Why are Max Webster still held in such high esteem by their devoted fanbase? Possibly because they concocted an ideal mixture of humour and incredible playing and composition. Much like Frank Zappa, Max Webster felt that humour does indeed belong in music. It’s “smart kid rock” but never taking itself too seriously. From playful musical sections to the words of lyricist Pye Dubois, Max could also be counted on to poke you in the ribs.
A Million Vacations is certainly one of their best albums, if not their absolute magnum opus, but that’s all a matter of opinion. At this stage of the game, Max was really cooking. The 10 songs within represent some peak level songwriting, and several are still on the radio today. Through the airwaves, “Paradise Skies”, “Let Go the Line”, “A Million Vacations” and “Night Flights” might be speeding over Canada somewhere as you read this.
“Paradise Skies” indeed! One of Max’s most immediate tracks is the party opener. Total mainstream Max: catchy hooks, insane playing, and a chorus that’s ready to blast off. Terry Watkinson’s “Charmonium” is more complex but no less catchy. The keyboardist wrote the song and does the lead vocals as well. Dig into those flurries of notes making up some tasty solo sections. Losing no momentum, “Night Flights” keeps a jaunty pace. Pye Dubois’ poem about the love of touring reminds us how important Pye was to the band. How many bands have a touring lyricist?
Breaking the fun-loving character for just a moment, a day-dreamy “Sun Voices” has connections to the next songs, “Moon Voices” and “A Million Vacations”. “In my chair, chaise lounge…” and how many songs can you think of with a chaise lounge in the words?? “Sun Voices” is a meditative poolside view. Perhaps then the side-closing instrumental “Moon Voices” is the loud party, after the sun goes down?
“A Million Vacations” (written by drummer Gary McCracken and Pye Dubois) on side two is a party-ready Canadian summer anthem. Part of being Canadian is hibernating for our cold, dark winters. Once we have endured the freeze, and life returns with the spring thaw, it is like a celebration. “A Million Vacations” has that feeling. “Throwin’ out all kinds of fishing line, Friday Friday is a good time to shine.” Yes indeed, hitting the outdoors is a Canadian weekend tradition in the summer time.
“Look Out” is an often forgotten buried gem. The chorus is written around a catchy keyboard riff, which suddenly gives way to a conga jam. It’s Max as only Max can do, daring but never fearing. But side two’s centerpiece is undoubtedly the magnificent ballad “Let Go the Line”, with Watkinson back on lead vocals. Kim Mitchell orchestrates a guitar chorus for the main instrument hook and it’s instant love. For sheer smart pop songwriting, “Let Go the Line” is Max’s finest. The new 2017 remaster from the recommended box set The Party really reveals a lot of nuance in the back that were hard or impossible to hear on previous CD editions.
Kim gets a little goofy with “Rascal Houdi”, an undeniable party rocker. “I’m switching out, I’m out to lunch,” and it’s a teenage blast. But the party finale, “Research (At Beach Resorts)” takes it to the max (pun intended). “Line up crowds at the pavilion, Max is playing ‘Vacations'”. It’s a beach party, and Max is “in Newport for research, to get abreast of things…” What about Wasaga Beach on Georgian Bay? Already taken care of, friends. “We’ve just researched Wasaga Beach, bonfire pits at midnight.” But what the heck are they “researching”?
“What is it that we stare at?
Is it the passports and campsite stars?
Or the monogrammed bikinis and cars?
Or maybe we just need some perspiration ’cause we’re frostbitten Canadian boys!”
There are few bands better than Max Webster, folks, and Max’s A Million Vacation is an easy album to love, so flip it over and play it again like I’m about to.