Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Iron Maiden - The Number of the Beast

What is more Halloweeny (yes, I just made up that word) than some good old-fashioned metal?  How about some metal with horror clips and a demonic-sounding title?

Iron Maiden's 1982 album, The Number of the Beast, is on a short list of the greatest heavy metals albums ever.  Dark, loud and surprisingly melodic, it is the prototypical Iron Maiden record, and the first one with lead singer Bruce "Air Raid Siren" Dickinson.  The album also proved to be a tremendous commercial success, and has sold some 14 million units worldwide.  It reached #33 on the US charts, but hit #1 in the UK, where both "The Number of the Beast" and "Run to the Hills" broke the top 20 on the singles chart!

While religious conservatives were concerned with the "satanic message," the title song from the album was actually inspired by bass player Steve Harris' nightmare after watching Damien: Omen II.  To be fair, though, the band did play up the supernatural angle in interviews, which (of course) seemed to help sales.

Cool trivia fact:  the band originally wanted Vincent Price to read the intro (foreshadowing "Thriller") but he proved to be too expensive for their budget.  As a result, an actor named Barry Clayton was hired to do it.

Iron Maiden's underrated 1983 song, "Flight of Icarus" was posted on ERV in March, 2015.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Huey Lewis and the News - Heart and Soul

The second of my "songs that remind me of Halloween in a subtle, non-"Thriller" sort of way."  "Heart and Soul" was Huey Lewis and the News' big breakout; it reached #8 on the charts and launched their career.  It was the first single from 1983's Sports, which became a #1 album, and the second biggest album of 1984, only trailing a little album that you might have heard of called Thriller.

The video is basically Huey and the band at a cool Halloween party in San Francisco, in 1983.  I'm not really sure what the video has to do with the song, but hey, MTV liked it and put it in heavy rotation, and the rest is history.  Cool trivia fact:  the actress in the video is Signy Coleman, who would go on to become a regular on The Young and the Restless, and is also the lead in the "I Want a New Drug" video.

Now for some extra coolness -- this song is a cover.  This will relaunch the "songs that you didn't know were covers" section of the blog -- note that the second post ever (Pat Benatar's "You Better Run") also fits in that category.  Expect some more in due course.  At any rate, the original version was done by Exile (of "Kiss You All Over" fame) in 1981, and it actually charted (#102).  For those who are interested, a link to the song is below:

Note that "Workin' For A Livin'," "Some of My Lies Are True" and "Doing It All For My Baby" have also been posted to ERV.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The English Beat - Save It For Later

The first of three songs in honor of the upcoming All Hallow's Even.  However, I did not want to be lazy about the holiday and go with "Thriller" and the like; instead I have chosen songs that have a Halloween vibe (to me, at least).

The English Beat (The Beat to all non-Americans) were a 2 Tone ska/pop band founded in England in the late 1970's.  The group's sound evolved over time and by 1982's Special Beat Service, it was clear that they were venturing away from their ska roots and into something different ... more like a ska influenced new wave pop sound.

Although it was actually an old song (written before the band formed, in fact), "Save it for Later" fit in quite nicely with this post-ska aesthetic.  It is a wonderfully odd sounding song, driven by an unusual open D guitar tuning (DADAAD, if you must ask).  Lyrically, it is about a teen's transition into a twenty-something, with a dirty joke thrown it, to boot ("for later" ... fe'llator ...)

But it is the video that places the song here, in late October.  The strangle club, the skeletons, the unusual clientele -- it all reminds me of a Halloween party (a really cool one, in England circa 1982).

Sadly, The English Beat broke up soon after Special Beat Services was released, but returned (in a way) as former members became General Public and Fine Young Cannibals.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Plimsouls - A Million Miles Away

Formed in 1978 by singer/songwriter/guitarist Peter Case, the LA-based Plimsouls had developed a strong local following by the early 1980's.  Their sound was a striking blend of new wave and pop, with some punk influences thrown in, and had caught the attention of folks at KROQ (the big LA rock station).

The Plimsoul's big break came when their song "A Million Miles Away" was used in the movie Valley Girl.  In fact, the band actually performs in a scene in the movie.  Surprisingly, Valley Girl became a modest hit, and interest in the band soared.  This coincided with the recording of their second album, 1983's Everywhere at Once, which should have been great, but ... the recording sessions went quite badly, and Case broke The Plimsouls up in order to go solo.  Although Case has generated some amount of critical acclaim through the years, he never quite found his audience, leaving him (and The Plimsouls) as a one hit wonder.

Cool trivia fact:  Peter Case's previous band, The Nerves, wrote and recorded the original version of "Hanging on the Telephone" in 1976, which was covered by Blondie (and became a hit for them in 1978).

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michael Stanley Band - He Can't Love You

The Cleveland-based Michael Stanley Band is yet another group that made some great music, but never quite broke out at the national level.  They did, however, achieve no small measure of success in the Midwest during the 1970's and early 80's, due to their solid, if somewhat mainstream rock sound.

Ironically, 1980 found the band at an ebb in their career, as their label (Arista) dropped them.  With no other label showing any interest in them, the MSB recorded their own album, 1980's Heartland, without any outside interference.  Eventually, EMI heard the record, and signed the band to a four record contract.

"He Can't Love You" was the first single off Heartland and broke the top 40 (peaking at #33).  The band was no doubt helped by MTV, which played the song on their first day (the 45th video ever played on the fledgling channel).  Unfortunately, success proved elusive for the band, and they finally called it quits in 1986, after a series of farewell concerts in Ohio.

Cool trivia fact:  The Big Man, Clarence Clemons, played the sax on the studio recording (sadly, he does not appear in the video).

Note that the MSB's last top 40 single, "My Town," was posted on ERV in November 2014.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Helix - Deep Cuts the Knife

The poor man's Honeymoon Suite (or is it the other way around), Helix showed up on the music scene in the early 1980's, and had a few minor hits here and there during the decade.  This hard-working Canadian band was formed in 1974, but it took years to secure a coveted record contract.  And although their period of modest commercial success was all too brief (roughly 1983-87), the band has continued to work, more or less continuously, to this day.

"Deep Cuts the Knife" was the lead single off their 1985 album, Long Way to Heaven, and peaked at #20 on the Mainstream Rock charts, while the album did not break the Billboard top 100.  The song is a surprisingly strong rock ballad that was combined with a polished video, but somehow it did not really connect with its intended audience.  Given the popularity of hard rock during this time, it is surprising that Helix did not enjoy more success, but such are the whims of fate.

Cool trivia fact:  Helix opened the tour to support this album in Sweden, where they were the first Canadian band to extensively tour the country.

Helix's "Heavy Metal Love" was posted on ERV in January, 2016.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Daryl Hall - Dreamtime

Hard to believe that there is a video on here for a song that hit #5 on the Billboard charts, and from an artist who has written or co-written 11 (!) Billboard #1s, but there you have it.  "Dreamtime" is a very solid pop/rock song from half of Hall & Oats (Hall is the blonde guy who sang, if you have to ask).  And yes, I think it has been somewhat forgotten in the sands of time.

The song was the first single from Daryl Hall's 1986 solo album, Three Hearts in the Happy Ending Machine.  Unlike Hall & Oats, there is no poppy, blue-eyes soul to be found; if anything, the song has a slightly psychedelic new wave vibe, not unlike Prince's "Raspberry Beret," which came out the previous year.

The video, although slightly pretentious, does compliment the song quite well, with lots of swirling graphics, weird sets, and seemingly random scene fades.  Ok, maybe there is just a bit too much Daryl Hall in the video, but it is his (second) solo album, you can't really blame the guy too much for that.

Cool trivia fact; Dave Stewart (of Eurythmics) plays guitar on the song.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Martin Briley - The Salt in My Tears

Just a perfect video for ERV -- a rare video of a rare, good song.  From Briley's second solo album, 1983's One Night With a Stranger.  "The Salt in My Tears" is also Briley's only charting single (it hit #36 on Billboard in the summer of 1983), making him an official one hit wonder.

Although relatively simple, the video is fun and does seem to reflect the song reasonably well.  While Briley's solo career was somewhat brief (1981 - 1985) he found success as a studio and touring musician  and songwriter.  Briley worked with Ian Hunter, Céline Dion and Julian Lennon, and wrote songs that were recorded by Céline Dion,  Kenny Loggins, Pat Benatar, Jeff Healey, and Night Ranger among others.

Cool trivia fact:  Briley was recovering from food poisoning at the time of the shoot, explaining why he doesn't really move around much in the video.  However, I have no idea what is up with the hat -- he also wears it on the second video from the album, so maybe is was his idea of a fashion statement.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Briley also contributed a song to the soundtrack of the 1984 classic movie, Body Rock.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Beastie Boys - Shadrach

In the aftermath of License to Ill, many fans and critics thought that the Beastie Boys would turn out to be a one album wonder.  After all, the rock/rap album was the first hip hop LP to hit #1 on the Billboard charts, and it went on to sell 9 million units.  Furthermore, the band had a contentious falling out with Def Jam Records and Rick Rubin, their co-songwriter/producer.

After relocating to California, the Beasties decided to work with the Dust Brothers production team, and released Paul's Boutique in 1989.  Although critically acclaimed, the album landed with a decided thud.  Hip hop fans had never heard anything like it and had no idea what to make of it.  Sales were disappointing, the label stopped promoting it and MTV did not aggressively show the videos.

But gradually, fans saw the genius in the record.  Rarely is a record way ahead of its time, but Paul's Boutique could easily be considered such an album.  It is now widely viewed as one of the greatest hip hop albums ever and one of the strongest albums (of any genre) of the 1980's.

The album is so textured and varied that no one song can really do it justice, but "Shadrach" comes close -- partly because the video seems to capture the vibe of the album.  (Several critics have observed that Paul's Boutique sounds almost painted with samples.)  The song's title comes from a story in the Book of Daniel, but is also used in an old Sly Stone song, "Loose Booty," which is sampled (along with 8 other old funk and rock songs, most of them sampled so cleverly that they are hard to pick up at first.)

"Riddle me this, my brother, can you handle it?"