Monday, May 23, 2016

Shannon - Let The Music Play

"Let the Music Play" was a successful and influential single that helped create the dance sound of the eighties.  When the song was released in 1983, dance had mostly fallen off the pop charts, as nothing had filled the void left by the collapse of disco.

With its Latin beats and use of drum machines and synthesizers, "Let the Music Play" pointed to a new sound, that was initially called the "Shannon Sound," but eventually evolved into Freestyle music.  Unfortunately, Shannon did not remain at the forefront of the scene, as other acts such as Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam and The Jets became far more successful.  However, "Let the Music Play" really opened the door for much of mid to late 1980's dance pop.

Shannon (born Shannon Green) was in the business in New York City when she met producers Mark Liggett and Chris Barbosa.  She auditioned for them, they liked her voice, and soon afterwards they were in the studio recording "Let the Music Play."  The success of the single (it hit #1 on the dance charts and #8 on the pop charts) led to a 1984 LP of the same name, but that turned out to be Shannon's commercial peak.  Although she had several dance and R&B hits, she did not break the top 40 again, and she asked to be released from her contract in 1987.  However, Shannon remains active in the industry as a working musician to the present day.

In spite of the song's success, the video for "Let the Music Play" remain somewhat rare, exacerbated by the fact that MTV (and many other video channels) were more focused on rock and new wave at the time.  As a result, it's perfect for ERV.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jimmy Page - Wasting My Time

It goes without saying that it's not a bad thing to be considered one of the greatest rock guitarists ever.  I suppose it is also not surprising that Jimmy Page seemed to have trouble figuring out what to do after the demise of Led Zeppelin.

As most readers will know, Jimmy Page became a well-regarded studio musician in Britain in the 1960's before forming Led Zeppelin in 1968.  Books have been written about Led Zep, but suffice to say that they remain one of the most important and influential rock acts of all time.  The sudden end of the group (in 1980, due to the death of drummer John Bonham) left Page without a clear direction, and for much of the next 15 years he embarked on short-lived collaborations.

In 1988, he released his first solo studio album, Outrider.  The album sounded a bit like a (slightly) updated Led Zeppelin, with its stripped down blues/rock sound.  Unfortunately, it didn't do all that well -- the album peaked at #26, and none of the singles charted.

In spite of the lack of success, we've always been partial to "Wasting My Time," which was co-written and sung by John Miles.  Jason Bonham (Drums) and Tony Franklin (Bass) round out the lineup.  While the song doesn't break any new ground, it is a solid track which isn't helped much by the standard performance video.  [As an aside, has there ever been a performance video made where the singer is show less frequently?]

Page continued with short-lived projects through the 1990's, but has re-connected with (Led Zeppelin) singer Robert Plant with greater frequency since the mid-1990's.  He remains active in the music industry as of this writing.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Steve Winwood - Still In The Game

Steve Winwood got his musical start at the tender age of 14 when he joined the Spencer Davis Group, though he would go on to even greater fame in Traffic and Blind Faith.  However, by the mid-1970's his career was on the wane.  In fact, when his first solo album performed poorly in 1977, he apparently considered leaving the music business altogether.

This all changed with the success of his second solo LP, 1980's Arc of a Diver.  The synthesizer-driven pop album sounded fresh and original, and would go on to become a huge hit, reaching #3 on the charts.

Winwood tried to capitalize on this success, releasing Talking Back to the Night in 1982.  This album sounded a bit like a reprise of Arc of a Diver, and did not do as well  (though "Valerie" became a top 10 hit when it was re-released in 1987).  Interestingly, Winwood may have realized that the formula wasn't working, and soon shifted into more soul-influenced pop.  The result was even greater success by the end of the 1980's.

While the LP was not a big hit, we've always been partial to "Still in the Game," a synth pop gem that picked up a bit of airplay on MTV back in the day.  The song became the highest charting single off Talking Back to the Night, but only reached #47 on the charts, while the video was only aired for a short while.

Although Winwood has slowed down in recent years, he remains active in the industry as of this writing, both as a solo artist and in occasional projects with other classic rock stars.

Cool trivia fact:  The woman in the video is Nicole Winwood, who sang backup on "Still in the Game" and was Steve Winwood's wife from 1978 - 1986.  Sadly, she passed away in 2005.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Long Ryders - I Want You Bad

This is the second appearance on ERV for The Long Ryders; the superb "Looking for Lewis and Clark" was posted on our little blog in October, 2013.

Regular readers will recall that The Long Ryders were a roots rock act associated with the LA Paisley Underground scene.  They made a bit of a ripple on the college radio scene in the middle part of the 1980's, but never quite found their audience.

"I Want You Bad" was the lead single of the group's 1987 LP, Two Fisted Tales.  It is a cover (more on that below), but highlights the band's style and musicianship.  Unfortunately, I don't believe that either the LP or single charted.

While The Long Ryders remained well-regarded by critics, their big breakthrough never happened and in 1987 and the strenuous touring schedule finally did the band in.  Bassist Tom Stevens and guitarist Stephen McCarthy left the group by year end, and the remaining members (vocals/guitarist Sid Griffin and drummer Greg Sowders) chose not to continue.  However, the group did re-form in 2014, and plans to tour and perform some more as of this writing.

As mentioned above, "I Want You Bad" is a cover of an NRBQ song, below.  NRBQ is an influential and eclectic rock band who are known for their live shows.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Ray Parker, Jr. and Raydio - A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)

Ray Parker, Jr. formed Raydio in 1977 with with Vincent Bohnam, Jerry Knight, and Arnell Carmichael.  The group's smooth pop/funk quickly led to success, with "Jack and Jill" and "You Can't Change That" as strong examples of their style.

First among equals bands, where there is one dominant member, often have trouble staying intact and Raydio was no exception.  By 1980, the group was called Ray Parker, Jr. and Raydio; this only lasted around a year before Parker left Raydio to go out on his own.

"A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)" was off the last Raydio LP of the same name, and the success of the song and album likely encouraged Ray Parker, Jr. to go solo.  The single reached #4 on the charts, while the album peaked at #13 and went gold.

While the song picked up a significant amount of airplay on pop and adult contemporary radio, I don't recall ever seeing it on MTV.  The combination of the soft pop sound and MTV's initial positioning as a new wave/rock video channel probably account for this.  However, the vid is an awesome timepiece -- from the time Parker gets out of his Porsche, I was hooked.  Smooth, relaxed love advice never sounded so good (at least in 1981).

As regular readers will know, Parker's solo career go off the a strong start, with "The Other Woman," featured in our All Hallows Even celebration of 2014.  However, his career was inconsistent from there, though he did score a #1 hit in 1984 with "Ghostbusters."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Hooters - Day by Day

After a long, bumpy road, Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman finally saw significant success with The Hooters 1985 Nervous Night LP.  The album peaked at #12 on the charts and went double platinum; it also featured all three of the group's top 40 singles.

In fact, the Bazilian/Hyman partnership (sounds dirty but isn't) dates back to the early 1970's when they met as students at Penn.  Their first group (Baby Grand) recorded some decent material, but did not break through.  [Baby Grand also recorded the original version of "Never Enough" which was covered by Patty Smyth in 1987 and featured on ERV in April, 2014.]

Bazilian and Hyman formed The Hooters in 1980 and played extensively in the Philadelphia music scene before breaking up in 1982.  However, the group re-formed the following year and released their first (independent) album.  Their big break came when an old friend (Rick Chertoff from Baby Grand) asked Bazilian and Hyman to work with him on Cindy Lauder's She's So Unusual album.  The success of that project led to The Hooter's signing with Columbia Records.

Many readers will be surprised that "Day by Day" was the highest charting single from Nervous Night -- it hit #18 on the charts.  The song (co-written with Chertoff) is pretty typical of the band's music from this period -- upbeat roots rock, with some new wave and folk elements, to boot.

Sadly, Nervous Night was the peak of The Hooter's success.  Though their material remained strong, the albums did not sell as well.  The band broke up in 1995, but has reunited from time to time in the intervening years.  

Note that The Hooters excellent and underrated "Karla with a K" was featured on ERV in March, 2012.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The B-52's - Private Idaho

New wave and surf rock might seem like an odd combination (ok, it is an odd combination), but somehow the B-52's hit on a sound that was pure campy fun.  Sounding simultaneously  modern and vintage, the band sported an odd look that included the high beehives that gave the band its name.  Combine that with some seriously catchy material, and it is not surprising that the group made a name for itself in the late 1970's and early 1980's.

The B-52's emerged out of the growing Athens, Georgia music scene, and would soon be joined by fellow Athenians R.E.M.  However, the group's sound was more Devo or Talking Heads than southern rock.  After forming in 1976 with little musical training, the band had progressed enough to make a demo of "Rock Lobster" in 1978.  That song would go on to become an independent hit, and would lead to recording contracts with Warner Bros. and Island Records.

"Private Idaho" was off the B-52's second LP, 1980's Wild Planet.  The single hit #74 on the charts (the group's second charting single, after "Rock Lobster"), while the album hit #18.  From there, things became more challenging -- the next few albums did not do as well, and founding guitarist Ricky Wilson (whose sister Cindy was also in the band) died of an AIDS-related illness in 1985.

As many readers will know, that wasn't the end of the story.  The B-52's 1989 comeback album, Cosmic Thing, became a huge surprise hit and led to a second period of success.  The group remains active as of this writing, though there have been some personnel changes and periods of inactivity through the years.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Indigo Girls - Closer to Fine

Indigo Girls were part of the late 1980's folk revival scene that included 10,000 Maniacs, Michelle Shocked, and Tracy Chapman, among others.  While they never became superstars, the duo has maintained a strong following through the years and is still active as of this writing.

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers met as students at Emery University in the mid-1980's and began performing together around the same time.  Their first independent album was released in 1987, but it was their 1989 major label eponymous debut that brought them national attention.  As the lead single off the LP, "Closer to Fine" was a major part of that breakthrough.

Interestingly, Ray and Saliers write separately; Saliers tends to favor a more traditional folk sound, while Ray's songs often incorporate more rock elements.  "Closer to Fine" was written by Saliers, and is loosely based on her experiences.  The song would go on to become the group's biggest hit, reaching #52 on the singles charts.  The album would peak at #22 and eventually go double platinum.

The video is a straightforward performance piece that highlights the strong songwriting and crisp harmonies that are the signature of the group.  It remains one of our favorite 1980's folk tunes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Glenn Fry - Smuggler's Blues

It has been a tough few weeks in rockland; Atropos has been busy.  And while we already had posts up for Lemmy ("Ace of Spades") and Bowie ("Ashes to Ashes"), Glenn Fry was still in the bullpen at the time of his passing.  As a result, we moved him up in order to create a fitting ERV memorial to him.

Glenn Fry was born in Detroit, Michigan, and moved to California in the late 1960's to follow his dream in music.  This eventually led to work in Linda Ronstadt's backup band, and in 1971 he and fellow backup band members Don Henley, Randy Meisner, and Bernie Leadon formed the Eagles.

The Eagles were at the forefront of the California folk/country/rock sound of the 1970's, and became one of the best-selling acts of the decade.  And though there was some turnover among the band members, the group was more or less run by Fry and Henley.

After the Eagles disbanded in 1980, Fry continued recording as a solo artist, and had three top 40 LPs and 7 top 40 singles in the 1980's.  His solo popularity faded in the 1990's, but this was offset by the Eagles' resurgence, as they had several reunions starting in 1994.

"Smuggler's Blues" showcases Glenn Fry at the peak of his popularity, and the song was helped by the movie-like video.  Additionally, the song and theme fit perfectly with the TV show Miami Vice, and Fry (and his song) were showcased on the 15th episode, which was named (not coincidentally) Smuggler's Blues.  All this publicity helped "Smuggler's Blues" to reach #12, while The Allnighter album hit #22.

With its bluesy guitar sound and cool video, this remains our favorite Glenn Fry single and is, we think, a fitting tribute to him.

Rest peacefully, Glenn Fry, and thanks for the music.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Stabilizers - One Simple Thing

Stabilizers were another act that appeared on MTV for the briefest of time before fading from view.  The band consisted of Dave Christenson on vocals and Rich Nevens on guitar and keyboard.  By 1985, they had generated enough buzz on the Erie, PA music scene to get signed by Columbia Records, and Tyranny (their debut LP) came out the following year.

"One Simple Thing" was the lead single from Tyranny, and it picked up a bit of airplay -- even breaking into the top 100 at #93.  However, the follow up single did not do as well, and the band was dropped by the label before releasing their second effort.

There seems to be remarkably little information on Christenson and Nevens since then, so if any reader has information to share, please leave it in the comments.

"One Simple Thing" is a classic 1980's pop song, in the Mr. Mister vein (note that Mr. Mister's Welcome to the Real World hit #1 on the album charts in early 1986).

Cool trivia fact:  "One Simple Thing" was directed by David Fincher, who got his start in videos (including Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have To Take Our Clothes Off" and Loverboy's "Notorious")  before transitioning to movies (Seven, Fight Club and The Social Network, among others).