Friday, September 30, 2011

Henry Lee Summer - I Wish I Had a Girl

Indiana born Henry Lee Summer (born Henry Lee Swartz) was not an overnight success story.  Self-taught on guitar, piano and drums, he was a working musician from the late 1970's on, and released a few demo singles, and even two full albums before being signed by Epic records in 1988.  Summer then had a brief period of real success, with 5 songs that charted between 1988 - 91, including 2 top 40 hits.

"I Wish I Had a Girl" was his first hit, and rose to #20 on the Billboard charts (and #1 on the Mainstream Rock Charts).  The song was actually written and recorded in 1985, but was re-recorded for his major label debut.

As for the video ... well, it is chock full of mullety (is that a word?), acid wash late 1980's goodness.  Henry Lee seems to be harassing every young woman who walks down the street.  My favorite is the bicycle singing harassment, which cannot be an easy thing to do.

As his success waned, Summer wrote songs for a few soundtracks (Sniper and Striking Distance) before fading from view.  He was back in the news a few times between 2005 - 10 for drug-related issues, but seems to have cleaned up as of this writing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Monroes - What Do All the People Know

Another band that had a terrible time with the business end of the music business was The Monroes.  The band was founded in San Diego in the early 1980s, and signed to Alfa, a small Japanese label.  The first single off their self-titled EP was the catchy new wave/pop song, "What Do All the People Know."

In 1982, the song moved up the charts, eventually peaking at #59.  The band had a hit single, was touring and working to promote it with an album surely to follow when ... Alfa exited the U.S. market.  The loss of their label was catastrophic for the band, as it meant no support for the EP and no money for an album.  Although The Monroes soldiered on for a few years, they did not get another break, and ended up as an unfortunate one hit wonder.

Cool follow up:  This clip is from The Monroes appearance on the Merv Griffin Show in 1982.  I heard from Tony Ortiz (the lead singer of the band), who informed me that the earlier video is not The Monroes at all (go figure -- something not accurate on the internet!)  I believe that the band had problems producing a video for the song, what with the record label shutting down and all.  Anyhow, Tony asked me to put up a real clip of the band (and when Tony Monroe asks you to do something, you do it!)

So this one goes out to Tony, with my thanks for the great song.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Haircut One Hundred - Love Plus One

Haircut One Hundred.  Just the name brings me back to early 1982 MTV, when the station was new and fresh and they played a bunch of cool, slightly off-the-beaten-trail bands.

Technically a one-hit wonder (their first single, "Favourite Shirts (Boy Meets Girl)" did not chart in spite of heavy airplay on the aforementioned channel), the band nevertheless emerged as one of the biggest pop/new wave stars of 1982.  This was during the "nonthreatening English pop/new wave era" that included ABC, A Flock of Seagulls, Thomas Dolby, and Thompson Twins, among many others.

Interestingly, Haircut's first album, 1982's Pelican West did not chart in the U.S., but peaked at #2 in the U.K. (where it went platinum).  However, "Love Plus One" managed to break into the American top 40 at #37.  Ultra light and breezy, the singles (and videos) are still remarkably catchy, in a "Walking on Sunshine" kind of way.

With their new found success, the band fell apart almost immediately, as Nick Heyward (the songwriter, singer and guitarist for Haircut One Hundred) left to start a solo career.  While he did have a few minor hits in the U.K., he was basically never heard from again on this side of the Atlantic, and Haircut One Hundred slowly faded away ... until now.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Prince - Controversy

I know, I know.  Prince on a rare 80's video blog?  I mean the dude dominated the 1980's (along with Madonna and Michael Jackson).  But wait; hear me out.

While Prince did indeed become a massive star, starting with 1982's 1999, he was no overnight success.  In fact, 1999 was his fifth studio album; two of which were released in the late 1970's!!  And as would be expected from a prolific, slightly insane musician who later became an unpronounceable symbol, there is some really good stuff on his early albums that did not receive the airplay that it deserved.  Although it took me a while to warm up to Prince, I have to say that he produced one of the broadest and most interesting bodies of work of any artist of the past few decades.  In particular, his ability to fuse rock, pop, R&B and funk was unparalleled.

"Controversy," the title cut from his 1981 album is a great case in point.  This is the album that immediately preceded 1999, and it shows an artist at the top of his game.  The song itself is a catchy new wave funk song that was ahead of its time.  One interesting point:  the video is the edited single version of the song.  The album version is almost twice as long, and contains the Lord's Prayer (in full), which went over with religious conservatives about as well as you would think.  To be fair, Prince and his band also went over with religious conservatives ... well, you get the idea.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your audio and video pleasure ... His Purpleness.

Note that Prince's "Dirty Mind" was also featured on ERV, in March 2012, and "Uptown" was posted on ERV in January, 2015.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

R.E.M. - Radio Free Europe

Yesterday (September 21, 2011), R.E.M. decided to call it quits as a band.  Although the band had some great successes in the 1990's, I think of them as the prototypical 1980's college rock band.  In fact, they were hugely influential in defining the category.  With their final act now written, it seemed like a good time to put them on the blog.

Loved by critics, it took the band a while to find its audience.  Though the first four albums all went gold, none broke the top 20, and it took until 1987's Document for R.E.M. to have a platinum album.  Similarly, while their videos were shown on MTV, their sound was too alternative, and the videos too strange to go into heavy rotation for most of the 80s.

I chose their first single, "Radio Free Europe" as their representative here.  Originally recorded in 1981, the video uses the 1983 I.R.S. version of the song.  Many critics, including your humble author, prefer the original version, which is faster, less polished, and just sounds more R.E.M.-ish.  In fact, on their 1988 compilation album, Eponymous, they went back to the original version, with the comment, "Mike [Mills, bass player] and Jefferson [Holt, the band's manager] think this one crushes the other one like a grape."

While Michael Stipe's lyrics can be challenging to understand under the best of circumstances, he intentionally garbled "Radio Free Europe," going more for a cool sound that any meaning.  In a later interview, Stipe confirmed that the lyrics are "complete babbling."

Godspeed, gentlemen, and thanks for the great music.

Also note that "Fall on Me" was posted on ERV in September 2014.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

XTC - Senses Working Overtime

XTC might just be the poster child for the under-appreciated band.  In fact, one music critic went so far as to call them "the great lost pop band."  The reason in simple: they wrote a bunch of great pop songs, flirted with success several times, but never quite made it.

"Senses Working Overtime" comes from their fifth studio album, 1982's English Settlement.  Both the song and album broke into the top 10 in the UK, and it looked like a breakout album, until ... singer and guitarist Andy Partridge developed severe stagefright.  This prevented the band from performing live (to this day, in fact), and undoubtedly hurt their ability to reach an audience.  (The moral of the story is this:  do not let your wife throw out all of the perscription valium that you are dependent on right before you are supposed to go on stage.)

In spite of this, the band continued to record great music.  In addition to "Dear God" and "The Mayor of Simpleton" (posted on ERV) I would recommend "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" and "King for a Day."  All are available on YouTube, for folks who are so inclined.  In fact, they just might make another appearance on this blog at some future time (as Chuck Berry says ... you never can tell).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Nine Inch Nails - Head Like a Hole

Nine Inch Nails blasted onto the music scene in 1989 with Pretty Hate Machine, their debut album.  Complex, diverse and dark, the band sounded unlike anything else at the time.  While their music reflected clear industrial influences (particularly Ministry), the focus on melodic, complex sounds (and lyrics) was truly refreshing.

For those who don't know, Nine Inch Nails (NIN) is Trent Reznor; while he uses a backup band to tour, he alone is responsible for the music.  "Head Like a Hole" is a great early example of the band's sound,  with multiple melodies, a driving beat, and a dark, rocking chorus.

The video is also classic NIN, with rapid cut black and white images interspersed with the band.  Definite art house movie feel, and more than a little bit strange.  Again, seriously ahead of its time.

"Head Like a Hole" was the first NIN song to chart, but it did not break the top 100 (it peaked at #109).  The Pretty Hate Machine album did better, peaking at 75.  NIN would go on to have tremendous success in the early to mid 1990's, and their next 5 albums would break the top 10.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Neal Schon and Jan Hammer - No More Lies

What do you get when you combine the guitarist from Journey with the guy who wrote the theme to Miami Vice?  Well, the resulting music is actually not half bad.  Although not groundbreaking, "No More Lies" is a decent rock song, and a pretty rare video to boot.

Amazingly, this song is from Schon & Hammer's second album, 1982's poorly named Here to Stay.  The duo also released Untold Passion in 1981.  At the time, Neal Schon was starting to feel stifled by Journey, and Jan Hammer was a well-regarded fusion and jazz keyboardist.  As Schon got his start in Santana, the combination makes more sense that you would first think.

As for Schon and Hammer ... well, Neal Schon remained with Journey until the 1987 breakup, and then co-founded Bad English.  Jan Hammer had a huge breakout with Miami Vice and went on to have a successful career scoring TV and movie soundtracks.

Aldo Nova - Fantasy

Another wonderfully ridiculous video featuring supernatural guitars (see Breaking the Law for an earlier example).  Set in the future (or at least a 1981 version of the future), Aldo Nova portrays a mystical guitar player with bodyguards, and the geekiest guitar tech known to man.  Nova uses his guitar laser to break into a warehouse in order to  ... play guitar with his band?

In fact, Aldo Nova's 1981 self-titled debut was moderately successful.  The album quickly went gold (it has since gone on to be certified double platinum!!) and peaked at #8 on the album charts.  The single, "Fantasy," no doubt helped by the video, hit #23 on the singles chart.  However, Nova's subsequent work did not do very well, and while he has remained in the business, it is not pretty.  He has written songs for Jon Bon Jovi, Faith Hill, Clay Aiken and ... Celine Dion (man, say it ain't so Aldo).

Cool trivia fact:  Aldo Nova played George Harrison in Beatlemania.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Del Fuegos - Don't Run Wild

In 1985, the Del Fuegos looked like a good bet to be The Next Big Thing.  Their second album, Boston, Mass was released to critical acclaim, and the first single and video, "Don't Run Wild" were gathering momentum.  They even had a big rock star supporter in Tom Petty (who would go on to work with them on their next album, 1987's Stand Up).

Unfortunately, sales of Boston, Mass (the album, not the city) stalled out in early 1986.  The album peaked at #134, and while "Don't Run Wild" and the follow up, "I Still Want You" received a fair amount of radio airplay, neither single broke the top 40.

The commercial disappointment of the album was exacerbated when the band made an ill-advised, highly visible commercial for Miller Beer.  I think this really hurt their credibility, especially among core roots rock fans, who considered it selling out.  It did not help that for many folks, the commercial was their first exposure to the band.

The sad part is that the band made some really great music and they could have been much more successful with a lucky break or two.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet

Although they were major stars in their native Australia, Hoodoo Gurus were seen as more of an indy or college band by American audiences.  That is not totally unfair, as their music has a college radio vibe, and is eclectic enough to be hard to categorize.

"Bittersweet" is a great, atmospheric song about a failed love affair, from the Gurus awesomely named 1985 album, Mars Needs Guitars.  The album barely broke the top 200 in the U.S., but was the second of four consecutive Gurus albums to top the U.S. college charts.  The video received some airplay on MTV, but it did not go into heavy rotation.  (To be fair to MTV, I do not think the video is as strong as the song.)

By the way, is it me, or is the intro strongly reminiscent of the intro to Robert Plant's 1983 hit "In the Mood?"

Monday, September 5, 2011

Romeo Void - Never Say Never

Romeo Void was one of the more unlikely bands to have a hit song, and they actually had two, as 1984's "A Girl in Trouble (Is a Temporary Thing)" rose to #35 on the charts.

Their first hit, "Never Say Never," was actually released twice -- first on the 1982 Never Say Never EP and then on the Benefactor album of the same year.  It does not appear to have been released as a single, but the video was placed into heavy rotation on MTV, and was even used in some early promos for the station, if memory serves.

As for the band, Romeo Void was formed at San Francisco Art Institute in 1979.  While they had obvious punk and new wave influences, there is also an art rock feel to many of their songs.  Lead singer Deborah Iyall (Cowlitz Native American, if you were wondering about the last name) penned unusually poetic and dark lyrics that did not follow typical (simple) rock song structure.

The video reflects the artistic and dark punk vibe of the band.  Shot in black and white, it has a film noir-ish intro that is captivating, even if it is hard to tell what it has to do with the band or the song.  It is easy to see why the folks at MTV liked it, however -- it looked like nothing else on the station at the time.

Queen - Hammer to Fall

The first video for today is Queen's "Hammer to Fall," and is posted on what would have been Freddy Mercury's 65th birthday.  (Special shout out to Google Doodles and my friend Liz for pointing this out to me.)

I will point out that it was not easy finding a suitable 80's video for Queen -- most of their best work was recorded in the 1970's.  And much of their work in the 1980's was ... well, not great.

"Hammer to Fall" was the final single released from Queen's 1984 album, The Works.  The song did not chart in the U.S., and the video received limited airplay on MTV.  It some ways, the song is a throwback for Queen -- it reminds me of their earlier work, with a strong guitar riff, and of course, the wonderful overdubbed vocals.  For readers who have not explored Queen, they recorded some truly great songs.  Aside from "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Will Rock You," I particularly recommend "Tie Your Mother Down," "You're My Best Friend," "Fat Bottomed Girls," and "Don't Stop Me Now."

But I digress.  The video for "Hammer to Fall" was shot on The Works tour in Brussels and features Freddy Mercury in his typical understated outfit (yes, I am kidding).

Cool trivia fact:  Queen's guitarist, Brian May, does not use a pick to play guitar -- he uses a sixpence coin.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ric Ocasek - Something to Grab For

By the early 1980's, The Cars had become one of the most successful rock bands in the world, due to Ric Ocasek's ability to write songs that seamlessly blended new wave and rock elements.  However, in spite of their success, or more likely, because of it, Ocasek began to feel stifled.  He decided to release a solo album as a way to experiment with songwriting, while maintaining The Cars as the more commercial vehicle.

His first solo album, 1982's Beatitude, was an interesting and inconsistent album that produced the minor hit "Something to Grab For."  This mostly forgotten song hit #47 on the Billboard charts in 1983, helped out by heavy airplay on MTV.

Cool trivia fact:  the woman in the video is 1983 Playmate of the Year Marianne Gravatte.

Ocasek's only top 40 solo single "Emotion in Motion" was posted on ERV in June 2015.