Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Genesis - Land of Confusion

For the second video of our "confusion" double shot, we went with Genesis' "Land of Confusion" - one of the more overtly political songs of the 1980's.

By 1986 Genesis (and Phil Collins separately) were huge pop stars, and the band seemed far removed from their art rock roots with Peter Gabriel.  In fact, 1986's Invisible Touch would be the third of four top 10 LPs in the U.S., and the fourth of five consecutive #1 albums in the U.K.

"Land of Confusion" was one of five top five singles from Invisible Touch and hit #4 on the U.S. charts.  The video featured puppets from Spitting Image (a British TV show that was popular at the time).  Interestingly, Spitting Image often made fun of Genesis, which led to the idea of using them in the first place.  The political lyrics from Mike Rutherford suite the theme perfectly, and older readers will recall that "Land of Confusion" went into heavy rotation on MTV for a time.

 Eagle-eyed readers may want to try to identify the many politicians and celebrities caricatured in the video.

As many readers will know, Genesis remained major stars through the early 1990's, before fading from view.  In recent years, the band has sporadically re-formed for reunion tours.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Kinks - State of Confusion

We're back, and what better way than with a song that may be more apropo today than when it came out. 

The lyrics of "State of Confusion" touch on both personal and global stresses, and remind the listener that Ray Davies had been on the rock scene for a long time by 1983.  Musically, the strong pop rock sound fits in nicely with the Kinks' early 80's work.

Interestingly, "State of Confusion" was not released as a single in the U.S., although the song did hit #26 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart (based on airplay).  The album of the same name hit #12 on the charts, driven by the success of "Come Dancing" - the Kinks most successful song in decades.

The video seems a little bit more lighthearted than the song, but still conveys the intended message.  I particularly like how Davies singing is out of synch with the song at several points.

While State of Confusion (and "Come Dancing") were the last big successes of the Kinks storied career, long time readers may recall that we featured "Do It Again" on ERV in September 2012.  We encourage folks to check that one out, as well.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Peter Gabriel - I Don't Remember

For this years' slightly abbreviated All Hallows Even celebration, we are going with Peter Gabriel's excellent, creepy, and underrated video for "I Don't Remember."

As many readers will know, Peter Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, and released his first solo album in early 1977.  [As a side note, the first four Peter Gabriel solo albums are all untitled, and are often referred to by the cover art.]  While Gabriel's first two solo albums sold well, it was his third LP, 1980's 'Melt' that broke him as a solo artist.  The album was a sonic breakthrough with a modern, driving sound.  As one example, the album did not use any cymbals at all, which led to the innovation of the gated reverb drum sound.

'Melt' would go on to hit "1 in the U.K. and #22 in the U.S., led by "Games Without Frontiers," which reached #4 in the U.K. and #48 in the U.S.  The album also drew no small amount of critical acclaim; Rolling Stone ranked it as the 45th greatest album of the 1980's.  The LP is remarkably strong from cover to cover with lyrics that are creative and political, and a sound that was unlike anything on radio at the time.

In the All Hallows Even spirit, we opted for "I Don't Remember," which has a genuinely unnerving video.  The song only reached #107 in the U.S. and did not chart in the U.K., and I doubt that the video would have been played by most mainstream outlets back in the day.  However, it fits seamlessly into our theme of the season here.

Also note that previous All Hallows Even videos can be selected by choosing the Label to the right.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Dokken - Just Got Lucky

While Dokken's version of melodic hard rock seemed tailor made for the pop metal era, they never quite landed the big breakout song or album.  To be fair, though, they did have three consecutive platinum (and top 50) LPs in the 1980's, which is more than most groups can say.

The band's roots date back to 1976, when singer/guitarist Don Dokken formed Airborn in Los Angeles.  The name change to Dokken occurred in 1979, when the group discovered that there was a signed band with the Airborn name.  Four years later Dokken had gathered enough of a following to land a recording contract with Elektra.  Unfortunately, their first album (1983's Breaking the Chains) did not do well -- to the point that convincing the label to finance a second album became quite an ordeal (as an aside, this led to the LP's name -- Tooth and Nail).

Though Tooth and Nail didn't become a smash hit, it did establish Dokken as a legitimate rock act, and eventually reached #49 on the album charts.  "Just Got Lucky" did not chart on the singles charts, but hit #27 on the Billboard mainstream rock chart.  It remains our favorite Dokken song, though we don't recall seeing the video back in the day.

The vid is pretty standard stuff, though it does look as though portions of it may have been filmed in a dressing room (mirrors!).  The guitar solo was shot in Hawaii, near an active volcano that apparently made breathing difficult.

As previously mentioned, Dokken would go on to have further successes in the 1980's, before the simmering tensions between Don Dokken and lead guitarist George Lynch caused Dokken to break up in 1989.  However, there have been multiple reunions since then, and the band seems to be doing reunion shows as of this writing.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

a-ha - Take On Me

No one in their right mind could consider a-ha's monster hit "Take on Me" to be a rare song or video, which begs the question:  have we (finally) lost our minds?  The answer to this question may well be yes, but there is a method to our madness for this video.

Let's get the obvious out of the way first:  "Take on Me" was the song that seemingly every teenage girl (and many boys) loved during 1985.  The song hit #1 all over the world, including the U.S.  The video was in heavy rotation for seemingly all of 1985 and beyond, and won six MTV VMAs.  Video savant Steve Barron combined pencil animation with live action in an innovative and creative way; I think it is fair to say that many critics would view "Take on Me" among the greatest music videos ever made.  For younger readers, folks who want to reminisce, or anyone who was locked in a closet for 1985, the original clip is below.

Yep, still a great video.  a-ha would go on to have a second top 40 hit in the U.S. with "The Sun Always Shines on TV" and became bonafide stars in Europe through the mid 1990's.  Since 1994, a-ha has broken up and re-formed several times, most recently in 2015.

In order to get to the rare video, a little about the song itself is helpful.  The origins of "Take on Me" go back to two earlier songs -- 1981's "The Juicey Fruit Song" which evolved into "Lesson One" which in turn became "Take on Me" in early 1983.  The band recorded a demo shortly afterwards, and recorded a different version after they were signed to Warner Bros. in 1984.  The second version of the song was released, and a video was made - so here is your rare video:

Though the song and video are fine, I think it is fair to say that they were unexceptional.  At this point, the band caught a huge (and I mean huge) break.  Warner Bros. in the U.S. took a liking to the group, and decided to invest in them.  First, Warner helped a-ha re-record the song (with producer Alan Tarney, who was previously featured on ERV for "No Time to Lose"). Then, they brought in Steve Barron to make the top video.  Lastly, Warner aggressively promoted the video, even showing it before movies.

Needless to say, this record company support led to the huge success of the single (and album).  Unfortunately for the group, synth pop fell out of favor, and it appears that Warner's promotional efforts turned elsewhere.  Still, a-ha can't complain too much:  they became the first Norwegian act to have a #1 hit in the U.S.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Babys - Back On My Feet Again

The Babys were a British-American power pop act who by all rights should have become big stars in the 1970's.  Guitarist/keyboardist Mike Corby and manager Adrian Miller formed the band in 1974 and held auditions to fill out the roster.  Tony Brock (drums), John Waite (vocals/bass) and Wally Stocker (guitars) made up the original lineup.

The group were signed by Chrysalis and seemed to be building an audience, but a dispute with the record label resulted in Corby and Miller being fired in 1978.  Soon afterwards, Americans Jonathan Cain (keyboards) and Ricky Phillips (bass) joined; this lineup continued until the group broke up in 1980.

While The Babys has some modest successes (3 top 40 hits and 2 top 40 LPs), their hard work never really paid off, and this frustration eventually led to their breakup.  John Waite would go on to have some success in the 1980's as a solo artist, while Jonathan Cain would join Journey right as that band became megastars.  In 1989, Waite, Cain and Phillips would reunite in Bad English (with guitarist Neil Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo).

For the blog, we went with the group's last top 40 single, 1980's "Back on My Feet Again."  The song peaked at #33 on the charts while the Union Jacks album only hit #42.  However, it is a solid representation of the band's later material.

In 2013, original members Tony Brock and Wally Stocker reformed the band.  Additionally, John Waite has been know to perform Babys songs at concerts from time to time.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wang Chung - Everybody Have Fun Tonight

A wonderfully catchy piece of dance-pop, "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" was the peak of Wang Chung's career, and might also be the most dangerous eighties video ever made.  (More on the second point in a bit.)

Wang Chung (originally spelled  Huang Chung) was a British new wave act that formed in London in 1980.  The group was comprised of  Jack Hues (born as Jeremy Ryder) on vocals and guitars, Nick Feldman on bass, and Darren Costin on drums (though he left the group in 1985).  Named after the first note in the Chinese classical musical scale, the band released their first LP in 1982, using the original spelling.  However, it was 1984's Points on the Curve that put them on the map (in the U.S., at least), as "Don't Let Go" and "Dance Hall Days" became top 40 hits.

The band continued to have success in 1985 with the soundtrack of To Live and Die in L.A, but 1986's Mosaic contained their biggest hits, with two top 10 singles -- "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" (#2) and "Let's Go" (#9).

Unfortunately, Wang Chung's 1989 LP, The Warmer Side of Cool did not do particularly well, and the band broke up in 1990.  The did re-form in 1997, and remain together as of this writing.

Now, as to the video ...  The clip was directed by the famous duo of Godley and Creme, who opted for a strobe effect of rapid cuts.  Unfortunately, someone at the BBC became concerned that this cause trigger epileptic seizures, and the network banned it on health grounds.

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.