Sunday, May 17, 2015

L.A. Guns - The Ballad of Jayne

Best known as half of the inspiration for the Guns N' Roses name, L.A. Guns was a fixture on the Los Angeles hard rock scene in the 1980's, but never crossed over to big time mainstream success.  Lineup changes, and a sound that was more hard rock bar band than glam metal likely had something to do with this.

The band formed in 1983, and an early version of the group had Tracii Guns (born Tracy Ulrich) on guitar and W. Axl Rose on vocals.  Rose would leave to sing for Rapidfire and Hollywood Rose, before rejoining L.A. Guns, and the group was later renamed Guns N' Roses.  However, after a fight with Rose, Tracii Guns left Guns N' Roses and reformed L.A. Guns.  (Quite a tangled web, huh?)

L.A. Guns released their first major label record in 1988, and the LP did well, reaching #50 on the charts.  However, 1989's Cocked and Loaded did better, and hit #38 on the charts.  "The Ballad of Jayne" became the group's only top 40 hit at #33, making the band an official one hit wonder.

While 1991's Hollywood Vampires broke the top 50 on the album charts, the rise of grunge effectively ended any chance of L.A. Guns breaking out.  The band has continued as a working band  (with a ton of personnel changes) to the present day.  In fact, for much of the early 2000's, there were two version of L.A. Guns (one with Tracii Guns and one without).  In 2013 Tracii Guns broke up his version of the group, but I believe  that the second version is active as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  "The Ballad of Jayne" is about actress Jayne Mansfield, who was killed in a car accident in 1967.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Apollonia 6 - Sex Shooter

The Apollonia 6 story begins where the Vanity 6 story ends.  (And another shout out to long time reader Sam, who requested the Vanity 6 video more than two years ago).  As we mentioned in the earlier post, Vanity left Vanity 6 (and Prince) in order to go out on her own.  This created a problem for Prince, as not only was he writing material for Vanity 6, but Vanity was supposed to be the female lead in Prince's upcoming movie at the time (you may have heard of it -- Purple Rain).

A casting call ensued, and Patricia Apollonia Kotero was chosen for the role.  Prince liked her middle name, and just like that Apollonia was the new lead singer of Apollonia 6 (still named after the number of breasts in the band ... really).  Additionally, Apollonia became the female lead in Purple Rain.

While Apollonia was quite beautiful, she did not have the strongest singing voice, and Prince seemed to lose interest in her (and the concept of a girl band) soon after Purple Rain.  There may or may not have been a romantic falling out, as well.  As a result, only one album was released, the eponymous 1984 LP.  "Sex Shooter" became a minor hit, reaching #85 on the charts, but Apollonia is probably best-known for the movie, and her duet with Prince, "Take Me With You," a top 40 hit from 1985 (and the last single from Purple Rain.)

Apollonia also had a falling out with Prince, and went out on her own in 1985, primarily as an actress.  She later went to film school, and I believe that she still runs her entertainment company, Kotero Entertainment.

In addition to the primary video for "Sex Shooter," we also found the performance clip from Purple Rain; in the interests of completeness both are below.

Cool trivia facts:  "Take Me With You" was originally intended to be an Apollonia 6 song, but was a late addition to Purple Rain.  In additional, "Manic Monday" (later a big hit for The Bangles) and "Glamorous Life" (later a hit for Sheila E.) we both originally written as Apollonia 6 songs.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Flesh for Lulu - Postcards from Paradise

"Postcards from Paradise" is yet another excellent reader request and we liked it enough to immediately put it up on the blog.  Thanks, cool loyal reader (you know who you are).

Flesh for Lulu was a British rock band with an interesting sound that was simultaneously alternative and retro.  Think the Rolling Stones meets the Velvet Underground.  The resulting music was critically acclaimed, but never quite found its audience, which is a real shame.

The band formed in London in 1982, and was named after the Andy Warhol movie, Flesh for Frankenstein.  Lulu was a bend member's girlfriend who sat in front of a poster for the movie, leading to an in-joke that eventually became the group's name.  Their major label debut came out in 1984, and they released several solid efforts in the mid to late 1980's.

While they attracted a cult following in the U.K., their U.S. break happened when they had a song included on the 1987 teen flick, Some Kind of Wonderful.  (Does anyone else remember that one?)  Sensing an opportunity, they modified their sound in an attempt to cross over.  The resulting album, 1987's Long Live the New Flesh, was solid, but did not advance their career.  After several more years of toiling away, Flesh for Lulu broke up in 1992, though a version of the band re-formed in 2013.

For the blog, we went with "Postcards from Paradise," a particularly strong effort from 1987.  The song was later covered by Paul Westerberg (formerly of The Replacements) and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eric Carmen - Hungry Eyes

Dirty Dancing was one of the least likely movies to ever become a hit, and the goes doubly so for the soundtrack.  The movie was a low budget ($6 million) release by a new studio, and the initial cuts of the movie were viewed as disappointing by the studio.  In fact, the original plan was for the the film to be shown for one weekend, and then go straight to video.

Instead, positive reviews (led by the New York Times) and word of mouth turned Dirty Dancing into a huge hit.  It became the 11th highest grossing film of 1987, and had continued success as a video.  In addition, the soundtrack became a monster in its own right -- it spent 18 weeks as the #1 album and has gone on to sell more than 32 million units.

The album spawned three top five hits -- "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," (#1), "She's Like the Wind" (#3) and "Hungry Eyes" (#4).

So how does a huge success show up on ERV?  Well, we love good stories and cover songs, and "Hungry Eyes" is both.  As we noted on the post for Franke and the Knockouts' "Sweatheart," Franke Previte (the lead singer of said band) was recruited to help with the soundtrack, and co-wrote "(I've Had) The Time of My Life."  He also contributed "Hungry Eyes," a song which had originally been on Franke and the Knockouts Makin' the Point LP in 1984.

So while Franke's band did not become a household name (though they did have 3 top 40 hits, including "Sweatheart"), Franke became a huge success as a songwriter, almost by accident.  He remains in the industry, though it seems that in recent years he spends most of his time helping younger songwriters.

Lastly, Eric Carmen (who sang "Hungry Eyes" for the soundtrack) has enjoyed an interesting career as well.  Originally a member of The Raspberries ("Go All the Way"), Carmen transitioned to become a pop singer, and had a huge hit with "All By Myself."  He then saw a bit of a resurgence after DIrty Dancing, but seems to have left the industry in the early 1990's.

And (of course), the original:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Fiona - Talk To Me

It is easy to forget how difficult it is to become a rock star.  Even if all of the pieces are there, sometimes they just don't fit together.  Case in point: Fiona, who had the attitude, looks and voice to be a star, but never made it.

Fiona Flanagan was born in New Jersey, but moved to New York City when she was 18, and began her career as the frontwoman of several bands.  This led to a recording contract with Atlantic, and a 1985 self-titled debut album produced by Beau Hill, who had worked with Ratt and Sandy Stewart.  (Hill would later produce albums for Winger, Warrant, and Europe.)

Fiona's debut album generated some traction, but never delivered the breakout song to launch her career.  The album reached #71, while "Talk to Me" peaked at #64.  I seem to recall seeing the video on my favorite station, but I don't think that it went into heavy rotation.

A guest spot on Miami Vice ("Little Miss Dangerous") and a second album followed in 1986.  In 1987, Fiona co-starred in the Bob Dylan movie Hearts of Fire, which did so poorly in its limited U.K. release that it was sent direct to video in the U.S.  After two additional albums did not succeed, Fiona left the industry, although she did return in 2011 with Unbroken, which has received positive reviews from AOR rock aficionados.

For the blog, we went with "Talk to Me," which does a nice job of highlighting the charismatic singer and her hair.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Jack Green - One by One

Jack Green is a Scottish guitarist who played in three famous bands.  Green was in T-Rex for five months in 1973, and was later a member of The Pretty Things from 1974 - 1976.  He was also a member of Rainbow for three weeks (apparently) in 1978.

Green was able to turn his experience in the industry into a recording contract, and he then released four solo records between 1980 and 1986.  "One by One" comes off Green's second album, 1981's Reverse Logic.  I remember the song from HBO's Video Jukebox, a program that played music videos between movies on the channel.  In fact, the main version of the video below comes complete with a HBO Video Jukebox intro.

The video includes a bowling alley, women (including Vanna Bonta) , and a trampoline.  Ahh, those early 1980's videos.  Sadly, neither the song nor the album charted.

As an added bonus, we found a version of the video with what appears to be the director's commentary:

Green apparently left the industry years ago, and now teaches guitar.  He also has a small film production company.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sonic Youth - Teenage Riot

Readers who aren't big time eighties or alternative music fans may not know much about Sonic Youth, but the alternative cult act is hugely important in the development of both the grunge and industrial  scenes.  The band formed in New York City in the early 1980's, and was comprised of guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, along with bassist Kim Gordon. (Sonic Youth went through four drummers in their early days, though Steve Shelley has held this role since 1985).

Musically, the band is often associated with the noise rock scene, and early releases were somewhat experimental in nature.  Not unlike earlier experimental bands (like the Velvet Underground) this resulted in critical acclaim but only modest record sales.  Over time, Sonic Youth's sound evolved and songs incorporated more traditional rock structures and sounds, though they maintained a bit of an experimental feel.  This music was loved by alternative musicians and helped lay the groundwork for the 1990's.  [As an aside, if this sounds like Sonic Youth took a similar path to Hüsker Dü, well ... they did.]

"Teenage Riot" was the song that blew the lid off Sonic Youth in the emerging college rock scene.  Although the song is still edgy, it also has a more traditional structure and sound, which found a new and larger audience for the band.  While Sonic Youth never became mainstream stars, they did become heroes in the college rock community, and provided an inspiration to countless 1990's bands -- everyone from Nirvana to Nine Inch Nails.

Sonic Youth remained together and relatively vibrant until  Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore divorced in late 2011 (after being married for 27 years).  While no official announcement has been made, it appears that this marked the end of the band.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Iron Maiden - Flight Of Icarus

We have posted many acts on ERV that were (are) one hit wonders, often with the caveat that there is no shame in having only one top 40 hit.  Case in point: Iron Maiden, who scored exactly zero charting singles in the U.S. (Yes, that makes them a no hit wonder, I suppose.)

"Flight of Icarus" is a retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, although in the Iron Maiden version, Icarus' father (Daedalus) betrays Icarus by encouraging him to fly too close to the sun.  (In the original version, Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too high, but the boy doesn't listen, with disastrous consequences).

The song works on a number of levels, and is helped by the mythological theme.  Maiden cultivated a fantasy-driven image, which was strengthened by singer Bruce Dickinson's lyrics.  [As an aside, Dickinson is an interesting person with expertise in fencing, aviation, writing, and broadcasting; these varied interests have resulted in at least once source naming him as a polymath.]

Directed by Jim Yukich, the video brings these darker elements to the fore, which are contrasted with the band playing the song in a studio.  While the song was not a huge hit, the Piece of Mind LP reached #14 in the U.S. (#3 in the U.K) and went platinum in both geographies.

The band would remain heavy metal stars through the early 1990's, and remain together (with some personnel changes along the way) to the present day.

Another Maiden classic, 1982's "The Number of the Beast" was featured on ERV's first All Hallow's Even celebration in 2011.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cameo - Candy

So here's a handy tip from your friends at ERV:  If you see an eighties video and it features a red codpiece, then you're probably watching something by Cameo.  (This is especially true if the song is funky.)

We previously featured Cameo's smash "Word Up," which was the group's breakthrough song.  The second single off the Word Up LP was "Candy," and it would be the only other Cameo song to break the top 40 at #21.  In contrast, the band had a string of charting R&B songs from 1976 through the early 1990's.  Cameo had a remarkably long and interesting career, and managed to change with the times during the 1970's and 1980's.  It's a shame that they didn't have more crossover success, but that's the way it goes, sometimes.

The video for "Candy" was directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński, using Times Square, New York (circa 1986) as the backdrop.  It was technically advanced for the time, with multiple images appearing one after another.  And yes, many of the images are wearing a red codpiece, starting 9 second in.  In our view, the video captures the energy, funkiness and strangeness of Cameo; we're fans of it.

As we mentioned on the "Word Up" post, Cameo had continued R&B success until the early 1990's, then faded from view.  Frontman Larry Blackmon remained in the industry as an A&R executive, though there have been occasional Cameo releases in recent years.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fischer-Z - So Long

Fischer-Z (named after two of Ronald Fisher's statistical formulas) was a quirky British new wave act.  The group had the potential to be akin to Talking Heads, even if Americans didn't pronounce the name correctly (Fisher's Zed, not Fisher Zee).  Mixing new wave, reggae and rock with interesting lyrics, the act became somewhat successful in Europe, but never enjoyed more than cult status in the U.K. and U.S.

The band was formed in London in 1978 by John Watts (vocals, guitars) and Steve Skolnik (keyboards), but it was really Watts' band from the get go.  They quickly signed to United Artists and released their debut album in 1979.  Their second LP, the wonderfully named Going Deaf for a Living (1980) built on their success in Europe, and the "So Long" single even reached #72 on the U.K. charts.

Skolnik quit after Going Deaf for a Living, but Watts released a strong follow up (1981's Red Skies Over Paradise) before deciding that he did not want to be constrained within a band.  (Even if it was his band).  Watts released three solo records before resurrecting the Fischer-Z name in 1987; he seems to have used both names during most of the ensuing years.

The video for "So Long" is awesome, in a totally 1980 sort of way.  Shots of the band playing are mixed with vintage cars and a Humphrey Bogart look-alike private eye (no relation to Hall & Oates).  The results are ... well, see for yourself: