April Wine- The Nature Of The Beast (1981): 18 May 2020

April Wine – The Nature Of The Beast (1981)

Welcome back to YDCS! We have another deep cut this week, but don’t worry, because after a few weeks of lesser-known albums we’ll be back to a more recognizable act next week. Before we do that though, I’d like to introduce you to April Wine and their ninth album, Number Of The Beast. April Wine were a Canadian rock act that were the slow burners of 1970s rock. They always bubbled under mainstream popularity, and despite releasing their first album in 1971, it would take 10 years for them to have their first internationally certified platinum album and commercial breakthrough.April Wine didn’t do anything genre-bending with this album, but they did add another solid rock album to the catalog of classic rock. That reason itself is why many people haven’t heard of April Wine; they were one group with one popular album in a sea of groups with multiple successful albums.

Not only were April Wine lesser-known, they were behind the sonic curve. Listening to Nature of the Beast, you’ll notice that they didn’t adapt well to the changing times in the 1980s, which is why their music sounds so similar to hits from the 70s. Early 80s music is often defined by increasing use of synths and layered harmonies to build a depth of sound. This album features a predominantly 70s sound with big power chords, simple song structures, and a traditional three-piece instrumental section. The end result of this was a good album for 1976 released in 1981, and a sort of gasping breath for the dying 70s rock sound. A lot of the album tends to run together and is generally middle-of-the-road rock music, but there are a few songs worth listening to. That’s why I decided to highlight this album this week. I knew that I liked a few April Wine songs but was ultimately disappointed with the rest of the album. The same thing happened during the Night Ranger review where there were a few big hits but the rest of the album was filler for the singles. Give the album a listen on your own and let me know what you think!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

All Over Town: We’re starting off the album with a solid track, “All Over Town.” This is one of the most 80s-reminescent songs on the album, only behind “Caught In The Crossfire” for that honor, due mostly to the fact that both tracks were heavier on synths than the rest of the album. As far as “All Over Town” goes; it’s a solid song that won’t change the world but worth putting on a classic rock playlist to fill it out with a different band.  Dad’s Rating 5/10

Tellin’ Me Lies: Put politely, “Tellin’ Me Lies” is boring. This is the second song that doesn’t really hit the right notes. When your album opener is weaker, you need a really strong second and third song to make up for it. The third track delivers, but this is the second of a number of songs on the album that are just okay classic rock. Like I said for “All Over Town,” all of these could be thrown into a classic rock playlist for filler, but that’s all these 5/10 rated songs are, album filler. Stop wasting vinyl and put some good music down on it! Dad’s Rating 5/10

Sign Of The Gypsy Queen: This is the best song on the album and an actual hit on traditional classic rock radio too! “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen” has a lot going for it with beautiful, soft vocals and a shredding solo that would be right at home in any power ballad. For folks who have never listened to April Wine before, “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen” is a track that you don’t want to miss out on. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Just Between You And Me: What’s the best song to follow a pseudo-power ballad? An actual power ballad of course! “Just Between You And Me” is a practically perfect power ballad, reaching for the highest highs with a soulful, pining chorus and not-too-overdone instrumentation. Balance between rocking out and playing to a slower side is key in constructing a power ballad. April Wine struck that balance perfectly with this track. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Wanna Rock: I like “Wanna Rock” because it harkens back to the early days of rock in the 50s with a consistent, single-note guitar line, but it also goes beyond that. April Wine took that familiar sound and put a modern twist on it by incorporating a heavy guitar sound and letting that run wild. This is a unique track, even for an album like this. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Caught In The Crossfire: “Caught In The Crossfire” is another song that listeners familiar with April Wine might have heard before. It’s one of the better songs on the album and also one of the most 80s songs on the album. The heavy synth use and vocal delivery almost make this sound like a Cars song. Check this one out! Dad’s Rating 7/10

Future Tense: We’ve got a solid rocker here, April Wine’s bread and butter. Again, they never pushed the direction of music but they did toe the line. There’s not a whole lot to talk about on “Future Tense” since it’s a middle-of-the-road rock track. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Big City Girls: It’s at this point in the album when I’ve realized that Nature Of The Beast suffers from some of the same critical flaws that albums from other acts like Night Ranger have. They’re a good rock group, but every song starts to sound the same, and not in an exciting way. My comments for “Big City Girls” are a copy/paste of what I said for “Future Tense.” Dad’s Rating 5/10

Crash and Burn: Now we actually have something exciting with “Crash and Burn!” You get a really cool howling guitar intro that wouldn’t be out of place on a Rage Against The Machine album and an interesting drum pattern with actual syncopation! This is a good track for folks looking for a heavy metal sleeper hit. You might have never heard it before, but this is a solid one.  Dad’s Rating 6/10

Bad Boys: Somehow, “Bad Boys” is slightly more interesting to listen to than “Future Tense” et al. I think it’s the cool solo that switches between instruments so that everyone in the band gets a turn to show off. The rest of the song can be lumped into a middling pile with “Future Tense,” “Big City Girls,” etc. Dad’s Rating 5.2/10 (But only a 0.2 pt bump for a cool solo)

One More Time: No more time. We finally made it to the last song and it’s a snoozer again. Turn the album off at “Crash and Burn” and save yourself seven minutes of listening time. 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.

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.

Blue Öyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin (1981): 11 February 2019

Blue Öyster Cult – Fire of Unknown Origin (1981)

This week on YDCS we’re going to take a look at one of Blue Oyster Cult’s (BOC from here on) concept albums, Fire of Unknown Origin. The album was originally written as a soundtrack of sorts to the parody film Heavy Metal, and ironically the only song on the album not explicitly written for the film, Veteran of the Psychic Wars, was the only one featured in the movie! Fire was also the last BOC album to feature the original band lineup of Donald Roeser, Eric Bloom, Allen Lanier, and brothers Joe and Albert Bouchard and generally marks the end of the band’s most successful commercial era. Albert Bouchard had a falling out with the band while touring to support the album and was replaced on drums before the band’s next album, The Revolution By Night.

This album is a hidden gem of rock albums if you’ve never listened to it before. It was never a heavy hitter in terms of album sales, only being certified gold in the year that it was released, but every song on the album rocks or displays incredible musicianship and lyricism. The album produced one of BOC’s most popular singles, Burnin’ For You, that received increased attention after being played in heavy rotation on the newly created MTV. Burnin’ is still played on classic rock radio to this day, but it’s really a shame that the rest of the album never received the same attention. Give this one a shot, and hopefully you find a hidden gem on this album like I did.

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Fire of Unknown Origin: The album starts with its namesake song and it’s a great start! I really like how rough the vocals sound on this song when they interact with well-polished instrumentation. That’s an interesting contrast that elevates the song. The instruments play off of each other really well on this album, with keyboards doing a call and response with the guitar and the bass doing a twiddly number in the back.  Dad’s Rating 7/10

Burnin’ For You: This is one of BOC’s most famous songs and it certainly doesn’t disappoint! The transition from Fire to Burnin’ For You is nearly seamless, and I find that’s actually one of the hallmarks of the album. Listening to it, songs just roll from one into another and it helps you get lost in the music. Burnin’ has always had this smooth, driving beat to it that makes it so appealing and easy to listen to. The guitar solo in the bridge and final chorus is worth taking a closer listen to. Oftentimes when songs like this come on in the car, we just jam out and don’t actually actively listen to the music, but sitting and actively listening on this track will really add more depth to it for your next jam session! Dad’s Rating 9/10

Veteran of the Psychic Wars: This is the start of the hidden gems on the album and it’s a little bit out there as far as instrumentation goes. I also view this as the first part of two songs that play off of each other, this and the next song, Sole Survivor. As far as Veteran goes, it’s one of the more experimental songs on the album, adding in a marching drum beat during the chorus and, in my opinion, keeping instruments other than the keyboard and drums fairly toned back. That really gives the song a haunting quality that is hard to forget and amplifies the title, Veteran of the Psychic Wars. The marching drum combined with the eerie keyboard make you feel like you’re listening to the end of a psychic battle, maybe even one where you’re the sole survivor. That’s where I think the link is with these two songs. The two songs are distinct enough to be their own but are similar enough that they could be describing the same event. Don’t skip over this one, I don’t think you’ll forget it for a while. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Sole Survivor: Sole Survivor is a more standard rock track the Veteran that precedes it, but it never got much airplay on radio. This is what I call the second hidden gem on the album and is the second part of how I imagine the Veteran/Survivor song. This is just a great track with a blistering guitar solo over the bridge, keyboards to sound like a spaceship, and awesome vocal harmony through the chorus. Stereotypically early 80s rock, and so, so good. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Heavy Metal: The Black and Silver: Woooooo boy! This is the third hidden gem on the album and when you open with a shredding guitar like this one does, you know it’s going to rock! This song was one of those specifically written for the movie Heavy Metal that was not included in the release. I had never really paid much attention to this song on previous listens to this album, but for some reason I paid more attention on this listen and I’m glad I did because I had been missing a rocking track!  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Vengeance: I wasn’t sure how I wanted to rate Vengeance at first because it meanders and is a little odd. It features backing vocals that sing “ha-ha-ha-ha-ha” to emphasize the instrumentation and shifts between typical otherworldly/spacey rock that BOC is known for and something that sounds more reminiscent of stereotypical 80s rock. Vengeance then goes and takes off halfway through the song and speeds up into a heavy metal track. Ultimately, I decided that this was such a good song to actively listen to that I needed to rate it higher. It made me think and analyze how all of these elements work together and I appreciated that. Dad’s Rating 8/10

After Dark: After Dark is a rocker! The bass line almost gives the song a surf rock feeling to it, but overall, the song doesn’t stray from the otherworldly sound that features so prevalently on the rest of the album. If you listen to this, you get shredding solos, great harmony in the chorus that really emphasizes the lyrics well, and so much 80s rock.  Dad’s Rating 8/10

Joan Crawford: I was a little unsure about this song when it first came on. The thought was “How is BOC going to open a song with a piano solo and get back to the sound of the rest of the album?” The next question was “How is a tribute song about actress Joan Crawford going to work into this album?” They did it. The album is already quirky and by referencing the revival of the legendary actress, it actually doesn’t feel out of place amongst psychic wars and songs written for Heavy Metal. It helps that the track is so well written and evolves from a piano ballad into a full-on rock track before calming out. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Don’t Turn Your Back: Don’t turn your back on this last song on the album! Firstly, the song has such a funky little groove to it that makes it so infectious. If space-funk were ever a subgenre of music, this song would fit right into it. BOC nailed a song that’s outside of what they normally do (that being heavy metal and rock), and put their own unmistakable twist on it. It really exemplifies what they did with this whole album, they took things that you would never believe could work together and did it through a common sound. Job well done gents. 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.