Styx – The Grand Illusion
I got this album in the 90’s and all because of Tommy Shaw. Believe it or not, my first exposure to Tommy Shaw was via Damn Yankees. I had heard of “The Nuge” and Jack Blades, but Tommy Shaw was an unknown to me, until I started reading interviews that mentioned Styx.
And the internet today can tell you that this album was a smash, but back then in the 80’s, this information was not available. Nor did I know that Styx had progressive overtones in their songs. But the 70’s rock music was all about blues rock with some experimentation.
Being a Kansas fan and hearing Kansas before Styx, at times I felt like I was listening to Kansas. Case in point, the title track.
Welcome to the grand illusion / Come on in and see what’s happening
Stardom and being a star was in every teenagers mind, and when MTV brought the super stars to our TV rooms, the dreams of stardom just kept growing. And that’s the theme of the album. Stardom.
Musically, the song is excellent, with a lot of progressive movements and top shelf playing.
“Fooling Yourself” has nice progressive keys, with lush acoustic guitars in the background and then coming to the fore in the verse, just as you would expect from a Tommy Shaw song.
“Superstars” musically could have come from a Kiss record, but vocally, it’s like a Queen song, with multiple harmonies and what not.
“Come Sail Away” was the song that pushed this album. These days, a song like this wouldn’t do anything as the majority are fascinated with hip-hop and pop music made to a beat instead of music.
“Miss America” sounds like it’s from a Kiss record and “Man In The Wilderness” has a memorable intro guitar lick
“Castle Walls” is a tour de force, my favourite, with its “Jason Myers Halloween style” keyboard riff. I’m not sure if I’m listening to The Alan Parsons Project or Styx. And then it stops, with the bass guitar providing a pulse like groove. And the harmony leads kick in, then a normal guitar lead and the rhythm guitar just keeps the groove going.
And listening to STYX, the thing that appealed to me is the diversity that the members brought especially DeYoung, Shaw and Young.
At times, it felt like a Kansas record, then a Yes record, then a Genesis record, then a Queen record, then a Kiss record, then a Led Zeppelin record, then an ELO record and at times a Supertramp record.
And Supertramp is up next.
Supertramp – Even In The Quitest Moments
I used to hear their songs as TV jingles, but at that point in time I had no idea it was Supertramp. I just thought they were jingles.
“Give A Little Bit’ could have come from the STYX album as well, it’s got that acoustic feel that is similar to “Fooling Yourself”.
Pink Floyd – Animals
I heard this album in the 2000’s. And I was picking up the guitar to learn, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)”. Terrible title, but one hell of a song.
The synth intro and then the guitar riff in the first minute. It gets me interested.
At the 4.20 minute mark, another guitar riff kicks and then the drums and bass come in.
A mood and a groove is established. It slowly percolates, and some fuzzed out talk box licks kick in.
At 7.16 is back to the synth intro and guitars, with a bass solo from Roger Waters.
But the piece d resistance is from 9.40 when David Gilmour starts to wail.
Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
I kept seeing this album listed on lists from different artists during various interviews. But I couldn’t get into Fleetwood Mac. Then in the late 90’s, I saw a documentary on TV about “The Dance” live/reunion album which also showed live performances and I became a fan.
All from the documentary.
“Dreams” has this sexy swinging bass groove, with a basic drum beat and some guitar volume swells. Then the vocals start and I was all in. “Don’t Stop” is overplayed and some is “The Chain” but its “Go Your Own Way” which got me hooked, more so from the live performance on “The Dance” with the outro guitar solo extended by Buckingham.
Steely Dan – Aja
A work colleague kept telling me to check out Steely Dan in the 2000’s but I never did. Then “The Night Flight Orchestra” dropped their debut album “Internal Affairs” and Bjorn Strid mentions “Steely Dan” as in influence. So I’m interested.
Lucky for me, this wasn’t the first album I heard from em, otherwise I would not have gone further. “Josie” is the only song here which musically got me interested. It’s a rocker but it doesn’t sound like a rocker, because of the 7th and 9th chords they chuck in. Replace them with power chords and you get a rocker.
And I’ve watched the BBC Classic Albums documentary on the album, how it was stressful to have so many different musicians and how the label was worried with it. The main thing I got out of the documentary was how this album took the recording engineering techniques of making an album to a new standard.
Heart – Little Queen
That riff to kick it off, it’s on the same level as “Immigrant Song”. But it was inspired by a Nazareth song called “This Flight Tonight” which is a cover of a Joni Mitchell song. The Joni Mitchel song strums the E but when Nazareth covered it, they introduced the palm muted triplet feel.
And the song’s lyrics came about from their poor treatment from Mushroom Records, who took out ads in magazines that looked like newspaper articles, talking about an incestuous relationship between the sisters. This in turn led to a male DJ to ask one of the sisters where her lover was.
Wikipedia tells me “that “Barracuda” could be anyone from the local promotion man to the president of a record company. That is the barracuda. It was born out of that whole experience.”
“Love Alive” rolls along with its acoustic riffs as it percolates until the drums kick in. A Led Zeppelin influenced cut, which Badlands would do similar a decade later.
“Little Queen” is a funk blues rock tune. It grooves and stomps its way from start to finish. Half way through it changes to a ballad and the groove is like “Kings And Queens” from Aerosmith, just a bit slower, before the blues rock kicks in again. Now, the songs came out at the same time, so there is no way they could copy each other, but it’s a good lesson for the artist who thinks their idea is so original and free from influence. Remember, there is another artist thinking just the same and another artist thinking almost the same and so forth.
And the last track, “Go On Cry” is almost progressive in its composition and riffage. This kind of experimentation bands don’t do that often or at all anymore.
Well that’s a wrap for another post of 77, back to 2000 for part 6.