Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lone Justice - Ways To Be Wicked

This is Lone Justice's second appearance on ERV, as the equally strong "Sweet, Sweet Baby (I'm Falling)" showed up on our little corner of the universe back in November 2011.

As we mentioned then, Lone Justice was one of the leading acts in the cowpunk movement, a roots revival scene that merged country and rockabilly with the rough edges of punk.  Sadly, while several acts garnered critical acclaim, there was little to speak of in terms of commercial success.  Country rock just didn't sell in the 1980's, and we're all a little worse off because of that.

The band's roots go back to 1982 when the group was founded by Maria McKee (vocals) and Ryan Hedgecock (guitar).  Lone Justice eventually built a following, and signed to Geffen in 1985.  In the 'it's nice to have friends in high places' category, Tom Petty and Mike Campbell wrote "Ways to be Wicked."

In spite of the positive press, the single only reached #71 on the charts, while the LP stalled at #56.  The band effectively broke up after that, although singer Maria McKee kept the name and released a second album (Shelter) in 1986 that did not do appreciably better.

McKee officially went solo in the late 1980's, and has remained active in the industry to the present day.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Jefferson Starship - No Way Out

Rounding out this year's All Hallows Even celebration is "No Way Out" from Jefferson Starship.  The song is off the Nuclear Furniture LP, which became the last Jefferson Starship album when guitarist Paul Kantner quit the band, taking the name with him.  (Kantner was unhappy with the group's musical direction).  The act soldiered on as Starship, and found success with a slick, commercial pop sound, though it seems unlikely that any of those videos will appear on ERV.

While "No Way Out" starts off on a creepy note, the video quickly drifts from cool and campy into plain weird.  Perhaps this was intentional, as the clip did garner some airtime on MTV, which likely helped the song. (The single reached #23 on the charts, while the LP hit #28).  In addition to being downright strange, the video is noteworthy for the appearances of one Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello, who was also in Bon Jovi's "In and Out of Love").

In the aftermath of Kantner quitting, the renamed Starship would go on to have 6 top 40 and 3 #1 singles in the later half of the 1980's, before breaking up in 1990 (although singer Mickey Thomas reformed the band in 1992).  Thomas and Kantner remain somewhat active in the industry as of this writing.

Long time readers will recall that Jefferson Starship's "Find Your Way Back" was featured on ERV in April 2013.  In addition, Marty Balin's "Hearts" has also made an appearance on ERV (Balin was the lead singer of an earlier verson of Jefferson Starship).

Cool trivia fact: Kantner's appearance in this video was was his last appearance in Jefferson Starship until he reformed the band (with different members) in 1992.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

David Bowie - Ashes To Ashes

What better way to continue the Halloween celebration than with a song from the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) album.  Many critics view Scary Monsters as the last great David Bowie record, and while that is somewhat debatable, it was a classic Bowie album; odd, artistic and interesting.  In addition, it had more than a bit of funk added to the mix.

A discussion of David Bowie could fill a blog, making it hard to do justice to him in a few sentences.  The lazy narrative is that he is a musical chameleon, shifting his style to capitalize on emerging trends in popular music.  While there is some truth to this, I have always though of Bowie (especially in the 1970's through Scary Monsters period) as more of a restless artist, indulging in whichever tickles his fancy.  Although the results were inconsistent, there were more highs than lows.

"Ashes to Ashes" was the lead single off Scary Monsters, and plays like a requiem for the 1970's.  The video was rumored to be the most expensive music video made to that point (at £250,000; this was still a year before MTV).  Bowie wanders about in a Pierrot costume with strange color effects and odd characters (including many Blitz Kids).  The video is iconic in Britain, and some critics believe that it accelerated the New Romantic movement that would dominate the British charts for most of the early 1980's.

The song would go on to become a #1 hit in the U.K., but it barely dented the U.S. charts at #101.  Scary Monsters also did better in the U.K. (#1) though it did reach #12 on the U.S. album charts.

Bowie would of course go on to significant commercial success in the 1980's and remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rockwell - Somebody's Watching Me

Welcome to ERV's 5th annual All Hallows Even celebration, and feel free to click on the (appropriately named) All Hallows Even label to the right if you'd like to catch up on our earlier videos.  In short, we try to come up with rare and interesting Halloween videos to celebrate the spooky time of year.

Leading off this year is an artist who had some definite career advantages.  For instance, although being Barry Gordy's son may not ensure that you make in the music business, it sure can't hurt.  Ditto for having Michael Jackson (yes, that Michael Jackson) sing backup on your first single.

To be fair, Rockwell (born as Kennedy William Gordy) used a stage name, and may have even signed to his father's Motown label without the old man knowing.  Rockwell's first single was released in 1984 and is a perfect Halloween video (it has been in the bullpen from our first All Hallows Even post).  One viewing and you'll see (or remember) why.

"Somebody's Watching Me" turned out to be a big hit for Rockwell, reaching #2 on the charts, while his debut LP of the same name hit #15.  However, that was the peak of his success, and after his next two albums failed to break the top 100, Rockwell left the industry.

Cool trivia fact:  Rockwell is not a one hit wonder, as "Obscene Phone Caller" off Somebody's Watching Me reached #35 on the chats.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bananarama (featuring Fun Boy Three) - Really Sayin' Something

This is Bananarama's second appearance on ERV for a cover, as "Venus" was posted on our little blog back in January of 2013.  To be fair, the members of Bananarama also co-wrote much of their material, often with the Stock Aitken Waterman team.

The group initially consisted of Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey, and Keren Woodward -- three friends who sang in unison, instead of using harmonies.  They started the band in 1979 and created the name by combining the TV show The Banana Splits with Roxy Music's "Pajama Rama."

Amazingly, Bananarama got not one but two big breaks to help launch their career.  First, the group happened to live above a rehearsal room used by Steve Jones and Paul Cook (formerly of the Sex Pistols); this led to their first recording contract in 1981.  Later that year, an article in The Face (a U.K. fashion magazine) in support of their first single ("Aie a Mwana") was read by ex-Specials singer Terry Hall.  Hall reached out to Bananarama to work with his new group (Fun Boy Three) on  "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)" which led to a second collaboration on "Really Sayin' Something."

Both Fun Boy Three songs became top 10 hits in the U.K., and launched Bananarama as a major pop act in their native country.  During the 1980's they had 18 top 40 singles in the U.K., though they had only 3 in the U.S. ("Cruel Summer," "Venus," and "I Heard a Rumour").

Siobhan Fahey left Bananarama in 1988 and was replaced by Jacquie O'Sullivan (who left in 1991).  Since then, the group has been a duo, and remains active as of this writing.  Fahey went on to form Shakespears Sister with Marcella Detroit.

"Really Sayin' Something" (with a g) reached #5 on the U.K. charts, but did not break the top 100 in the U.S.  It was off Bananarama's 1983 debut LP, Deep Sea Skydiving, which hit #7 on the U.K. album charts, and #63 in the U.S.

The original version of the song ( "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" with no g at the end) was recorded by Motown group the Velvelettes in December 1964 and became their biggest hit, reaching #64 on the U.S. charts.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance

By mixing old school beats with goofy lyrics, Digital Underground (DU) created a cool and unique sound that led to one big hit, though by all rights they could have been much more successful.  The group was led by Greg Jacobs, who went by Shock G -- though in DU he played a character called Humpty Hump.

Jacobs grew up in Tampa, Florida, but formed Digital Underground after relocating to Oakland, California in 1987.  The group's sound relied heavily on old school samples, especially from Parliament Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone.  (Not coincidentally, both acts were sampled for "The Humpty Dance.")  DU's debut LP, 1990's Sex Packets became a hit, reaching #24 on the charts.  However, this proved to be Digital Underground's biggest success, though the band continued to record and perform through 2008.

Needless to say, "The Humpty Dance" was DU's biggest hit at #11.  The video became a mainstay on MTV for a time in 1989 (the song and video came out prior to the LP).  The crazy lyrics, and Humpty Humps' Groucho Marx glasses and vintage clothes created a visual image completely different from anything else on MTV at the time.  Unfortunately, this momentum proved hard to maintain.

Although Digital Underground soldiered on for years, Jacobs (Shock G) was no one trick pony, as he also has worked as a solo artist and producer.  He remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  None other than Tupac Shakur got his start as a member of Digital Underground, starting in 1991.  In addition, G Shock produced several early Tupac songs.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Digital Underground is not a one hit wonder, as 1991's "Kiss You Back" reached #40 on the charts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Cult - Rain

"Rain" was the second single off The Cult's 1985 Love album (or perhaps the first, as "She Sells Sanctuary" was actually released prior to the LP).  This is another atmospheric rock song that makes one wonder why The Cult weren't even bigger stars.

The group formed in Yorkshire, England in the early 1980's, and started as a goth rock band called Southern Death Cult.  Lineup, name, and style changes followed with the band really taking shape in 1983 or 1984.  Led by the mystical singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy, The Cult crafted a unique hard rock sound with atmospheric and new wave influences.

The video for "Rain" is a cool, slightly freaky clip that alludes to the song's subject matter (in a word: sex).  I don't recall seeing this one back in the day, but it is a strong if somewhat odd effort.  The single did not chart in the U.S., but did pick up a bunch of rock and college radio airplay - similar to "She Sells Sanctuary," which was posted on ERV in August, 2011.  However, the Love album would reach #87 on the charts and go gold.

The Cult would go on to have significant success before breaking up in 1995, though there have been numerous reunions since then.

Cool trivia fact:  The Cult are a no hit wonder in the U.S.; their highest charting single was 1989's Fire Woman (#46).  (They did have #11 top 40 singles in the U.K.)

Cool trivia fact #2:  Prior to joining The Cult, guitarist Billy Duffy played with a pre-Smiths Morrissey in the Nosebleeds.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Daryl Hall & John Oates - How Does It Feel To Be Back

Although they would go on to become the most successful duo of the rock era,  Daryl Hall & John Oates had a choppy career before becoming superstars for most of the first half of the 1980's.

Hall and Oates met in 1967 in Philadelphia, and began working together in 1970.  While their first three albums (for Atlantic) were unsuccessful, 1975's self-titled album (on RCA) made them pop stars.  Between 1975 and 1977, they had three top 10 hits with "Sara Smile," "She's Gone," and "Rich Girl."  This run of success ended with "Rich Girl" and they had no top 10 hits through the end of the 1970's.  In fact, 1979's X-Static was the duo's first non-Gold record on RCA.

Needless to say, this made 1980's Voices album a really important record for the group, and they opted to go with the John Oates track "How Does It Feel To Be Back" as the lead single.   Had the duo not gone on to become hugely successful, this would have become a forgotten track.  Perhaps it still is.  The strong pop song doesn't even really sound like a typical Hall & Oates single, mostly due to Oates' voice (Hall sang most of the big hits of the 1980's).

"How Does It Feel To Be Back" did not become the big hit the the band had hoped for -- it stalled at #30.  However, the next single, a cover of the 1964 Righteous Brothers hit, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" became a surprise success at #12, and "Kiss on My List" became the duo's second #1 hit (after "Rich Girl").  The rest of the story is history, as they say.

Monday, September 7, 2015

They Might Be Giants - Ana Ng

They Might Be Giants (TMBG; named after the 1971 movie) was an odd yet interesting band that started showing up on MTV (mostly on the 120 Minutes program) in the late 1980's.  The group consisted of two Johns (Flansburgh and Linnell) who met as teenagers in Lincoln, Massachusetts and eventually moved to Brooklyn, New York to pursue a career in music.

Not surprisingly, the music industry had absolutely no idea what to make of the band, so TMBG promoted themselves through Dial-A-Song.  The group posted ads in local newspapers (such as The Village Voice) with a phone number, which led to an answering machine with a taped song.  The band maintained the service even after they were signed; some listeners estimate that more than 500 songs were recorded over the years.

Helped by Dial-A-Song, TMBG generated enough interest to be signed in 1985 and their self-titled debut LP came out the following year.  The album even picked up some college radio airplay.  1988's Lincoln actually charted (#89) and "Ana Ng" picked up some mainstream radio airplay as well.

Of course, the band's big break came in 1990 with the Flood album ( "Birdhouse in Your Soul" and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" may both be familiar to readers.  TMBG's period of major success was relatively brief, but they maintained a loyal following, and expanded their audience in the mid-2000's with a series of children's albums.  The band remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  At their first concert, They Might Be Giants used the name, El Grupo de Rock and Roll.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Jam - Town Called Malice

The Jam were a popular, influential, and interesting band in Britain, but couldn't get arrested in America.  Between 1977 and 1982, the group had 18 top 40 U.K. singles and 6 top 25 LPs without any real success in the U.S.

The band formed in Woking (England) in the early 1970's, and burst onto the scene in 1977.  While their early work fit into the punk scene, they had a stronger melodic sense and more obvious 1960's soul influences than many of their contemporaries.  Over time, this soul sound became more pronounced, though they remained popular throughout this transition.

At peak of their popularity, singer/guitarist/songwriter Paul Weller decided to disband The Jam in order to form a full-on soul band, which led to the creation The Style Council in 1983.  When The Style Council's popularity faded, Weller ended that group in 1989 and has remained a solo artist to the present day.

"Town Called Malice" was off The Jam's last studio LP, 1982's The Gift.  The title was inspired by Nevil Shute's 1950 novel A Town Like Alice, though the content was not.  The contrast between an upbeat melody and more downbeat lyrics (reflecting the mood in Britain at the time) made the song a huge hit; it reached #1 on the British charts.

The video is all 1982 goodness, and shows the cool, mod-revival style that led to Weller's nickname "The Modfather."  We're particularly partial to the soft ultra-white lighting.

Cool trivia fact:  Not only did every Jam single break the top 40 in the U.K., but two import singles also charted (1981's "That's Entertainment" at #21 and 1982's "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?" at #8).