MAX WEBSTER – High Class in Borrowed Shoes (That 70’s Guy Retro Review)

This time around, the topic of conversation as heard and experienced through “That 70’s Guy” is 1977’s Max Webster’s High Class in Borrowed Shoes. Oh man, where do I start with this iconic Canadian masterpiece? Let’s just start with saying that any young Canadian rock fan back in 1977 was rocking out to this album. I thought I would share it on my Retro Review and allow others around the globe to gain some insight on what a true gem is.

High Class in Borrowed Shoes was Max Webster’s second album. This one included Kim Mitchell on guitars and vocals, Mike Tilka on bass, Terry Watkinson on keyboards and Gary McCracken on drums. McCracken had just replaced original drummer Paul Kersey (who went on to form Dillinger which became The Hunt). They were formed in Toronto in 1973. Many thought that Kim Mitchell was actually Max, but aside from many theories of the origination of the name, it ended up they wanted a name similar to Jethro Tull.

I debated whether or not to review either the debut or HCIBS but the latter is clearly a fan favourite and one that really put them firmly into the Canadian music scene. And not to mention what it was like to be 17 and a rock fan in the summer of 1977!

Max Webster was a staple in local bars and high schools. A MW concert was always a packed house and Kim was such an entertainer with his funky hats, orange spandex, Gibson 347 and his awkward robot moves. The band had an early Cheap Trick vibe of stereotyping the members with bizarre clothes and not to mention the stage presence of the iconic giant blockhead from the first album cover.

Three things define Canada – Tim Hortons, ice hockey and Max Webster lyrics. Let’s not forget the 5th member of the band, Pye Dubois. He and Kim wrote the majority of the songs and those lyrics which seemed to be a hodgepodge of random words. But, as a Canadian singing them out loud, they truly did have a sense of meaning. The amount of layers and beat changes in each song also ages like fine wine.

So let’s sing them out loud again, shall we?

MAX WEBSTER – High Class In Borrowed Shoes (Release 1977 on Anthem Records)

Side One

1. High Class In Borrowed Shoes – the song that finally broke through the FM airwaves. A fan favourite still cranked out to this day . Classic opening guitar riff, smashing keyboards, great solo. Famous lyrics only Max would have produced: “A liitle lip talk – tomato juice

2. Diamonds Diamonds – the “ballad” that gets all the accolades. A truly perfect song with beautiful keys to start and Kim’s amazing vocals. This got its fair share of airplay then and now. Amazing solo by Terry. Famous lyrics only Max would have written: “She takes more whiskey than I wine, I whine…

3. Gravity  – very distinguisable Watkinson key intro with Kim’s heavy riff chiming in. Great chorus and not to forget the infamous “drop” sound in the middle. We always argued what it was. Famous lyrics only Max would have: “I’ll have trouble tying my shoes

4. Words to Words – we used to like to claim ownership to the so called ballads and this was mine. Magical and goosebump worthy. I wanted to sing this one to every girl I met. Almost normal lyrics amd Kim’s vocals at the end are brilliant. Famous lyrics only Max would have supplied: “’Cause you did something, seem hazy almost goddess-like

5. America’s Veins – fast paced rocker with another cool riff. Some Webster attitute here. Drop in a cool guitar/ keyboard solo and end with a nice McCracken fade out. Famous lyrics only Max would have written: “She caught me in the washrooms, I had crayons in my hands

Side Two

1. Oh War –  we always loved following bands around back then as you got to hear a lot songs before they recorded them for upcoming albums and when the album came out you couldn’t wait. This is one of those songs. Kim always introduced it as the only Canadian band to say “fuck’ on record. Yes back then that was unique. Oh War is a gem! Amazing rock song highlighting Kim’s great guitar playing. Heavy in style and meaning. A concert must! Famous lyrics only Max would have: “Oh say go to hell, I’ll go American Express”

2. On the Road – the third of the so-called slower songs. Acoustically driven, musically perfect. A great campfire sing along song. Famous lyrics only Max would have produced: “I’d like to keep my pearly whites and have a little stride in life…

3. Rain ChildTerry’s time to shine with the lead vocals. A haunting song, with impressive pounding bass from Mr. Tilka. Nice solo too. Famous lyrics only Max would written: “Splash in the stream of a daring dream, wail the waste of yesterday

4. In Context of the Moon –   OK, move over everything else. My all-time fave Max Webster song. In my opinion this is Kim Mitchell’s finest hour. I have played this song what seems like 1000’s of times from my early basement air guitar sessions to screaming in my car yesterday. It never ever gets old and never ever loses an ounce of power. It has it all, pounding riffs, thumping drums, two mind blowing solos and Kim’s gentle “Ooo la la well ooo la well”. Famous lyrics only Max would have supplied:  “You grind on my gas pedal, Red line earth clutchin’ my heart

So there you have it folks, a classic slice of 1970’s homegrown Canadian rock and roll. Pick up a copy or dust off your old one.

Pictured  is my autographed picture when they played the Graham Bell Hotel in the summer of 1977. Back then, bands would book into a hotel and play for 2 or 3 nights and play 2 or 3 sets during the night. Other memorable shows included North Park High School (the first time seeing them), the Sauble Beach Pavilion, Cambridge Capital Theater (with A Foot in Coldwater) and of course at Brantford Collegiate High School where they supported their “sister” band RUSH during their 2112 tour – what a night that was! Whether it was an underage drunken binge or involving illicit drugs chasing the girls around, Max Webster shows never disappointed.

Everyone is biased as to when they were born and the music they grew up with. I wouldn’t change mine for a second. 1970’s music in Brantford Ontario Canada was the best time. Summer 1977 was an incredible time for partying and having the soundtrack of our lives.

Kim, of course, went on and had an even more successful solo career as well as a stint as a disc jockey on Toronto’s Q107. He definitely falls into the Canadian underrated singer guitarist category. You can support that comment by seeing for yourself as Kim stills tours regularly and often pulls out the old Max classics. Gary went on and made a couple albums with another great band Wrabit.

 

“In context of the moon
You pull to my full height
We black out during the eclipse
Jelly roll on a comet kite”

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Brian Ronald

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