Eric Clapton- 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974): 25 May 2020

Eric Clapton – 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! Thanks for holding on through some more obscure acts for the last few weeks! Last week, I promised a return to a more recognizable act for this week, and now I’m here to deliver with Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard. This was Clapton’s second solo studio album after breaking away from Derek and the Dominos in the early 70s. This album was a landmark for Clapton’s career; he had spent so much of his early musical career on drugs and rehab that he knew he needed to change. While working through his addiction, he began listening to old blues records. Those acted as a strong influence on the songs he wrote for this album and would profoundly impact the tone of his next few albums, most notably Slowhand.

461 Ocean Boulevard is full of some fantastic musical moments and has a softer sound than I think a lot of people expected from a Clapton record. In that respect, that was the perfect sound for him at the time. Having just beaten a heroin addiction, maybe it was time to change the sound and influence from the hard rocking times of the Yardbirds and Derek and the Dominos to put that part of his life behind him. Either way, 461 Ocean Boulevard was here to make a statement; Clapton’s back and he’s still got it. Ever the songwriter, Clapton’s personal, stripped back approach to musical composition is on full display and he put a lot of his vulnerabilities out for the world to see. The takes a lot of strength, and when music is written with that level of personal emotion, the result is nothing short of spectacular. This is a great album and I hope that you enjoy the music and appreciate where it came from.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Motherless Child: We start off 461 Ocean Boulevard with a taste for what we’ll be getting for the rest of the album; a strong, bluesy, roots sound. “Motherless Child” is atypical in structure for a blues track in that it it’s almost five minutes long (most blues tracks top out at three minutes), but this is a Clapton blues song, so we have to have enough runtime for a solo or two. The instrumentation is really sharp and I looked forward to hearing that slide guitar make a return pass later on the album, but what stood out to me the most was actually the production quality. The mixing was really crisp and stands up 46 years later. I like a dirtier production sound too (a la Jim Croce), but I find that it helps focus your attention on the vocals where a crisper production focuses your attention on the instrumentation, and that’s where Clapton’s strength lies. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Give Me Strength: “Give Me Strength” is one of the most personal songs on the album and appears to be directly influenced by Clapton’s rehab and working through the emotions of his addiction. It takes a lot of strength to actually record a song talking about how you need/needed help. You can’t help but proud of someone for admitting that. This is also a great example of how the production can affect the way that you listen to a song. Compare this with “Motherless Child” and you’ll notice that the vocals, while sounding a little muffled, are much more pronounced while the instruments take a back seat. That’s the work of a great sound engineer. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Willie And The Hand Jive: “Willie And The Hand Jive” isn’t the first cover that we’ve heard on this album, that honor actually goes to “Motherless Children,” and it’s not the last that we’ll hear either. This is a typical hand jive arrangement, but it’s notable that he chose to slow down the hand jive to put a blues twist on it. Slowing it down, I don’t think you could actually hand jive to this version, but he was able to make it a good blues rock song! I’ve never heard anything like this before, but I think you’ll like it too! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Get Ready: I liked “Get Ready” a lot! The riff for this song is super funky and gives the track a great groove. I’m not sure who the woman is who features with Clapton on this song, but her deep voice is a welcome addition and compliments his rougher sound nicely. This is a track for sitting out and listening to, not rocking out, but it’s still a good song that’s worth checking out. Dad’s Rating 6/10

I Shot The Sheriff: We close out the A-side with a cover of a Bob Marley song, the legendary “I Shot The Sherriff”. This track instantly recognizable and pays appropriate homage to Marley’s legacy, mirroring the vocal performance closely but diverging on the instrumental performance by adding a funkier rhythm to the low-end to give it more of a bounce. One of my favorite things about this song is that Marley once met Clapton and complimented his performance of the song. This isn’t just one of Clapton’s best songs, it’s one of the best songs in classic rock, and it will always be told in the context of both rockers, Marley and Clapton. Dad’s Rating 10/10

I Can’t Hold Out: Now we’re moving on to the B-side with a largely instrumental track that pulls from a typical blues sound. This is a back-to-basics 12-bar blues song that is really easy to listen to. It won’t win awards for creativity, but it is well performed. The flourishes that Clapton puts on the solo are enough to keep your attention and make you want to see what the rest of the side has in store. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Please Be With Me: Oh boy, it’s a ballad. I don’t do well with ballads, but I made it through “Give Me Strength.” Maybe I’ll make it through this one too…nope. “Please Be With Me” is a beautiful song with a pleasant guitar acoustic performance, but I won’t remember it after this review. A ballad needs to be something truly special for me to remember it, and this one just couldn’t do that. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Let It Grow: It’s hard to believe that a song this good was buried on the B-side! “Let It Grow” does exactly what it says it will do; the song grows as it goes on, rising from a humble acoustic track into a huge sound. The instrumental performance is what really held my attention on this song, in combination with the beautiful vocals. This is a well-balanced song that crescendos inspiringly in the last minute and a half, and that stuck with me. My one criticism is the actual lyrics of the song, and that’s why it’s not rated higher. “Love is lovely…” I mean it sure is, but maybe we could have found a better way to say it. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Steady Rollin’ Man: “Steady Rollin’ Man” was a great hidden gem on this album, although it’s hard to call anything on a Clapton record hidden! This is a fantastic blues track with a great groove and some real rock moments. The backing instrumentation with that weird synth in the background is different enough that I’ll remember that one for a while. Clapton also opens up the guitar for one of the best solos on the album on this track too, wringing a great “wah wah” solo out, and doing something different than I expected, which would have been a typical slide guitar solo. Check this one out! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Mainline Florida: We close 461 Ocean Boulevard with a sleepy rocker in “Mainline Florida.” I almost wish that this was a bluesy song to close out an album that was heavily influenced by the genre. Putting a sleepy rock track at the end doesn’t have a good sense of finality. The solo is really unusual on this song too. I think he was trying to channel a bluegrass sound, maybe by using a squawk box, and it wasn’t pleasant. Ende the album at “Steady Rollin’ Man” and you’ll feel a better sense of finality than pushing on to “Mainline Florida.” Dad’s Rating 3/10

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.

UFO- Phenomenon (1974): 11 May 2020

UFO – Phenomenon (1974)

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

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

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

ZZ Top- Tres Hombres (1974): 6 April 2020

ZZ Top – Tres Hombres (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! We’re going south again this week with ZZ Top’s third release, Tres Hombres. Released during a peak in the Southern Rock movement, Tres Hombres was a standout release for the band and featured their first Top 40 Hit, “La Grange.” Contemporary reviews found that while they were clearly competent rockers, the album didn’t stand out from other acts of the time, particularly ones like the Allman Brothers Band, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Time looks much more favorably on this record, with modern reviews noting that it was a landmark album in the genre and for featuring one of the biggest hits of classic rock.

This is the second ZZ Top album that I’ve reviewed, the first being 1983’s Eliminator. The first thing that I noticed was that I drastically prefer the older ZZ Top sound over the newer, more keyboard driven one on Eliminator. Eliminator has some great songs, but ZZ Top were always a blues/southern rock group, and Tres Hombres features some of the dirtiest blues rock that you’ll hear. With blues rock, simplicity in terms of production and instrumentation is key, so to make the album stand out, both of those need to be high quality, and Tres Hombres features both a high degree of musicianship and excellent production value. I hope you enjoy this genre-defining classic!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Waitin’ for the Bus: We open Tres Hombres with one of my favorite ZZ Top songs, “Waitin’ for the Bus.” (I sing this song to myself every time I’m actually waiting for a bus too!) It’s not a complex song but it plays into the simplicity of the genre well and features the only harmonica solo on the album. It really hits the nail on the head for what hard blues rock sounds like and is a definitive example of the early ZZ Top sound. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Jesus Just Left Chicago: The transition from “Waitin’ for the Bus” into “Jesus Just Left Chicago” is really smooth. Do you remember how I mentioned that production is one of the things that can make a southern rock album stand out? That’s what I’m talking about. That attention to detail is what an album in this genre needs. Looking at the song musically, it initially appears to be a standard blues rock song, but it features a screaming solo that is definitely worth checking out and is a great display of the band’s musicianship. Good song! Dad’s Rating 6/10

Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers: We have our first of two ‘hidden gems’ in a row in “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” This is a more traditional rock song than the bluesy-er songs that have come before it and shows that the band had plenty of rock in them; they weren’t just a one-trick show. “Beer Drinkers” is a fun rock track, despite being short on substance. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Master of Sparks: “Master of Sparks” is a song I can say that I’ve never heard before this review but fits the term ‘hidden gem’ perfectly. This is a bluesy, dirty song and it’s one of my favorites on the album. The track is heavy and has the right mix of rock and funk and makes you feel so cool for listening to it. I feel like I need to invest in a pair of sunglasses and a black leather jacket after listening to this song. Don’t skip this track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Hot, Blue and Righteous: We’ve hit the midpoint in the album and it’s time to slow things down a bit. My first thought when I listened to “Hot, Blue and Righteous” was that ZZ Top seemed to be taking inspiration from the Eagles but put a Texas twist on it. There’s an attempt at vocal harmony, but everything is a little rougher in Texas so it doesn’t come across smoothly. I actually appreciate the fact that it’s slightly unpolished since it just feels more like the cowboys that ZZ Top are, and anything less would be a discredit to them. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Move Me on Down the Line: The B-side starts weakly with this song, “Move Me on Down the Line.” I kept waiting for something to come out of this song, but it starts as quickly as it ends and doesn’t add anything to the album. It lacks the hard rock sound of earlier songs and omits the blues sound. Go ahead and skip this one. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Precious and Grace: Starting the B-side with this track, “Precious and Grace” would have been a better decision in my mind. It fits more smoothly with the theme of the rest of the album and hits the middle ground between blues and heavy rock well. I would listen to this song again, but don’t think it’s quite good enough to be called a hidden gem. Dad’s Rating 6/10

La Grange: I can NOT believe that “La Grange” was buried on the B-side! One of the most significant songs to come out of the southern rock movement was relegated to a B-side! This is a great song and the best on the record. The quiet, tapping drum section combined with raspy vocals is the perfect intro to a rocking track, and I love the reprise of that section after the solo; that run is my favorite part of the song. I know that I just talked about how “Precious and Grace” shows a great split between blues and rock, but “La Grange” does it best. Rock on! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Sheik: For as high of a high as “La Grange” is, “Sheik” is the lowest point of the record and deserves to be buried on the B-side. I kept waiting for it to do something and it never did anything. They were clearly trying for a stripped back, blues rock track but it didn’t work. The whole song feels very out of place, it’s both too soft and not bluesy, it features a weird chime section, and it doesn’t do anything. Dad’s Rating 3/10

Have You Heard?: We close Tres Hombres with a slow burning blues track that features some pretty good guitar work in the solo. The guitar work in particular seems to have a stronger Delta Blues influence than on some of the other blues-y songs on the record. “Have You Heard?” isn’t particularly memorable, but it’s a good song and adequate way to finish. At the very least, it sums up what the album was all about. 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.

Lynyrd Skynyrd- Second Helping (1974): 23 March 2020

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping (1974)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to an album that almost needs no introduction, the second studio release from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Second Helping. Riding high after their first album, and after gaining exposure touring with The Who, the band went back into the studio to write an album that rivaled their first. The album would spawn two singles, one of which, “Sweet Home Alabama,” would go on to be the song most associated with the band. Notably, this was the last album to feature the band’s original lineup as drummer Bob Burns left prior to the release of their third album, Nuthin’ Fancy.

I’ll be reviewing the album as it appeared on its original tracklist, so there won’t be the additional three songs from the 1990s re-issue. If you liked their first album Pronounced, then you’ll like Second Helping. The sound is very much the same if more refined than their first album. They seem to have come into their own and figured out how to tone down their sound to create more expressive songs, but not quite to the level of the Allman Brothers Band or Marshall Tucker Band. They’re still an unapologetic, three-axe-wielding power southern rock act that believes that more guitar can’t hurt. Despite this, there are moments of strong musicianship and brave writing that make this a standout album in a crowded genre. I hope you enjoy this southern rock staple, and don’t be afraid to ask for more!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Sweet Home Alabama: Who doesn’t love “Sweet Home Alabama?” The response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man,” “Sweet Home Alabama” would become an immediate hit for the band and he song they’re most closely associated with. Lyrically it’s critical of both the Government of Alabama and the Nixon Administration during Watergate, but it really shines instrumentally. It’s not free-wheeling like “Free Bird,” but there’s a restrained emotion through the verses that breaks through in the iconic chorus. This is a massive song, that couldn’t have been performed any better, and is a perfect way to start their second album. Dad’s Rating 10/10

I Need You: “I Need You” is one of the tracks that tends to fly under the radar but has a really good groove and is a different take for the band. The song is much blues-ier and roots focused than the rest of the album. I wasn’t initially a fan of this song because I thought it would be a boring down-tempo track, but I stuck with it and was surprised by the musicianship on display. This is a dynamic track that shows Lynyrd Skynyrd is more than a one-trick pony. They can do more than play loud, they have real musical skills and a good ear for a roots track. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Don’t Ask Me No Questions: We’re back to a song that plays nicely into the band’s southern rock realm. “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” is a rocker of a track that shows you can do a normal rock song realy well with just a little work. The instrumentals really stand out here The riff is great but there’s a piano and horn accompaniment that adds just a little extra depth to the song and pushes it from ‘average rock song’ to ‘really good rock song.’ Dad’s Rating 8/10

Workin’ For MCA: We have another hidden gem in “Workin’ For MCA!” I had never heard this song before this listen but it’s got a real funk to it that makes it infectious to listen to. It has one of the best solos on the album to boot! Skynyrd kicked it up a gear for “Workin’.” The only thing that I would fault is the lyrics. They’re pretty repetitive and it seems like the band realized that this would be a filler song. It’s really a shame because this is one of the most screaming instrumentals that they put together! Give this song a listen! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Ballad of Curtis Loew: “Curtis Loew” is what southern rock is all about; good storytelling and music that’s easy to listen to. Van Zant weaves a great story on this track and it’s appropriate that they tuned the band down to let the vocals come through more prominently. “Curtis Loew” was always going to be story-driven song and I’m brought in to the lyrics every time it comes on. Don’t listen to this track for crazy guitar solos, listen for the message. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Swamp Music: “Swamp Music” is an interesting song because it combines a boogie sound with CCR-inspired swamp rock. There aren’t many examples of that in classic rock but this is a neat idea and well-executed too. The band created something unique with this track. My only fault is that the vocal performance is one of Van Zant’s weaker ones on this record. Otherwise, this is a cool track worth checking out! Dad’s Rating 6/10

The Needle And The Spoon: “The Needle And The Spoon” is one of my favorite songs on the album, and it doesn’t get as much love as it deserves. I think what I like about it the most is the simplicity of it. There’s no front with this track. You have a killer guitar riff, some drums to back it, and a classic southern rock sound. When simplicity is done right and done well, a song doesn’t need anything else. Lynyrd Skynyrd were masters of that and “The Needle And The Spoon” is a great example of that. Dad’s Rating 9/10

Call Me The Breeze: What a way to close the album! “Call Me The Breeze” is such a fun boogie rack and it’s got an infectious beat that you’ll hum along to all day long. I’m particularly partial to the end of the song where the piano and horns come in, but every solo on this track is fun to listen to for different reasons, whether it’s to add claps or put in a shredding solo. To be fair, most of the song is an instrumental piece and you can hear how much fun the band had recording this one. That love of the music translates through and makes me love this song even more! Dad’s Rating 9/10

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

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

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.