Stray Cats- Built For Speed (1982): 1 June 2020

Stray Cats – Built For Speed (1982)

Welcome back to YDCS! This week we’re listening to the act headed up by one of my favorite solo artists, Brian Setzer. Built For Speed was the first U.S. studio release by the Stray Cats. The Stray Cats were responsible for the re-introduction of rockabilly, an early form of rock and roll that combined elements of rock, country, and boogie, into the mainstream sound. Built For Speed may have been one of the most significant albums to come out of this revival, but despite the success of the album, the band wouldn’t last. Brian Setzer would go on to forge a solo career as the front man for the Brian Setzer Orchestra, a big-band/rockabilly hybrid group with multiple hits through the early 90s. The Stray Cats continue to reunite for concerts every few years, most recently in 2019 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the band.

I’m a massive Brian Setzer fan, and he’s one of the few acts that I’ll go see live whenever he passes through (I’ve actually seen him twice in the last three years with a third concert hopefully later this year). The Brian Setzer Orchestra’s album The Dirty Boogie was the first album I ever owned, and every time I hear him, I can’t help but think of his showmanship and incredible musical capacity. He’s never cited as one of the best guitarists or vocalists in rock, but the combination of his signature Gretsch guitar and spoken word-like lyrics are unmistakable. Built For Speed is a fantastic album that you can’t help but dance to. The Stray Cats put it all out on the table for this album to put out a classic 1950s rock sound and solidly distanced themselves from the pop/synth sound that began dominating rock in the 80s. There are few acts out there that so perfectly capture the essence of Americana in the 1950s, but the Stray Cats did a magnificent job of doing just that with Built For Speed. I hope you enjoy this rockabilly revival!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Rock This Town: We start off Built For Speed with a song that became an instant classic in the discography of rock, “Rock This Town.” I thought this song was a cover the first few times that I heard it, but after learning that it was a Stray Cats original, my opinion changed from thinking that it was pretty good for a cover to amazement at the attention to detail and similarity in sound to the classic 1950s rock sound. They fooled me. For the longest time, I thought this song was originally recorded in the 50s. Not only is “Rock This Town” perfectly emblematic of the Stray Cats, it’s a fantastic display of musicianship from every section in the band, most notably Setzer’s multiple guitar solos. It captures snapshots of life in the 1950s with references to jukeboxes and greasers and perfectly represents what the rockabilly revival was all about. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Built For Speed: The title track to Built For Speed leans closer to the country side of rockabilly than the rock side of rockabilly that we heard on “Rock This Town.” While the verses don’t do much for me on this song, I really appreciated the tuning and mixing on the guitar solo where you can really hear the difference between the hollow-body guitars favored by Setzer and a solid body guitar that would have a significantly less ‘twangy’ sound. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Rev It Up And Go: “Rev It Up And Go” is the weakest song on the album in my opinion. It’s not bad, but when you listen to the rest of the album, there’s energy that seems to be missing from this song that is appears in bounds on others. Maybe they recorded this one on a bad day, but “Rev It Up And Go” feels like a band that’s just going through the motions when you know what they’re capable of. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Stray Cat Strut: This is THE signature song for the Stray Cats, and I haven’t seen a Brian Setzer Orchestra show where he didn’t play this one. That goes to show how far this song has permeated the genre and is emblematic of the Stray Cats and the rockabilly revival (It doesn’t hurt when your band name is in the song title too). “Stray Cat Strut” is a great blues inspired track with fun lyrics that I will always sing along to. The band feels really polished and in good harmony on this track too. One part doesn’t stand out from the others, they all just came together to put down a bluesy rock track. Dad’s Rating 10/10

Little Miss Prissy: “Little Miss Prissy” is another one of those songs that I immediately identify with the Stray Cats. It’s not their best song, and it’s not even the best song on this record, but there’s something about calling out a certain type of person with this song that is very appealing. The instrumental section for this song isn’t anything to write home about, but the lyrics keep it afloat. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Rumble In Brighton: “Rumble In Brighton” is one of the better tracks on the album. It almost has a hard surf rock sound to it, which is fitting considering that it’s about the English beach town of Brighton. The howling vocals and guitar are highlights on this track that get left out of others on the record. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Runaway Boys: Setzer fans really love this track, but I don’t understand all the love for “Runaway Boys.” I think this is one of the weaker songs on the album, right there with “Rev It Up And Go.” Frankly, this song is boring. I know what the Stray Cats are capable of, and I know that can play a song with more energy than this. The one highlight that we get on this song is a more forward bass section than on other songs. For fans of the standup double bass, this might be the song for you. If you’re not in that camp then you might want to skip this one. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Lonely Summer Nights: “Lonely Summer Nights” is the only downtempo song on this record, and it shows a completely different side of the band. I’m pretty transparent about my distaste and lack of attention for downtempo songs, but “Lonely Summer Nights” is different. Maybe it’s the classic 50s instrumental, or the beautifully sung vocals, or the saxophone solo. I’m not sure which, but this is a great song that could have been plucked straight out of “Grease.” This slow dance is worth listening to! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Double Talkin’ Baby: After a song like “Lonely Summer Nights,” “Double Talkin’ Baby” feels impossibly fast! It’s one of the most blisteringly paced songs on the album, and the placement after “Lonely Summer Nights” emphasizes that even more. I love the energy of this song. The band is firing on all cylinders, whooping and hollering behind freewheeling guitar and my favorite upright bass performance on the record. Dad’s Rating 6/10

You Don’t Believe Me: This track leans more heavily towards the blues and country side of rockabilly than the rock side, but I think that it does it better than “Built For Speed.” The vocal performance is better and the track has a better groove than the former. “You Don’t Believe Me” is a good example of one of the two extremes of the genre. Dad’s Rating 6/10

Jeanie, Jeanie, Jeanie: If we could have taken “Lonely Summer Nights” out of the movie “Grease” then we could have taken this one right out of “Back To The Future.” Do you remember the scene when Michael J. Fox’s character plays the guitar at the school dance? I feel like he could have easily picked this song instead and it would have fit right in. This is plain old rocker that’s fun to listen to. No frills, no crazy thrills, just a good rock song. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Baby Blue Eyes: We close out Built For Speed with one last rockabilly track. While some songs on the B-side tend to play towards either the blues/country side or the plain rock side of rockabilly, “Baby Blue Eyes” splits the difference well. No part tries to outplay the others on this song, and it feels like a cohesive end to the album. 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.

Iron Maiden- The Number of the Beast (1982): 30 March 2020

Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast (1982)

Welcome back to YDCS! I don’t cover a lot of metal here but that’s going to change with our album this week, Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast. The Number of the Beast was Iron Maiden’s third studio album and their first to be incredibly commercially successful with singles like “Run to the Hills.” The whole album rocks out loud and features superb musicianship. I think that’s one of the reasons that people are drawn to Iron Maiden, besides playing loud rock music, they’re all excellent instrumentalists (listen to “Invaders” for incredible bass work, “Gangland” for drumming, and “Children of the Damned” for guitar). The other reason I think Iron Maiden draws a large following is because even though it’s metal music, it’s still very accessible. Iron Maiden was one of the leaders of the 80s metal scene, building on the work of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin in the 1970s and setting the stage for glam metal acts in the late 80s like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, and Winger. Their music doesn’t throw you into the deep end as much as later thrash metal acts like Anthrax, Slayer, or Megadeth do.

I had never sat still long enough to listen to The Number of the Beast before this review, and the only songs I was familiar with by name were “Run to the Hills” and “The Number of the Beast.” I was pleasantly surprised with the record though! I expected Iron Maiden, like a lot of groups at this time, to fall in line with the desires of the record companies and make an album the featured a little bit of everything for different audiences. Maybe one or two power ballads, a few heavy metal songs for their core audience, and maybe another, more experimental track. I should have known better. The Number of the Beast is unapologetically metal and rocks out loud from start to finish. I really like a band that sticks to their guns and makes the kind of music that they like, regardless of the sales. It’s one of the reasons that Rush is my favorite bands! That attitude shows through on the album. They knew what kind of record they wanted to make and the final product is much better for that. I hope you enjoy the album!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Invaders: You start the record and the first thing you hear is this amazing bass line and drum fill that launch you into a high-speed song. “Invaders” sets the stage well for what you should expect for the rest of the album, and it was one of my favorite songs on the album too! I really liked the chorus where lead singer Bruce Dickinson hits some crystal-clear high notes in front of a shredding guitar. That highlight was one of the first inklings where you might think that the band has really got some chops. Great track! Dad’s Rating 8/10

Children of the Damned: “Children of the Damned” slows things down a little bit at first and shows a more restrained side of Iron Maiden, but then the remind you that they’re still a metal band and immediately speed things back up when you’re not expecting it. That was really cool and aught me off guard at first. Bonus points awarded on this song for throwing a face-melting, tapped guitar solo in the middle of this song. That was definitely a highlight on a song that I thought was going to be a power ballad! Dad’s Rating 8/10

The Prisoner: The first thing that I heard when I listened to “The Prisoner” was that I can see where more modern genres like speed metal draw their influence because this song follows the same basic structure as a speed metal track (think Dragonforce). It has really fast verses with down-tempo choruses that let you take a breath for a second. This is a rocking song too. Musically, it’s not my favorite on the album because it doesn’t show as much depth or musicality as other songs, but it’s still a really good song. Check it out to listen to one of the early influences on modern metal! Dad’s Rating 6/10

22 Acacia Avenue: “22 Acacia Avenue” was the weakest song on the record for me. It’s buried in the middle of the album at the end of the A-side, right before some mega hits. For me, there was nothing to make it stand out and I’ll probably forget it after this review. It rocks like the album, shows a level of dynamic range by alternating between slow and fast portions, but didn’t do enough to hold me. Dad’s Rating 5/10

The Number of the Beast: We’ve made our way to the title track of the album, “The Number of the Beast!” This song gets a lot of love from publications and “Best Of” lists to this day, much of it deserved. I’ll start by pointing out the things I like about this song. It’s a true rocker. The guitar solo is one of the better ones on the album and the dual guitar portion during the solo interlude is really cool. I also like the way that Davidson effectively spits out the lyrics. There’s so much emotion on this track that you can feel it just listening to it! Beyond those points, I think there’s better songs on the album that show a wider degree of musicianship and are more enjoyable to listen to. It’s a good song, but for me, there’s nothing special enough about it to rise to the level of stardom that some hold it to. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Run to the Hills: We’ve got a big one here! “Run to the Hills” is a practically perfect metal song and does well to represent the genre. Lyrics about the European invasion of Native American lands? Check. Out of this world vocals? Check. Fast-paced guitar and a killer solo? Check. This was the breakthrough hit for the band and is still cited as one of the best metal songs ever written. I think that a lot of that has to do with how clean the song is. Oftentimes, metal music can get muddied and hard to follow, but every instrument is clear as day on this song. I think that lends credit to the song and the skill of the musicians to let the music shine through so well. The other reason that this song is so good is that it deals with a very uncomfortable subject matter for a lot of people. Iron Maiden were brave enough to make a song about the westward expansion of America and forcing Native Americans out of the land. Metal is all about two things; music and message. They hit both on the nose with “Run to the Hills.” Dad’s Rating 10/10

Gangland: I had heard references to “Gangland” before this review but never actually listened to it. It actually ended up being one of my favorite songs on the album! I really focused in on drummer Clive Burr on this track and he laid down one of his best performances on the album on “Gangland.” High energy the whole way through the song and he even got to open up the song. When I heard only the drum to open up the song, I knew that it was going to be a special song. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Hallowed Be Thy Name: We close The Number of the Beast with another one of Maiden’s biggest songs and one of the most influential songs in heavy metal, “Hallowed Be Thy Name.” I want to start by addressing the lyrics because the lyrics inform the music in this song. The song tells the story of a man about to be hanged and the thoughts going through his mind as he walks to the gallows. The music pairs perfectly with the song, starting softly as the main character waits in his cell, raising to a frenzy at the end when his time is up. It was a perfect use of dynamic range. Each time I listened to this song I heard something new in the instrumentation, whether it was the bass line, the lead, or a different drum fill. There’s a lot going on but it all melds together to tell an amazing story. 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.

Night Ranger- Dawn Patrol (1982): 17 September 2019

Night Ranger – Dawn Patrol (1982)

Another week and another album on YDCS! We’re taking a foray into the 1980s today with the debut album from Night Ranger, Dawn Patrol. This act out of California was best known for some of the biggest rock hits of the 80s in “Sister Christian,” and the first song on this album, “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” featuring a heavy rock sound that was anthemic at the time but trended towards mainstream at the end of the decade. By the end of the 80s, a host of acts that included Duran Duran, Def Leppard, Ratt, Winger, and Bon Jovi.

Like a lot of people, I was only really familiar with the band’s biggest hits like the ones previously mentioned, “(You Can Still) Rock In America” and “When You Close Your Eyes.” I was both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised to find that Dawn Patrol features that exact same heavy rock sound throughout the album. I dislike when albums feature the same sound across every song. If a song is meant to be a single act or story I understand it and actually like it, but when every song is about something different and sounds exactly the same as the one before it, I have about a two-song tolerance for that before I start getting irritated. My chief complaint with Dawn Patrol is that it falls into this trap. It has a few good songs on it, but the ordering and large amount of filler ends up hurting the album as a whole. There are still some bright spots and the self-titled song “Night Ranger” was a pleasant surprise, but the album left some to be desired. Let me know what you think!

Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown

Don’t Tell Me You Love Me: “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” was born destined to be a big hit and nails all the marks for a power rock track. Big guitars, big harmonies, big solos, and generally insubstantial lyrics. I enjoy this song a lot, but like most of the songs on the album, I would classify them as ‘fun’ not ‘good’ from a musical standpoint. Many of the songs don’t display much musicianship and play to man’s more base listening preferences. Having said that, this track does it so well that it almost crosses the line from ‘fun’ to ‘good,’ and that takes chops. Dad’s Rating 8/10

Sing Me Away: I like that this second song on the album, while decidedly more downtempo than the first, feels more technical than the first. The chorus is a joy to listen to and I enjoy the vocal harmony that the band uses here; it gives the song more depth and makes it more interesting. Not a bad one! Dad’s Rating 6/10

At Night She Sleeps: Unusually, I don’t have any strong opinions about a song. “At Night She Sleeps” just sounds like any other power rock song from the early 80s. It’s not particularly special and easily forgettable. This is a hallmark of album filler. It’s not bad, just neutral. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Call My Name: As power ballads go, this is a pretty good one! The buildups through the verses are adequate and the choruses are loud and passionate. I wish that there was more energy behind the song though. Everything feels a little flat and forced in a way. A power ballad should inspire you and make you want to cry and rock out at the same time. While “Call My Name” hits the marks from a technical perspective, it’s the passion that’s lacking.  Dad’s Rating 6/10

Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight: I will give “Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight” credit for one thing and that’s making me remember “He like to rock, he like to roll,” and having that stuck in my head. Otherwise, I find the lead vocals grating on this track and there’s not enough interesting instrumentation to hold my attention. It’s on this point in the album when all of the power rock starts to blend together into something that resembles the soundtrack from Heavy Metal. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Can’t Find Me A Thrill: “Can’t Find Me A Thrill” suffers from the same problem that we’ve been running into up to this point, it sounds exactly like the rest of the album and there’s no break or identifying features that make it stand out. If you’ve been listening along, you could skip this song at this point and not be any worse for wear. Dad’s Rating 4/10

Young Girl In Love: I was hopeful that “Young Girl In Love” would bring something new to the table. A ballad, an instrument that isn’t a guitar playing power chords, anything. I was disappointed. The sparks of hope here are that there can only be so much power metal on three more songs on the album and the vocal harmonies on the chorus break up the song the tiniest smidgen. Dad’s Rating 5/10

Play Rough: A BREAK FROM POWER CHORDS!! Nevermind…Dad’s Rating 3/10

Penny: I actually like “Penny!” Where a lot of the songs on the album could be classified as filler material, “Penny” feels like a well-planned out song from the beginning. In the first few seconds I sensed more musicality here than I had on a lot of the songs from that short guitar solo, and it actually reminded me of songs similar to what Duran Duran or Def Leppard would record. This is power rock done right. Dad’s Rating 7/10

Night Ranger: We’re finishing the album with something that sounds different! The syncopated melody and keyboard melody that appears throughout the track helps break this song up from the other songs on the album. The transition to a pseudo-speed metal track towards the end is a fun little twist and interesting way to end the album too. It might be a little while before I take on another power rock album, but this has been an interesting experiment to see where Night Ranger came from and what else they were capable of on their first album.

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.