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.

Black Sabbath- Paranoid (1970): 22 April 2019

Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)

Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo! This week we’re having a listen to the most instrumental act in the formation of heavy metal and precursor to grunge and doom metal, Black Sabbath. Paranoid is the second album by the band and was quickly commissioned and released to capitalize on the success of Sabbath’s debut album four months after its release. Comprised of singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward, the band would go on to be a much more of a house-hold name after the tour for Paranoid and would release six more albums with this lineup before Osbourne was released from the band for his over-indulgence in drugs and alcohol. The band got back together in this lineup a few times in later years, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006, and recently completed their final tour in their hometown of Birmingham, England in 2017.

Paranoid may just be the most influential album in the history of heavy metal music. Without Black Sabbath and the success they achieved from this album, the hair metal acts of the 80s like Ratt, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N Roses, Poison, and Dokken may have never gotten off the ground! The heavy metal scene that flourished in the aftermath of Black Sabbath with acts like AC/DC and Iron Maiden, and later Metallica, Megadeth, and Primus, would have been stunted! Black Sabbath were pioneers in a yet-to-be defined genre and paved the way for legendary groups. Because of news reports, we can look back and see that, at first, the band was not viewed favorably, and it’s not hard to see why! Imagine, if you will, a year where Simon and Garfunkel (nothing against S&G, but we need to make a point here) are the top act for the year, you turn the radio on, and “Paranoid” comes on. What kind of shock would that heavy guitar induce?! In fact, the hardest rock acts that broke the year-end Hot 100 were Chicago and The Guess Who. Because Black Sabbath broke down that barrier, that chart would look very different by the mid-1980s. Enjoy this groundbreaking and ground shaking album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

War Pigs/Luke’s Wall: What a way to open an album! Black Sabbath didn’t pull any punches with their opening track, “War Pigs,” which was actually supposed to be the title of the album, not Paranoid. This song (and album for what it’s worth) is hugely critical of the Vietnam War and the politicians who the band paint as the real enemy, the War Pigs if you will. Musically, this song is a hit. The guitar solo about halfway through the song shreds more than any other on the album and using the drums to break the trains of thought in the lyrics is excellent in execution; however, Osbourne’s vocals are the shining point on this track. The verses are purposefully minimalistic from the instruments so that there’s no mistaking his message, instead acting almost act as a punctuation to the lyrics. “War Pigs” might just be the band’s opus and is very deserving of the “They Don’t Make Music Like This Anymore Award.” Dad’s Rating 10/10

Paranoid: “Paranoid,” according to the band, was thrown together as an afterthought for this album. Sabbath wrote the song in a few hours during the sessions for their first album and only changed the name of the album to Paranoid after record executives thought “War Pigs” would have been too offensive. This was the lead single off of the album, and it definitely helped solidify the band’s branding if nothing else. The single was successful and even today, this is instantly recognizable as a Black Sabbath track. The heavy distortion on the guitar combined with the raw vocals gives the song such a gritty feeling. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Planet Caravan: “Planet Caravan” is a song the album desperately needed to not overwhelm the listener. The congas and flute take the listener to a completely different mental state after the shock of “War Pigs” and “Paranoid.” Iommi’s guitar playing, while not as bombastic as literally every other song on the album, still manages to come through as masterful. This is a really good track that shouldn’t be overlooked exclusively for its slowness.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Iron Man: The transition from the calmness of “Planet Caravan” into “Iron Man” is nothing short of shocking. There’s that relaxing melody on the former and then the band launches the listener into that ever-recognizable “Iron Man” guitar riff. I found it particularly interesting to learn that Osbourne created the robot effect on the opening “I am Iron Man” by placing a desk fan in front of the microphone and singing into it! The instrumental section on this track is fantastic, but I think it lacks in musicality when put next to “War Pigs” and “Hand of Doom.” Dad’s Rating 8/10

Electric Funeral: I am a big fan of “Electric Funeral,” and I really think this song never got the attention that it deserved. The heavy distortion on the lead guitar creates the perfect haunting sound. I think the best part is how dynamic this track is. It starts with that haunting sound for about two minutes before launching into a powerhouse section that sounds like it could have been ripped from a Frank Zappa album. This is a heavy song that just rocks! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rock on!

Hand of Doom: “Hand of Doom” might be the best song on this record. The song is dynamic in the way that it builds and falls, almost like it’s heaving from the simple bass driven verses into the wailing choruses and instrumental section. The simplicity of the instrumentals during the verses enhances the message of the song by allowing Osbourne’s lyrics to be heard crisply over a dark message. Lyrically, this song describes American soldiers with drug problem arriving in England post-Vietnam, only to be consumed by the drugs they were using to forget the war. For a band that openly used drugs, this is a stunning rebuke, but much more than that, is a criticism of the handling of the Vietnam War, much like other tracks like “Paranoid” and “War Pigs.” Dad’s Rating 9/10

Rat Salad: “Rat Salad” was one of the tracks I had never listened to before and was genuinely surprised by! This is an instrumental track that really shreds! Iommi’s guitar work is really masterful here, but the real star is Bill Ward on the drums. The drum solo is nothing short of amazing and keeps your attention despite the length. When this song was performed live during the band’s early days, that drum solo would continue for up to 45 minutes, it just depended on how much time the band needed to fill before the end of their set!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Jack the Stripper/Fairies Wear Boots: “Jack the Stripper” is the instrumental opening to “Fairies Wear Boots” and it sounds like a continuation of “Rat Salad,” which to me, lends credit to the composition of the album. The flow of the record was clearly considered when Sabbath was composing it and I think it shows. The instrumental starts right with a hard rock sound and is very similar to something like a slowed down Deep Purple track. “Fairies Wear Boots” describes an encounter the band had with a group of skinheads. The track has a driving pace and one of the best guitar riffs on the album. As far as rock tracks go this one is above-average, but is just par for the course on this album. That lends much credit to the band’s musicianship, attention to detail, and groundbreaking nature. Top notch! Dad’s Rating 8/10

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

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

The Doors – Morrison Hotel (1970)

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

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

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful Dead – American Beauty (1970)

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

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

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.