muddied than purposeful distortion should create, and because of that, the individual parts didn’t shine so brightly. I will say that the guitar is great in the way that it builds up from the beginning towards the chorus before heading into a top-notch solo. Overall, this was a good track, that if it had been cleaned up, it would have been a stronger song. Dad’s Rating 6/10

May This Be Love: “May This Be Love” is one of the two ballads on the album, the other being “The Wind Cries Mary.” Hendrix is usually not remembered for his ballads, despite the fact that “Little Wing” is often cited as one of his best songs. With this song, I particularly like how the guitar manages to be a focal piece of the song, both in how it’s used to accent Hendrix’s voice and to accompany it, but never overshadows it.  The vocals are soft but strong, and they carry the song very well. Dad’s Rating 8/10

I Don’t Live Today: “I Don’t Live Today” is one of the songs that surprised me the most. It’s a very heavy, distorted track that doesn’t pull any punches. Hendrix is almost yelling the lyrics and his playing is equally as strong and forceful. Musically I heard some elements of the psychedelic rock that he was known for and the solo at the end is a face-melter of heavy guitar distortion and wild drumming! This is one of those deep cuts that you just have to listen to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

The Wind Cries Mary: We go from one of the most high-energy songs on the album into one of the most laid-back songs on the album. “The Wind Cries Mary” is actually one of my favorite Hendrix songs (“Little Wing” is my favorite) and it’s a standout feature on the album. “May This Be Love” is like the warmup for this song. Everything just feels tighter, more polished, and better planned out, in a way, than the former. Where “May This Be Love” has a more drum driven sound, “Mary” is much more vocally and guitar driven, and I think that makes the biggest difference in why I prefer this song over the other.  Dad’s Rating 9/10

Fire: This is a straight funk and soul inspired song here! Listen to the opening and compare the vocals to James Brown’s, for example. Hendrix has the same kind of energy in his voice that Brown does and he uses it perfectly! This is a groovy song that starts off as a soul track before launching into a solo straight out of a rock track. It doesn’t sound like anything else on the album and I’ve never heard another song like it before. This is really good stuff! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Third Stone From The Sun: How does one best describe “Third Stone From The Sun?” I offer that it’s the musical equivalent of being led through an acid trip. The vocals were purposefully slowed down to make the listener feel like they were flying through space, and it worked for me! The un-distorted guitar is like a hand reaching through the acid dream to lead the listener through to the other side. This is worth a listen once so that you can say you’re experienced, then leave it at that. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Foxey Lady: This is Garth Algar’s best performance (Thanks Wayne’s World!). But actually, this was one of the Hendrix songs that made it big, and for a good reason. That held note at the beginning of the song that leads you in to a rocking guitar riff lets you know that you’re in for something special. The guitar work is really the feature here and the solo is ah-mazing. This is still one of my favorite solos to play the air guitar on, and you have to do the Garth dance during the song too. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Are You Experienced?: The lead track on the album is a return to Jimi’s blues and folk roots with a little twist. The distorted wah throughout the song is truly unique and sounds almost like a tape was skipping during recording. Everything was actually perfect with the recording equipment, but that sound was created by running the loop backwards! This is just another example of Hendrix’s innovation behind the guitar and what he would come to influence in the future. I think we can firmly say that he was quite experienced with that guitar and continued to pass that along to future generations. 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.

Rush- Moving Pictures (1981): 20 May 2019

Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo where we’re returning to one of my favorite bands this week, Rush. Before we get into the review, stay tuned for Led Zeppelin Month in June where I’m covering Led Zeppelin I-IV back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Listen along and let me know what you think as we cover a legendary series of albums. I’m also working on a couple of specials and longform albums right now, so if you’re interested in lists of favorite and least favorite albums, tracks, then stay tuned!

Moving Pictures is the eighth album from the Canadian trio and, to this day, is the band’s best-selling album. The record solidifies a shift in the band’s sound that was first heard on their previous album, Permanent Waves, towards a more radio-friendly sound with shorter songs and fewer abstract lyrics and instruments. Along with a radio-friendly sound, the instrumentation the band used started changing on this album too; increasing their reliance on the trendy synthesizers and moving away from the three-piece they were known for before this. This marked change would continue for the next decade until the band got back to their roots on 1993’s Counterparts. With all of this, Moving Pictures is often my go-to album when introducing people to Rush before bombarding them with long-form concept albums like 2112 or the Hemispheres series. Moving Pictures features some of Rush’s most popular songs like “Tom Sawyer,” “YYZ” (Pronounced why-why-zed), and “Limelight.” This is a top-notch album from a top-notch band, and I hope you enjoy it!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Tom Sawyer: When someone mentions Rush, this is probably the first song that comes to mind because of its commercial success. “Tom Sawyer” really brings together everything that the band has been up to this album, a hard rocking trio, and melds it with what they’re going to become for the next decade, a more synth-driven band influenced by the New Wave movement out of England. The trio is so in-sync on this track and the instrumentation is flawless. Highlights are Neil Peart’s mega-colossal drum fill during the bridge that gets the whole crowd air drumming in concerts and Lifeson’s shredding guitar solo about halfway through the song. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Red Barchetta: A song about a sports car, yeah you might have heard it before, but have you ever heard it done this well before? “Red Barchetta” is a perfect example of how the lyrics and the music can combine to create a true experience for the listener. The idea is that the song is a story about a time where someone can only drive certain types of cars, the Red Barchetta not being one of them, and the main character racing cars that are trying to chase him. The song builds up to that race from the beginning that starts as a ballad before ending with that same soft beginning. Dad’s Rating 8/10

YYZ: “YYZ” is one of the best instrumental rock pieces ever written. I could end this track there but I’ll continue. Taken from the airport code for Rush’s hometown of Toronto, the first thing you notice is that the intro doesn’t sound normal, and that’s because it’s in an unusual time signature, 10/8. We don’t talk much about music theory on this blog, but the idea is that the top number represents how many beats are in a measure of music and the bottom number represents what type of note receives a full beat (in this case an eighth note is worth one beat, so 10 eighth notes can fill a measure, as can 5 quarter notes, 20 sixteenth notes, etc.). For reference, most songs you hear on the radio are written in 4/4 time. The reason the intro was written was like that was actually so that the notes repeat “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code! Now for the rest of the song, it’s an absolute masterpiece of guitars, drum work, and appropriate melding of synthesizers to give the track an otherworldly feeling. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Limelight: Who would have thought that a song about the tribulations of fame would end up becoming a massive hit? The band really should have expected that considering their luck with statement pieces. For reference, “The Spirit of Radio” on their previous album was a critique of radio culture and was their biggest hit up to that point. Peart was the primary author on this song and it speaks mostly to his troubles coping with newfound fame. This track embodies everything that makes Rush, Rush. There are classic literary references in the lyrics, what I think is some of Geddy’s best vocal work, and masterful mélange between the instruments. The band is incredibly in sync on this song and I think it shines through. Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Camera Eye: Remember what I said about this album being more radio friendly and shortening the average track length? Well the band couldn’t give it up entirely and we end up with this 10:59 long piece. Much of the song is instrumental and we don’t get any lyrics until almost four minutes into the song. “The Camera Eye” isn’t my favorite Rush song and my biggest issue with it is the organization. I love the music and the instrumentation is dynamic, shifting sounds seamlessly between the verses and the solos, but I feel like this song wants to be one of the big stories in their repertoire and just never got there. If you look at a 2112”or a “Hemispheres”, those tracks tell definable stories that are enhanced by the music. “The Camera Eye” relies too much on the music to make an impact and not on its story, and I think that’s a detriment to the song. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Witch Hunt: I really like “Witch Hunt!” This is one of the songs in the back catalog that gets forgotten about a lot, mostly because it’s sandwiched between “Limelight” and “Vital Signs” on an album with more fantastic songs. This is a great deep cut though, that has an interesting mix between the old rock sound of the band and the emerging New Wave sound, starting with the former and shifting to the latter. The guitar stands out to me on this track, particularly because it sounds a lot like what the band ended up evolving into after the New Wave sound, kind of as a little teaser of what’s coming. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Vital Signs: “Vital Signs” is just a fantastic all-round rock track. The song has a poppier sound to it, not in a Top 40 way, but in a staccato way. Although it’s not the case, it almost sounds like Lee’s vocals are the cause for this during the chorus, but if you listen closely, his vocals are smooth. Credit really goes to Lifeson and Peart for altering the way we perceive the vocals. This is another one of those back-catalog songs that gets pulled out and is really good, it just never got the traction of some of the other songs on the album. Despite that, give it a listen and see what you think! 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.

Deep Purple- Machine Head (1972): 13 May 2019

Deep Purple – Machine Head (1972)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo where we’re taking a listen to the best-known album by English band Deep Purple. Originally formed as a progressive rock group, the band shifted to a heavier rock sound in the early 1970’s and are often cited as one of the most influential groups in the formation of heavy metal along with Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. The band shifted lineups as frequently as they shifted sounds, but the personnel on this sixth studio album, Machine Head, was the most popular lineup and produced some of the band’s best work. Machine Head has been cited in many musicians’ “Top 10 Album” lists and included in multiple publications’ “Best Of” lists. The album pulls heavily on classical and blues influences to create a unique medley of sound. “Highway Star” was directly influenced by the work of classical composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and the blues sound permeates through all of the harder rock tracks as the basis for the genre itself, but also specifically on tracks like “Lazy” and “Maybe I’m a Leo.” Machine Head is one of the big ones and directly shaped the way music would sound for decades to come. Think about every heavy rock band you like and they can all trace their heritage back to Deep Purple, and specifically this album. Enjoy this hard-rocking piece of history!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Highway Star: The opening track to Machine Head is a classic rock staple and continues to receive consistent play on the radio. “Highway Star” is basically the granddaddy of heavy rock, and the genre would have been more stunted and fringe without songs like this. The solo on this track has one of the best arpeggiated sections ever conceived and is, overall, an indulgence of a rock track. If you like hard rock then “Highway Star” should be on your list if it isn’t already. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Maybe I’m a Leo: “Maybe I’m a Leo” is a big, bad song and is an awesome deep cut. I had never heard this track before listening to this album, but it’s definitely going into my rotation. It’s very musically similar to the work being created by ZZ Top around the same time, particularly their massively successful album Tres Hombre, despite the fact that the two bands were a world apart. Really good stuff here. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Pictures of Home: This isn’t the best track on the album and isn’t really a deep cut that is a “must listen to song.” If anything, “Pictures of Home” blends into the heavy rock sound that was emerging in the early 1970s without overstating itself. It’s not a bad track, but by the same token, isn’t particularly memorable. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Never Before: If “Pictures of Home” was a lackluster track, “Never Before” is the opposite. The funky opening certainly stands out on this album full of classic rock legends before rolling into a more traditional rock track that includes a spaced-out bridge. The opening is alone is enough to make me happy and rate it above the previous track, but it is a better rock song than “Pictures,” so it’s got that going for it! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Smoke on the Water: DUN DUN DUN, DUN DUN DUN-DUN. You know you were thinking it, I just wrote it. “Smoke on the Water” may be the most instantly recognizable rock song ever recorded with that riff that everyone and their cousin knows. Lyrically, the song is actually a true story about trying to record the album in Montreux and the problems the band faced doing that. Musically, this song is untouchable. The lead guitar, the screaming solo that is oh-so dynamic, this song hits all the marks and was always going to get into the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award” club. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Lazy: This is one of the surprise songs on the album that we set out to look for. I’m genuinely impressed with the keyboard work and the bass is very reminiscent of another English bassist by the name of John Entwistle. You might have heard of him, he only played for The Who and is often credited as the best bassist of all time! This whole song actually reminds me of a lot of the things being done by The Who around this time (see the whole Who’s Next album to catch my drift). This track sounds exactly nothing like any of the other songs on this album, which is a credit to the album. “Lazy” helps break up the record, keeping it fresh sounding. Give this one a listen if you’ve never heard it before, I think you might be surprised at the band’s depth like I was. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Space Truckin’: “Space Truckin’” is a return to the heavier sound Deep Purple were known for at the time, and it’s also one of the better examples of that heavy sound. The most stand-out techniques on this song are found in the solo with an interesting scratch effect produced by the guitar and a great drum piece. Outside of that, this is a stereotypical 1970’s heavy rock track, and I find that personal preference is really the only distinguishing factor between average songs. Some people prefer certain riffs and sounds more, so give this one a shot and see if it’s your cup of tea! 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.