By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
JOHN CAFFERTY AND THE BEAVER BROWN BAND – TOUGH ALL OVER (1985)
Back in 2018, I wrote an article in this series about the John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band album Roadhouse. As I said then, I know that they will always be most famous for the song “On The Dark Side” from the first Eddie and the Cruisers movie. But then again most musicians would kill to have even one song that stands the test of time.
I admit that I come to my own fandom for the band because of the movie soundtracks but hearing the stuff not tied to those films, I can see just what people seem to have missed out on. After the smash success of the first movie soundtrack, the band’s second album might not have had the same level of commercial success but Tough All Over is a pretty damn solid piece of music.
The pure rock and roll sound the band captures in their music always seems to grab me whenever I listen to their music. The soulful and powerful vocals and the driving rhythms and pounding beat are further enhanced with that sweet saxophone sound cutting through the mix. The keyboards give the material an added dimension and when you mix in that all-female backing chorus employed on a couple of the album’s songs, the material on Tough All Over just becomes a bit of magic.
Side One opens with three of the four singles that were released in support of the album. “Voice of America’s Sons” has a quick up-tempo pace and there is a strikingly good guitar solo. In fact, the guitar work from Gary Gramolini is pretty damn enticing throughout the album.
The title track became a Top 40 hit for the band as a single and it is one of those “story” type songs that lets the band’s ability as chroniclers of “small town hopes and dreams” shine bright. I know that is the bread and butter of Springsteen but surely there’s always room for more than one artist to mine that particular vein of songwriting, yes?
The third song on Side One is “C-I-T-Y” which was a Top 20 hit for the band on the singles chart and believe me, the zesty driving beat to the song is all you could ever hope for when it comes to a fun, get the party started rock and roll anthem.
The entire first side of the album is actually chock full of one upbeat and up-tempo rock and roll song. Cafferty’s vocals are always the immediate draw. He’s got a sound that becomes imprinted on the listener and whenever you hear him sing, you immediately recognize that sound. Those first three songs may be the hits but when you listen to “Where The Action Is” and “Dixieland”, you understand just how good he is at making the lyrics come alive for you.
The second side of the album is a bit of a different breed in comparison to the first side. It opens with a rocking “Strangers In Paradise” but then things kind of slow down. The material hits the only real speedbump for me on “Small Town Girl”. The song was the fourth single from the album and I just really couldn’t find any way to appreciate the track. I was bored, plain and simple.
On “More Than Just One Of The Boys”, the songwriting-slash-storytelling comes to the forefront once more. I’ve said before how much I like stories of any kind and this is the band once again proving they’ve got those authorial chops.
After being fueled up with all the rocking anthems and stories, I think the slow pace of “Small Town Girl” was part of what made me dislike the song. But given that Tough All Over‘s closing song “Tex-Mex (Crystal Blue)” was similarly paced, I was a bit flabbergasted that the song drew me in far more than the other track. It may not have been an adrenaline burst in terms of pacing but the band’s focused musicianship melded together with Cafferty’s emotive vocal take to envelop the listener and transport them to the Lone Star State.
You may dismiss John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band as a Springsteen substitute or as a soundtrack band, but you are doing both them and yourself a huge disservice. They have a rock and roll sound that draws in the listener and Tough All Over shows that they are more than just their career highlights.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The song “Voice of America’s Sons” was used on the soundtrack to the Sylvester Stallone movie Cobra. John Cafferty had a solo track called “Heart’s On Fire” on the Rocky IV soundtrack. The band’s music has also been used for movies like There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber To.
While the original release of album featured a cover shot of the band standing on a street, the album was given a reissue with a new cover that featured artwork from the Eddie and the Cruisers movie as well as the added tagline “The Voice of Eddie and the Cruisers”.