Thursday, August 14, 2014

Owen Paul - My Favourite Waste of Time

Rare video (especially in the U.S.) - check
Cover of a song by a great, underrated songwriter - check
Solid pop song with a great hook - check

And with that, let's check out Owen Paul's cover of "My Favourite Waste of Time."  Paul ended up as a U.K. one hit wonder; while this song went to #3 on the charts, he did not have another charting single.  Sadly, both Paul and this song are mostly unknown outside of the U.K.

Owen Paul (born Owen Paul McGee in Glasgow, Scotland) reportedly decided to go into the music business after hearing the Sex Pistols.  How that path led him to well-crafted power pop is anybody's guess.  At any rate, he released several singles after "My Favourite Waste of Time," none of which charted and eventually became a producer in the later part of the decade.  In 1989, he produced the Taboo album for the Japanese rock group Buck-Tick.  During the marketing efforts for the album, he got into a dispute with the record label, and left the industry for 15 years.

Since 2002, Paul has returned to recording and performing, mostly in the U.K. and Europe.


As was alluded to above, "My Favourite Waste of Time" is a cover of a Marshall Crenshaw song.  Crenshaw is a seriously underrated songwriter who should have become more successful in my opinion.  This song was a demo recording that was used as the B side of Crenshaw's one hit, 1982's "Someday Someway."

In recent years, "My Favourite Waste of Time" has been covered by Freedy Johnston, Bette Midler, and Ronnie Spector.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Billy Squire - Rock Me Tonight

Eighties Rare Videos is filled with rare and semi-rare videos of great bands that never quite made it.  But we also like a great story, and the tale of how Billy Squier supposedly ruined his career with a terrible video is just too good for us to pass up.

Billy Squier, the pride of Wellesley, Massachusetts, had a long road to rock stardom.  He began performing in bands in 1969, and finally signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist in 1980.  His breakthrough came on his second LP, 1981's Don't Say No, which went triple platinum and peaked at #5 on the U.S. album charts.

By 1984, Squier was a well-established rock star, with two top 5 LPs and 3 top 40 hits ... which makes the "Rock Me Tonight" video all the more inexplicable.  To be honest, I just thought of it as a terrible music video, but in recent years, it has become legendary in scope (and has been requested more than once by our readers).  The story really took after after it was featured in the 2011 Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks book, I Want My MTV.  During their research for the book, they found that the video was generally viewed as the worst major video ever made, and that it essentially ruined Billy Squier's career.  In fact, they devote an entire chapter of their book to "Rock Me Tonight."

In reality, the video was not played much on MTV, as the station realized what Squier's management and label didn't (namely, that is was effeminate and suckie).  Ironically, the song ended up being the highest charting single of Squier's career at #15, and the album also did well at #11.  While Squire had 4 more charting singles and two top 75 albums in the 1980's, his period of major commercial success was over.  In my view, the video didn't help but probably was not the major cause for Squier's fall in popularity (in general, rock stars have a limited shelf life).

However, "Rock Me Tonight" is a genuinely terrible (and unintentionally hilarious) video:


Billy Squire continued recording albums through the mid-1990's and remains occasionally active as a performer as of this writing.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jesse Johnson - I Want My Girl

Best-known as the guitarist for Morris Day and the Time, Johnson signed a solo deal with A&M Records when the group broke up in 1984.  His first album, Jesse Johnson's Revue came out the following year, and  reached #43 on the album charts.

Johnson's material was typical of the Minneapolis pop/funk sound of the day; a less charitable author might call it Prince light.  Still, it is very listenable music, though it does not break any new ground.

For the blog, we went with "I Want My Girl," a slow jam classic.  The song only reached #76 on the pop charts, but did top out at #7 on the R&B charts.  Johnson released two more charting albums in the 1980's, and had 4 top 100 singles led by 1986's "Crazay," with Sly Stone, which hit #53.

As his solo career faded , Johnson became involved in movie soundtracks and album production -- his credits include records by Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.  Although Johnson has taken several hiatuses (is that a word) from the music industry, he appears to be active as of this writing.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Siouxsie and the Banshees - Peek-A-Boo

"Peek-A-Boo" was Siouxsie and the Banshees first charting U.S. single, although it was the band's 15th top 40 song in their native Britain.  Led by their dramatic frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Ballion), the band came out of the Bromley Contingent -- a group of hardcore Sex Pistol fans.  However, instead of becoming a straight up punk band, Siouxsie and the Banshees found their own sound, which fused punk with art house and postmodern elements.

The band's unique sound and appearance quickly found an audience in the U.K.  In fact, "Peek-A-Boo" was off the group's ninth studio album (Peepshow); all of the previous eight LPs broke the top 15 on the U.K. album charts.

The song also showed Siouxsie and the Banshees' continued sonic experimentation.  The idea for "Peek-A-Boo" began during the band's previous album, when they began writing a song based on playing John Cale's "Gun" backwards.  A year later, the song, with its layered instruments and cutting lyrics was ready, and became the lead single off Peepshow.

Ironically, the success of "Peek-A-Boo" came back to haunt the band, as the song was found to infringe on the 1938 standard "Jeepers Creepers." In response, Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer (who wrote "Jeepers Creepers" ) would go on to receive songwriting credit for "Peek-A-Boo."

Siouxsie and the Banshees would remain together until 1996, although the members (including Siouxsie Sioux) remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Siouxsie and the Banshees is an official one hit wonder, as only 1991's "Kiss Them for Me" (#23) broke the top 40 in the U.S.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Duran Duran - Girls on Film

Duran Duran were one of the first acts to truly embrace the emerging music video revolution, and their proficiency with the media helped them become superstars by the early 1980's.

The band formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, and fashioned themselves as a post-punk art band whose influences included Roxy Music and David Bowie.  The group was named after a character from the 1968 Jane Fonda film, Barbarella.  Signed to EMI, Duran Duran's self-titled debut LP was released in 1981, and they found immediate success in the U.K. (and a bit in U.S. clubs).

It was around this time that the "Girls on Film" video benefitted from almost unbelievable good luck.  Directed by future video superstars Godley and Creme, the original video was designed for late night TV shows and dance clubs, and featured a fair amount of nudity.  It was subsequently banned by the BBC, which generated a ton of publicity for the band.  An edited version of the video found its way to MTV and received some airplay, although neither the song nor the album really broke through on their initial release.

However, the success of the video seemed to solidify the band's visual focus, and led to the tremendous success of future Duran Duran albums and videos, starting with 1982's Rio.  A 1983 reissued version of the debut LP broke the top 10 in the U.S in 1983, one of 3 top 10 LPs that the band had between 1982 and 1983.

As many readers will know, Duran Duran has never officially broken up, although they have had several extended periods of inactivity and a few lineup changes through the years.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Loudness - Crazy Nights

Loudness (ラウドネス) are likely to be the only Japanese group to appear on ERV, and are one of a handful of Japanese acts that had the potential to make an impact on the U.S. charts.  The group got its start in 1981 and quickly established themselves as the premier heavy metal band in Japan.

By 1984, Loudness had released four albums, and had a following in their home market.  To my ear, their early work sounds similar to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and I think that it holds up reasonably well.  Their growing success caught the attention of the Twisted Sister management team and led to an international recording contract with Atco Records in 1985.

The act's first American record was 1985's Thunder in the East.  The album was recorded in the U.S., with English lyrics and some significant style changes, designed to appeal to the American market -- essentially, they went with a more pop metal sound, similar to Mötley Crüe, instead of sticking with their earlier, heavier music.

The results were ok, but not great.  Thunder in the East did hit #74 on the U.S. album charts, led by "Crazy Nights," which did not chart.  However, it was not the big breakout that the label had hoped for, and several subsequent records did not fare any better.  Atco dropped the band in 1991, and Loudness refocused on the Japanese market.  Though there have been several lineup changes, the band remains active to the present day.continues to record and tour to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  The "M - Z - A" chant in the chorus has no particular meaning -- it was used as a placeholder during the initial recording, and the band could not come up with anything better, so they keep it in the final version.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jon Astley - Jane's Getting Serious

We frequently discuss one hit wonders at ERV, but it is easy to forget just how hard it is for an artist to have even one song break the top 40.  This was especially true in the 1980's, given the amount and diversity of music.  In any event, this is a roundabout way of pointing out that Jon Astley did not have any top 40 hits, although he did write and record the very catchy song below.

Jon Astley (no relation to Rick) began his career as a producer, and was particularly well-known for his work with The Who (he was, for a time, Pete Townshend's brother-in-law).  Later, Astley built a second career as an expert in re-mastering material for the conversion to CDs.

In between these pursuits, Astley also released two solo albums and managed to have two charting singles (the other one was 1988's "Put This Love to the Test" and no, I don't remember it either).  "Jane's Getting Serious" is a catchy pop song, with a choppy percussion-driven sound.  The song peaked at #77, while the album Everyone Loves the Pilot (Except the Crew) reached #135.

By the by, "Jane" was also used in a series of Heinz Ketchup Commercials, including one featuring an early role for future Friend Matt LeBlanc, so you may have heard the song there.

The video seems to take place on a deserted island and is highlighted by three dancing gorillas.  Perhaps the chaps from Haircut 100 are singing on the same island, who knows?  At any rate, it is a solid video of a mostly forgotten pop gem.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chris Isaak - Don't Make Me Dream About You

Although Chris Isaak has only landed one top 40 single ("Wicked Game"), he has built a solid career on an updated Roy Orbison-influenced sound.  This is no small feat, as rockabilly artists in general haven't exactly been burning up the charts over the past few decades.

Isaak released his first album in 1985, but his breakthrough came on his third album, 1989's Heart Shaped World.  That album peaked at #7 on the charts and went triple platinum, led by the previously mentioned "Wicked Game."  Interestingly, that song was not an immediate hit, but gained momentum following its inclusion in David Lynch's 1990 movie, Wild At Heart.  Additionally, the heavily played video (featuring a topless Helena Christensen) probably didn't hurt.

After Heart Shaped World, Isaak saw his mainstream success fade, but has retained a loyal following.  He continues to perform and record (and dabble in acting) to the present day.

For the blog, we skipped the overplayed "Wicked Game" and opted for the less well known "Don't Make Me Dream About You."  The black and white video is stylistically similar to "Wicked Game" and seems well suited for Isaak's music.  The song is a bit more uptempo and is, I believe, a good representation of the Isaak rockabilly sound.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tony Carey - I Won't Be Home Tonight

"I Won't Be Home Tonight" is a great example of one of those wonderful videos that often showed up on MTV in the Early Years.  (Actually, I don't recall seeing the video on MTV, but I do remember the song.)  The vid features women, cars, a jeep, and even has a shot of Tower Records (ahh, record stores ...)  It is not totally clear if the video has a plot, however, and the fact that the clip appears to have been shot on a shoestring budget only adds to its charm.

The song is by Tony Carey, and is off his 1982 album of the same name.  Carey got his big break when he was invited to play keyboards in Rainbow, and later he tried to jump start a solo career.  I was surprised to learn that the single actually charted, reaching  #79 on the charts -- it turns out that Carey had four charting singles in 1983 and 1984, including two top 40 hits ("The First Day of Summer" and "A Fine Fine Day").    Savvy readers may also recall that he co-founded Planet P Project as an outlet for his more unusual work; the video for "Why Me?" was featured on ERV in August 2012.

Carey's fortunes waned in the mid-1980's, although he remains active in the industry to the present day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Timex Social Club - Rumors

Originally called the Timex Crew, Timex Social Club switched names after a lineup change and ended up as a classic one hit wonder.  The group originally formed at Berkeley High School (in Berkeley, California) in 1982. Timex Social Club's sound combined elements of R&B, jazz, hip hop and dance into something that would come to be know as new jack swing in the early 1990's, and if things had broken slightly differently for the group, they could have been major players in that scene.  However, squabbles and lineup changes prevented this from happening.

The group only released one major label LP, 1986's Vicious Rumors, which hit #29 on the R&B albums chart but did not break onto the main albums chart.  However, the single "Rumors" became a hit, reaching #8 on the singles chart.  While the follow up singles ( "Thinkin' About Ya" and "Mixed-Up World") both broke the top 20 on the R&B charts, they did not enjoy crossover success and the group broke up.

Producer Jay King, who had a major influence on the group's sound would go on to form Club Nouveau (literally:  New Club) and would land 2 more top 40 hits, including the 1987 cover of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" which would go to #1.

Timex Social Club has re-formed in recent years and continues to perform as of this writing.