Friday, December 19, 2014

Jeffrey Osborne - Stay With Me Tonight

"Stay With Me Tonight" is a classic pop funk tune from the 1980's that clicks right from the start.  The funky bass line, synthesizer melody and eighties drums combine to shape a really strong song.  It is not surprising that it was written by Raymond Jones, the keyboardist from Chic who built a second career as a songwriter.

Singer Jeffrey Osborne (no relation to Ozzy) developed a solid career as a funk musician.  Born in Providence, Rhode Island, he rose to fame as the lead singer of L.T.D., who are best known for "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back in Love Again," a #4 hit from 1977.  Osborne left the group to go solo in 1980 and landed 6 top 40 hits between 1982 and 1987.

"Stay With Me Tonight," was a solid success, reaching #30 on the pop charts and #4 on the R&B charts in 1983, while the album of the same name peaked at #25, and eventually went platinum.  The vid appears to have been shot in NYC and plays like an eighties time capsule, complete with roller skates (0:13), old school video editing, and a neon-decorated club where the fashions of the day are on display.  I have to say, in spite of the dated look, the clip still has a certain coolness about it that suits Osborne and the song.

Although Osborne's commercial success faded after the 1980's, he remains active in the music industry as of this writing.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Pogues Featuring Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale of New York

We're sending this post out to Chris - the biggest Pogues fan that we know at ERV.

A modern classic in Britain and Ireland, "Fairytale of New York" is essentially unknown on this side of the Atlantic.  In contrast, the song has become the most played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK and often appears at or near the top of favorite holiday songs there.

Similar to the Pretenders "2000 Miles" (featured on ERV in December 2012), "Fairytale of New York" is a different type of Christmas song.  Originally written in 1985, it took the Pogues two years to get it sorted out to their satisfaction.  As a listener this makes sense; the song treads the line between bittersweet and downright bitter, but it never becomes too cynical.  The resulting effort was more nuanced and realistic than the traditional syrupy sweet Christmas song.

This attitude suits the Pogues nicely, as they were essentially a traditional Anglo-Irish punk band.  The members (led by the hard-living Shane MacGowan) infused traditional Irish music with a punk attitude and in doing some created some of the most unique music of the 1980's.  They scored four top 20 LPs in the UK, but did not break through in the U.S.  MacGowan's drug and alcohol problems eventually became severe enough for the band to sack him in 1991.  The group soldiered on until 1996, when they disbanded.  However, they re-formed in 2001 and continue to perform to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  Yes, actor Matt Dillon is featured in the video.

Cool trivia fact #2:   Kirsty MacColl appeared on ERV in October 2013 for "They Don't Know," as she wrote and recorded the song prior to Tracey Ullman.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Bangles - If She Knew What She Wants

This is the second Bangles cover to be featured on ERV; their version of Katrina and the Waves' "Going Down to Liverpool" (with Leonard Nimoy) was featured on ERV in May 2013.  The Bangles were known to use outside songwriters -- in addition to the 2 covers posted on ERV, their hits "Manic Monday" (Prince), "Walk Like an Egyptian" (Liam Sternberg), and "Hazy Shade of Winter" (Simon and Garfunkel) were all written by outsiders.  However, fully half (4) of their top 40 singles were co-written by a band member.

The group only managed to release three albums in the 1980's before disbanding, but they left behind a pretty strong collection of 1960's influenced pop, including "If She Knew What She Wants."  The song (off the huge 1986 LP Different Light) was released between "Manic Monday" (#2) and "Walk Like an Egyptian" (#1).  Although the song reached #29, it did not become a monster hit, and has become something of a forgotten single in the intervening years.

Interestingly, the group recorded two videos for the song.  The American version was produced and directed by Susanna Hoffs' mother, Tamar Simon Hoffs (an indie film director who also directed "Going Down to Liverpool.")

The band also produced an international version that seems to have been particularly popular in the UK:

And if that is not enough, "If She Knew What She Wants" is also a cover, as our many astute readers will have deduced.  The song was originally written and recorded by Jules Shear, who is also known for writing and recording the original version of "All Through the Night," which hit #5 for Cyndi Lauper in 1984.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Let's Active - Waters Part

Let's Active came out of the vibrant Southeastern college rock scene of the early 1980's and could have become a big time alternative band if things had broken for them.  Unfortunately, this did not happen, leaving the group as more of a footnote in 1980's music.  This is a shame, as they produced some of the best college pop this side of R.E.M.

The group was founded in North Carolina in 1981 and was led by singer/songwriter Mitch Easter.  Easter is best-known for his work with R.E.M.; he produced their debut EP, Chronic Town, and co-produced (with Don Dixon) the band's first two LPs, Murmur and Reckoning.  Easter's own sound was not totally dissimilar to R.E.M., but with more 1960's pop and less folk influences.

For the blog, we went with "Waters Part" from Let's Active's first LP, 1984's Cypress.  The song did not chart, while the album only reached #153.  Sadly, Let's Active never had a album break the top 100.  The group released additional albums in 1986 and 1988 before breaking up in 1990, though there have been some reunion shows in recent years.

Cool trivia fact:  The Let's Active name came from a nonsensical expression used on a Japanese T-shirt back in the day.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Berlin - Masquerade

Fronted by the provocative and gorgeous Terri Nunn, Berlin was a LA-based synth pop group that had nothing to do with Germany (the band admired the late 1970's German synth scene; hence the name).  The group was formed by bassist John Crawford in 1978 and featured a shifting lineup with Nunn as the lead singer, though she briefly left Berlin to pursue an acting career in 1979-80.

Berlin's first LP (1980's Information) was released when Nunn was acting and featured Virginia Macolino on vocals.  Although that album did not chart, the group's second effort, 1982's Pleasure Victim became Berlin's biggest success, and featured several early MTV staples.  "The Metro," "Sex (I'm A ...)," and "Masquerade" all broke the top 100, but none of them hit the top 40.

Berlin continued to have success with 1984's "No More Words" (#23) and 1986's "Take My Breath Away" (a #1 hit from Top Gun).  However, creative tensions over whether to focus on a pop or new wave sound doomed the band and the group called it quits in 1987.

Terri Nunn has had the legal use of the Berlin name since the late 1990's, and continues to record and perform to the present day.

For the blog, we went with "Masquerade," a somewhat lesser-known Berlin cut.  The video picked up a bit of airplay on MTV back in the day, and the song reached #82 on the charts.

Cool trivia fact:  A remixed version of "Masquerade" was featured on the soundtrack to Perfect (a no-so-great movie starring John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis ... probably the less said about the movie, the better).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Billy Squier - The Big Beat

The previous time that we discussed Billy Squier was last August, when Squire's amazingly terrible video, "Rock Me Tonight" was featured on the blog.  "Rock Me Tonight" is sometimes viewed as the worst major video ever made, and one that may have contributed to the decline of Billy Squier's career and/or Western civilization as a whole.

While Squier continued recording through the mid-1990's, he did not have a top 40 single or album after "Rock Me Tonight," making it an interesting and somewhat sad anecdote.  And that would be the end of the Billy Squier story, except ...

Squier's trademark sound was punctuated by a driving beat, something that is particularly evident on his earlier work ("The Stroke," for instance).  Bolstered by the superb (and loud) Bobby Chouinard, this strong backbeat would differentiate Squier's songs from many of his contemporaries.  In fact, he led off his first solo album -- 1980's Tale of the Tape -- with a drum intro on "The Big Beat" (side 1, song 1).

Having a clean drum break proved to be irresistible to early rap acts, and the drum intro on "The Big Beat" was sampled as early as 1981.  Over time, the enthusiasm for the drum line has not waned, and it has been used by artists including:  Jay-Z ("99 Problems"), Run-D.M.C. ("Here We Go"), and Alicia Keys ("Girl on Fire').  As of this writing, "The Big Beat" has been sampled in nearly 200 songs, and is one of the 10 most popular samples of all time.  Other Squier songs, particularly "The Stroke" are also popular samples.

Unfortunately, this popularity has not translated to a resurgence in Squier's career, and in recent interviews he seems someone ambivalent about the sampling.  For readers who are interested, Squier's first two LPs -- Tale of the Tape and Don't Say No are particularly strong and well worth a listen.

I don't recall ever seeing the original video for "The Big Beat" on MTV back in the day, so it definitely qualifies are a rare (and cool) video.  I'm not totally sure about the yellow pants, though.  Also worth checking out:  roller skates! (1:20) and an obscure Eraserhead marquee (2:30, but blink and you'll miss it).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Devil's Night Out

Utilizing a sound that combines ska, hardcore punk, and heavy metal make the Mighty Mighty Bosstones a unique and interesting band.  The act's roots go back to the early 1980's punk scene in Boston, although the Bosstones didn't officially form until the mid-1980's.  Led by the plaid-wearing Dicky Barrett, the band built a local following and was signed by Taang! Records in 1989.

The group's first LP for Taang! was the 1989 Devil's Night Out LP, and we went with the title cut for the blog.  The song is reasonably representative of the group's early sound, which is to say a bit all over the place (but mostly in a good way).

As with many innovative acts, the Bostones built a solid following, but did not achieve huge commercial success, although their 1997 song, "The Impression That I Get" did pick up a bunch of airplay.  However, the Bosstones are viewed as one of the creators of  ska-core and their music laid the groundwork for bands such as No Doubt.

While interest in ska and ska punk waned since the late 1990's, the Bosstones have continued to record and play (with a few hiatuses) to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  Dicky Barrett has been the announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! since 2004.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

EPMD - Strictly Business

Although they never became a household name, EPMD was a hugely influential East Coast rap act.  The duo from Long Island, NY formed in 1986 and took their name from the two MCs -- Erick Sermon (Easy Erick, E Double, E) and Parrish Smith (Parrish Mic Doc, PMD).  Some sources state that the group started as EEPMD, and then shortened the name to make it easier to pronounce.

EPMD's first album, 1988's Strictly Business, was a breath of fresh air in the rap scene.  Instead of using dance or electronica as the basis for their music, EPMD relied heavily on old school funk, with a dose of rock and pop thrown in for good measure.  This, combined with their strong but laid back rhyming translated to a sound that was trailblazing,

While none of the singles from the album charted on the Billboard pop charts, the album reached #80 and went gold.  Over time, it has been recognized as a classic, and was even ranked #453 on Rolling Stones' list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.  Respect.

For the blog, we went with the title cut, which nicely represents EPMD's sound and solid use of grooves.  While Eric Clapton's cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" is the main sample, pieces of "Jungle Boogie" (Kool & the Gang) and "Auto Man" (Newcleus) are also used, as is an earlier EPMD song "It's My Thing."

EPMD remained successful within the rap scene until their 1993 breakup, and had a second successful stint in the late 1990's before a second breakup.  They appear to be together again as of this writing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Michael Stanley Band - My Town

The is the Michael Stanley Band's second appearance on ERV as "He Can't Love You" was posted back in October of 2011.  (By the by, "He Can't Love You" is a great early video, and was played on MTV on day one.)

The group was formed by Michael Stanley Gee in 1974 (he changed his last name early in his career, as another musician with the surname Gee was already signed to his label).  While the band were local heroes in Cleveland and had decent success in the midwest, they never quite broke out at a national level.  This is a shame, as the group has a solid straight up rock sound and was known for their high energy shows.  In retrospect, they just never got the lucky break that helps launch many careers.

"My Town" is off the Michael Stanley Band's 1983 You Can't Fight Fashion LP, which was the band's last major label release.  The album reached #64 on the charts, while "My Town" hit #39.  The tune is a love song to Cleveland, which the video underscores.

The Michael Stanley Band remained together until 1986, but finally broke up as they were simply unable to continue economically.  They have reunited periodically, and Michael Stanley remains active in the music industry to the present day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Frozen Ghost - Should I See

WIth a little bit of luck, Frozen Ghost could have made it big.  They had a new wave-influenced, radio-friendly sound, and their first single ("Should I See," below) picked up a bit of radio play.  However, they were unable to build on this initial success and faded from view.

Frozen Ghost (sometimes spelled Frōzen Ghōst) formed in Toronto in 1985, and were initially made up of Arnold Lanni (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Wolf Hassel (bass).  Lanni and Hassel had previously been two-fifths of Sheriff, who had a #1 hit with "When I'm With You," (in 1989, 4 years after that band broke up).

In the aftermath of Sheriff, Frozen Ghost scored a recording contract with WEA and released their self-titled debut LP in 1987.  While the album only reached #107 on the charts, "Should I See" did a bit better and peaked at #69.  The band opened for Howard Jones and The Thompson Twins and released a follow up album, Nice Place to Visit in 1988.  It did not do well, and after 1991's Shake Your Spirit, the group broke up.

Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel have remained in the Canadian music industry to the present day;  Lanni has become a producer, while  Hassel has continued to play bass.