Grateful Dead- From the Mars Hotel (1974): 23 September 2019

Grateful Dead – From the Mars Hotel (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re taking a listen to one of my favorite albums by the Grateful Dead, From the Mars Hotel. The Grateful Dead tend to inspire passionate feelings on both sides of the aisle, but From the Mars Hotel is the easiest transition into their music. We’ve already covered American Beauty on YDCS which was much more inspired by blues and acid rock. This seventh studio album still pulls from the blues roots that inspired the band in the first place but we hear more “jam rock” coming out of this album than the former. It’s one of the least acid-rock inspired albums in their repertoire, features a number of the band’s biggest hits, and is generally an easy-going kind of album to listen to.

There’s really a lot to like about From the Mars Hotel. All of the songs on the album work really well together as a cohesive unit but there’s enough variety to keep listeners interested. I found that a significant part of that came from putting songs with significantly different tempos back-to-back and using jazzy, syncopated beats to give up-tempo songs a groovy drive. There’s a lot of big hits on this one so enough talk, time to get to the album. I hope you enjoy it!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

U.S. Blues: You’ve got to open an album with a catchy song to capture interest, and “U.S. Blues” does a decent job of that. It’s not the strongest song on the record but it has its moments where it shines. I love the fuzz from the guitar that reminds you that this isn’t just a blues track, it’s a rock track too. “U.S. Blues” is a good song in its own right but pales slightly when you compare it to what’s coming up on the rest of the album. This is like the appetizer, good but you want more. Dad’s Rating 6/10

China Doll: “China Doll” is the first of a few slow tracks on this album. Slow tracks normally bore me and this is no exception. It takes a special ballad (like some of the others on this album to be frank) to hold my attention, and “China Doll” is one of those songs that remind you that you’re listening to the Grateful Dead and they were likely high when they wrote the song.  Dad’s Rating /10

Unbroken Chain: “Unbroken Chain” is one of the band’s best songs, both in terms of instrumentation, harmony, and story. Dissecting that, the instrumentation on this track is beautiful. The keyboard plays a more central role until the midsection where this becomes a spacey (maybe of Mars?!), faster-paced song. The synthesizer that creates spaceship noises helps to pull the whole song together and link the different solos. The vocals are top-notch and show off the range of Phil Lesh’s musical ability. Finally, the story. The rumor among Deadheads was that “Unbroken Chain” would be the last song the band performed live and would never be played before then. Almost true to form, “Unbroken Chain” was only performed on the band’s penultimate tour in 1995 then again at their last concert later that year. The story, the beauty, and the balance come together here for a fantastic song. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Loose Lucy: I’m a big fan of “Loose Lucy,” and I’ve kept it on repeat for a good portion of the week. What appeals to me is the groovy, slightly funky instrumentation driven mostly by the keyboard. Instrumentally this isn’t the most complex song on the album but it’s a fun track to groove out to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Scarlet Begonias: “Scarlet Begonias” is one of my favorite songs, hands-down. There’s a lot to like about this song too, starting with the drums. The syncopated beat that Kreutzmann lays down initially gives the song a jazzy feeling, but then the dual guitars playing off-beat syncopated harmonies changes it to almost a reggae-track. You can use a variety of genres to try and define “Scarlet Begonias,” but it ultimately comes down to ‘jam.’ Matter-of-factly, the Dead would often turn this song into an extended jam session during their live performances because it lends itself so well to that idea. “Scarlet Begonias” is one of those songs that is simple on first listen but reveals more of itself the more you listen to it, and I’ll always have a soft spot for it among my favorite songs. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Pride of Cucamonga: “Pride of Cucamonga” was the only song from this album that was never played live. Yes, among the hundreds and hundreds of live Grateful Dead recordings you will never hear “Pride of Cucamonga.” Interestingly, the song starts off as a soft, easy-listening blues rock track, takes a break with a hard rock middle, and transitions back to the soft rock sound to finish off. This is a fun song that shows great musicality in the backing keyboard, attention-grabbers in the shouts of “oh-oh” during the chorus, and great band cohesiveness. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Money Money: This track sounds the least traditional Grateful Dead song on the album, and I’m okay with it. I dislike when albums sound the same throughout and “Money Money” pulls from all over the place to create a really unique song. The song is peppered with jazz chords to give it a funk sound but the guitar and vocals tell a different song and could have almost been copied from a Motown record. This is a great song that doesn’t get pulled out of the catalog much. I hesitate to call it a hidden gem because From the Mars Hotel is a landmark album for both the Dead and jam rock, but it definitely deserves a listen. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Ship of Fools: “Ship of fools, sail away from me.” That’s such a poetic way to end an album. When you listen to this track, you can feel the passion in Garcia’s voice, and the gospel inspired instrumentation helps lift the song to new heights, pausing only for a soft guitar solo as if it were a choir soloist. Wrap this one up. Dad’s Rating 9/10

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Rush- Rush (1974): 25 February 2019

Rush – Rush (1974)

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

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

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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