Saturday, October 19, 2019

George Harrison - All Those Years Ago

George Harrison's Somewhere in England album was originally slated for release in October 1980.  However, Warner Bros. initially rejected the album as too laid back (label speak for not enough radio-friendly songs).  As a result, Harrison was re-working the material when John Lennon was murdered in December 1980.

Harrison took a previously written song (originally intended for Ringo), changed the lyrics, and recorded it with a little help from his friends.  Ringo actually played drums on the song, and Paul McCartney (along with Linda McCartney and Denny Laine from Wings) sang backup vocals.  As a result, this was the first song to feature the three ex-Beatles since 1970.

In the aftermath of Lennon's death, the feeling of sadness and nostalgia was palpable, and "All Those Years Ago" became a huge hit - reaching #2 on the charts (and only kept out of the top spot by "Bette Davis Eyes.")  The video, featuring footage of Lennon, Harrison, and the rest of the Fab Four, fits the song quite well - it's more a celebration than a dirge.

After Harrison's 1982 LP Gone Troppo fell flat, he took a five year break from the business before his next album.  He then remained sporadically active in the music industry until his untimely death from cancer in 2001. 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Strawberry Switchblade - Since Yesterday

Although they had one of the coolest names in the music industry, Strawberry Switchblade was a one hit wonder in their native U.K., and didn't make a dent in the U.S. market at all.  This is a shame, as they were an odd and interesting duo whose one hit was really pretty good.

Strawberry Switchblade was formed in Scotland in 1981, and was comprised of Jill Bryson and Rose McDowall.  Their image of big bright dresses and bows fit nicely with the synth pop sound ... as long as you didn't listen to the lyrics (or pay attention to the goth makeup).  It turns out that the name was intentionally chosen, and the lyrics to their bright pop songs were often dark or disturbing.  "Since Yesterday," for instance, was written about the aftermath of a nuclear war.

The group gained traction in 1983, and released their first single, "Trees and Flowers."  This led to a recording contract and in late 1984, "Since Yesterday" was released.  The song slowly rose on the UK charts, eventually reaching #5.  Their self-titled debut LP followed in 1985, but they were not able to land another hit, and a combination of musical and personal disagreements led to a split by 1986.

I don't recall seeing the video on MTV, though it may have appeared on 120 Minutes.  However, the Tim Pope video is visually arresting, and does a solid job of conveying the band to the public. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Eric B. & Rakim - Follow The Leader

Check out any list of the most influential hip hop artists ever and Eric B. & Rakim will be on it - probably near the top.  Their vintage sampling and laid back, complex rhyming showed the template for modern hip hop.  In fact, many critics view Eric B. & Rakim as the seminal act that helped create the transition from old school to new school rap.

Eric B. (Barrier) and Rakim (born as William Griffin, but changed his name upon his conversion to Islam) were part of the vibrant metro New York rap scene of the 1980s.  By 1986 they were working together, and that same year released their first single, "Eric B. Is President." The following year saw the release of the Paid in Full LP, often viewed as one of the most important and influential hip hop albums ever.   

In spite of their innovative approach to hip hop (from both a DJ and MC perspective), Eric B. & Rakim had only modest commercial success - the duo did not have a top 40 single or a top 20 album.  This was partly due to the duo's image - they were viewed as authentic rap artists, and made little effort to modify their image or their songs to become more commercially successful.

For the blog, we went with the timeless "Follow the Leader" video, off the 1988 album of the same name.  The song reached #16 on the R&B charts, but did not break the top 40.  The album hit #22 - their highest charting effort.

Starting in 1992, tensions over their recording contract and perhaps their master tapes led to an extended legal conflict.  As a result, Eric B. & Rakim broke up, although they remained in the industry as solo artists.  However, in 2017, they re-united for a tour and appear to be together as of this writing.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Vandenberg - Burning Heart

The Dutch band Vandenberg was one of a surprising number of acts from that country to flirt with international success.  For example, both Golden Earring and Shocking Blue have previously been featured on ERV.  Led by (and named after) lead guitarist Adrian Vandenberg, the group was known for its melodic hard rock sound and classical flourishes, especially on the guitar solos.

Vandenberg's 1982 debut LP did reasonable well, reaching #65 on the album charts, helped by the "Burning Heart" single, which reached #39. Note that Vandenberg's song is totally different from Survivor's "Burning Heart" (a #2 hit from 1985, from the from Rocky IV soundtrack).

A successful debut album, a hit single, and a melodic hard rock sound should have translated to further success, but Vandenberg's second and third albums did not do well, and the band broke up in 1986.  The following year, Adrian Vandenberg joined Whitesnake, and remained with them through the remainder of the decade.

Vandenberg remains active in the industry as of this writing - and is also a painter.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Red Rockers - China

Red Rockers was a fascinating band who never quite found their audience.  To be fair, this was at least partly due to their evolving musical style, which seemed to shift almost on a song-by-song basis.

The band formed in New Orleans in 1979 as a punk act, influenced by groups such as The Clash and The Dils.  In fact, Red Rockers (the band) is named after "Red Rockers" (the 1979 Dils' song).   However, after  their first LP (1981's Guns of Revolution), they swung wildly from punk to pop/new wave on 1983's Good as Gold album.  This resulted in a MTV hit with "China," and set off a series of internal conflicts within the band (not to mention alienating their early punk fans).

In spite of some serious MTV airplay, "China" peaked at #53, leaving Red Rockers one hit short of being a one hit wonder.  Internal conflicts and some personnel changes continued through 1985's Schizophrenic Circus, and the band broke up later that year.

In addition to the video, we found some cool behind the scenes footage shot during the making of "China":

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Del Amitri - Kiss This Thing Goodbye

Although they were stars in the UK, Del Amitri never quite broke through in the U.S., through no fault of their own.  The band's strong pop-rock songs, with folk, roots rock and even country influences, were melodic and catchy.  In spite of this, they only had 3 top 40 hits in the U.S., and only 1995's "Roll to Me" really garnered a significant amount of air play.

The band formed in the early 1980's in Glasgow, Scotland, and was named after ... well, perhaps a film producer.  It was a Scottish interpretation of the name Dimitri, and ended up sticking.  The group released a self-titled debut album on Chrysalis in 1985, but it did not gain traction, and they were subsequently dropped by the label.  Their second album, 1989's Working Hours (on A&M), did make an impact, reaching #6 on the album charts in the UK.

Del Amitri released 3 more LPs in the 1990's, all of which broke the to 10 in the UK, and had 13 top 40 singles, as well.  In the U.S., only Working Hours even broke the top 100 on the album charts.

For the blog, we went with the first single off Working Hours, "Kiss This Thing Goodbye."  It's a fine example of the band's catchy songwriting.  Interestingly, the song was released in 1989, and reached #59 on the UK charts.  A re-release in 1990 did better, reaching #43 in the UK and #35 in the U.S.

Del Amitri went on hiatus (broke up?) in 2002, but has subsequently re-formed in 2014, and seem to be active as of this writing.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

ABC - When Smokey Sings

ABC burst onto the music scene as a dashing New Romantic act in 1982.  Their debut album, The Lexicon of Love became a big hit in 1982 and made them MTV favorites for a time.  While that album remains the pinnacle of their success, they continued to release well-crafted pop songs for most of the decade.

The band formed in Sheffield and was originally called Vice Versa.  Interestingly, Stephen Singleton and Mark White (both synthesizer players) met Martin Fry (also a synthesizer player) when he interviewed them for his Modern Drugs fanzine (which may have been about synthesizer players).  Fry was asked to join the band, the name was changed and before too long they had a recording contract.

By 1987, the band had been through several ups and downs.  Singleton left the group in 1983 due to their lack of touring, and Fry spend several years in the mid-1980's being treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma.  Their '87 album release, Alphabet City (named after the area in NYC when Fry and White lived for a time) became a modest success, and featured one of our favorite ABC songs, "When Smokey Sings."

Upbeat and nostalgic, "When Smokey Signs" would go on to be a hit, reaching #5 on the U.S. charts and #11 in the UK.  The Alphabet City album would also do well, reaching #7 in the UK and #48 in the U.S.  Unfortunately, this marked the end of the band's major commercial success, and they broke up in 1991.  Fry resurrected the name in 1997 (White has left the industry) and remains active as of this writing.

By the by, we managed to find the rare extended intro version of the song:

Cool trivia fact:  "When Smokey Sings" is of course about Smokey Robinson, whose song "More Love" was covered by Kim Carnes (and featured on ERV in December 2012).

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Heart - Even It Up

The early 1980's were a difficult time in the music industry.  While the disco and punk movements had somewhat faded from prominence, New Wave was now in full swing, and the classic rock acts of the 1970's seemed outdated by many listeners.

For Heart, this transition was compounded by the changing personnel in the band.  While the Wilson sisters (Ann - vocals and Nancy - guitar) remained the constants, guitarist (and Nancy's longtime boyfriend) Roger Fisher left Heart in 1979.

Undeterred, Heart soldiered on, releasing the Bébé le Strange LP in 1980.  This is a fascinating album, as the band's music is all over the place - to my ear, this sounds like a group working to rediscover what their sound is.  In the midst of this experiment is a great straight-up rock song, "Even It Up," with a cool early video to boot.  Particularly noteworthy are sailor Nancy (who seems to really like her Stratocasters), and the sax trio.

Bébé le Strange went gold and peaked at #5, while "Even It Up" reached #33.  Heart's greatest hits album was released later in 1980, and marked the end of their first period of mainstream success.  I suspect that most listeners and critics at the time would have viewed this as the likely end of the band.  Improbably, Heart re-positioned themselves as a pop/hair band in the mid to late 1980's, ushering in a period of commercial success that was even greater than their 1970's heyday.

Heart has remained active for many years, but appears to be on hiatus as of this writing.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Kool & the Gang - Misled

This is  Kool & the Gang's second appearance on ERV, as "Get Down On It" was posted back in 2013 (and has a solid if brief summary of the band).

Unlike the funk and R&B that characterized most of Kool & the Gang's work, "Misled" is a catchy pop gem with an excellent guitar hook.  Additionally, the video is the perfect stealthy Halloween type that we love at ERV.  From the creepy guys in robes to the Indiana Jones-inspired later scenes, the whole thing is steeped in pure 1984 awesomeness.  The ghostly white dancer and that amazing blue jacket round out the major characters in the video.

The song ended up being a big hit, and reached #10 on the charts, which surprised us.  To be fair, the 1984 Emergency LP also spawned "Fresh" and "Cherish," so it isn't as if there wasn't a lot of Kool on the radio back in the day.  However, we don't remember seeing the video on MTV, which is kind of a shame.

While Kool & the Gang did have a few hits after "Misled," they had mostly faded from view by the late 1980's.  However, they remain active in the industry as of this writing.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Huey Lewis And The News - Doing It All For My Baby

Although ERV has been mostly on hiatus of late, we could not miss the opportunity to celebrate All Hallows Even.  We've been posted rare-ish, Halloweeny (is that even a word) vids since soon after we opened up shop, 7 years ago, and it's become a tradition.  So, on to this years' festivities.

By 1986, Huey Lewis and the News had become big stars.  Fore! (the 1986 LP) was their second consecutive #1 album, and between Sports, Back to the Future, and Fore!, they scored 11 top 40 hits (and 3 #1s - "The Power of Love," "Stuck With You," and "Jacob's Ladder.")

"Doing It All For My Baby" was the last single off the Fore! album, and was released in June 1987.  The video has a prefect Halloween vibe, and is actually a tiny bit darker than I remember.  After the long intro, we're treated to a campy, monstery rendition of the song, with Huey and the band playing most of the major roles.

The song would go on to reach #6 on the charts, though I think this represented the end of the band's superstar period.  However, they have remained active in the industry (with some lineup changes through the years) until the present day.   

Cool trivia fact:  The model in the video is Tara Shannon, and there is an interview with her here.

We've previously posted videos for "Some of My Lies are True," "Workin' For A Livin'," and "Heart and Soul" (which was part of ERV's first All Hallows Even celebration in 2011.