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.