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
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