Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dire Straits - Skateaway

Picking the strongest song from Dire Straits classic album Making Movies is almost like picking your favorite finger.  The LP (justly ranked as the 52nd best album of the 1980's by Rolling Stone) is incredibly solid from start to finish, and well worth a listen for any 1980's music fan.

I eventually settled on "Skateaway," partly for sentimental reasons, as it was the first song that I heard from the album.  Coincidentally, it was the only single from Making Movies to chart in the U.S., reaching #58, while the LP hit #19.  The song is classic Dire Straits, with a great beat, cool lyrics and interesting, artistic guitar work by Mark Knopfler.

The song was inspired by a girl on roller skates in New York City, and the somewhat dated video (featuring "it girl" Jayzik Azikiwe)  does reflect the story line.  I liked that the band is barely present in the video, and when they do appear, it is a humorous, awkward moment.  (I especially liked that the Stratocaster gets better lighting and more air time than the band).

Dire Straits would go on to have tremendous success with the somewhat more commercial-sounding Brothers in Arms, but in my opinion Making Movies was their masterpiece.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Church - Under the Milky Way

A lush, haunting song, "Under the Milky Way" almost did not make it on to The Church's 1988 album, Starfish.  When bassist/singer Steve Kilby first played the song to the band, they were unenthusiastic, although the drummer and manager liked it enough to push for its inclusion on the LP.  The band eventually came around enough to release it as a single, and it went on to become a huge hit.  In fact, The Church are a classic one hit wonder in the U.S. -- one hit single (in the top 40) and no other charting songs.

While "Under the Milky Way" was ostensibly written about Kilby's then-girlfriend, Karin Jansson, it was really about nothing, according to Kilby.  He wasn't terribly bothered about the lyrics, instead working on the song to create an atmosphere, which he did exceedingly well.  The 12-string acoustic guitar (which starts the song) and the Ebow solo (providing a strange, bagpipe-esque sound) all combine to make this an unusual, and interesting song.

The Church remained successful through the mid-1990's in their native Australia, and continue performing to this day.  "Under the Milky Way" would go on the be voted the best Australian song of the past 20 years (in 2008) by The Australian newspaper.

Cool trivia fact:  The song's title comes from the English translation of the Amsterdam music hall called the Melkweg, which is still around.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Flock of Seagulls - Space Age Love Song

One of the prototypical early MTV bands, A Flock of Seagulls gets a bad rap as "that one hit wonder band with the hair."  In fact, they were not even a true one hit wonder, as 2 songs from their debut album broke the top 40 in the U.S.  ("I Ran," #9 and "Space Age Love Song," #30), while the LP, a concept album about an alien invasion of earth, peaked at #10 in the U.S.  They also had one top 40 hit from their second album, Listen ("Wishing (I Had a Photograph of You)" which peaked at #26).

The band began in Liverpool in the late 1970's, and got their name from a line in The Stranglers song, "Toiler on the Sea." And, in one of the least surprising factoids ever, lead singer Mike Score was a former hairdresser.

"Space Age Love Song" tells a love story in three verses, each verse starting with "I saw your eyes."  The songs' structure is unconventional, with no apparent chorus or bridge, just the verses linked with a catchy guitar line.  While the sound is a bit dated, I think this ranks as a great rock love song.

As is often the case, A Flock of Seagulls were unable to replicate their success.  Although they released several follow on albums, they saw steadily declining sales and finally broke up in 1985.  However, in recent years, they have reunited from time to time, and lead signer Mike Score continues to tour under the Flock of Seagulls name.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The La's - There She Goes

Astute readers may look at this post and think, "Isn't this song from the early 1990's?"  And they would be half-right (but let's say wrong for the purpose of this blog).

The story of The La's centers around Lee Mavers, your garden-variety perfectionist/musical genius.  Creatively, Mavers was The La's, although there have been a succession of musicians who worked with him over the years.  The band formed in Liverpool in the mid 1980s, and signed their first recording contract in 1987.

The first version of "There She Goes" was released in 1988, and hit #59 on the UK charts, hence my assertion that this song belongs on the blog.  However, work on their self-titled first album took two additional years, before finally being released in 1990.  The remixed version of the song (from the LP) reappeared on the UK charts (#14) and hit the U.S. charts in 1991 (#49).  With the success of their first album, Mavers was given additional autonomy to record his second album.  This turned out to be a disastrous decision.  Work on the follow up LP started in 1991, but was never completed (the project was apparently abandoned in the mid-1990s).  Sadly, aside from an occasional appearance, Mavers has disappeared from view.

In terms of the song, it is a catchy 60s-influenced pop song with an unusual structure.  The song has no verses -- just a chorus (repeated 4 times) and a bridge.  And yet, the unusual structure only seems to add to the appeal.  There are unconfirmed rumors that "There She Goes" is about heroin use or is an allusion to "There She Goes Again" (Velvet Underground).  Or perhaps it is just a simple, honest love song.  Regardless, it has aged well and is now something of a rock standard.

As befits a song with a complex, interesting history, there are two videos.  And what kind of lame blog would this be if we didn't show our (few) loyal readers both versions?

The first version was shot in 1988:

And the second version came out in 1990:

Cool trivia fact:  the La's version of "There She Goes" has charted 4 separate times in the UK -- in 1988 (#59), 1990 (#14), 1999 (#65), and 2008 (#181).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Billy Burnette - In Just a Heartbeat

The son and nephew of rock and roll performers (Dorsey and Johnny Burnette of the Rock and Roll Trio), Billy has spent his entire life as a musician.  By the time he graduated from high school, he was working full time in both rockabilly and country bands, and released three albums in the 1970's.

"In Just a Heartbeat" was the second single from Burnette's self-titled 1980 LP (in true Peter Gabriel style, it was his third eponymous album).  Neither the single nor the album charted, and I don't believe that the video received much in the way of airplay, as MTV wasn't launched until the following year.

Burnette would go on to have some success in country music, before joining Fleetwood Mac as Lindsey Buckingham's replacement in 1987.  He left the band in 1991 (although he has sporadically worked with them since then) and returned to his country and rockabilly roots.

Cool trivia fact:  Billy Burnette is the cousin of Rocky Burnette (below; the January 23, 2012 post).  Rocky is the son of Johnny while Billy is the son of Dorsey.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cameo - Word Up

One of the more interesting (and eccentric) bands of the 1980's was the funk group known as Cameo.  The band was formed in the mid-1970's, with front man Larry Blackmon ( a Julliard grad) serving as the focal point.  While they had some success in the 70's and early 80's, it was their 1986 release, Word Up (and the single of the same name) that really launched them into mainstream stardom -- the single peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts, while the album hit #8.

The "Word Up" video does a great job of highlighting the band's strengths -- it's a great funk song accentuated by their flair for the dramatic -- including Blackmon's red codpiece, and a young LeVar Burton (as a police detective trying to arrest the band).

"Word Up" represented the peak for Cameo, and while they released a few subsequent albums, they were not able to recapture the magic.  Larry Blackmon went on to become an A&R executive at Warner Bros.

Cool trivia fact:  "Word Up" samples from ... the theme song from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" by Ennio Morricone (yes, really).

"Candy," the underrated second single from the Word Up album was posted on ERV in March, 2015.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Replacements - I'll Be You

The Replacements were an influential alt-rock band whose popularity never matched their impact.  This is at least partly due to their behavior -- they refused to promote their albums, and their drunken, sloppy live shows are the stuff of legend.  They also did not concern themselves with videos until the end of their career, effectively cutting themselves off from the MTV audience.

While the Replacements seemed to be almost gleefully ignoring the business part of the music business, they also wrote some great music during the 1980's, and became trailblazers for the emerging indie rock scene.  This can be clearly heard in "I'll Be You," the band's only charting single (#51), from 1989's Don't Tell a Soul.  Although frontman Paul Westerberg has stated he views the song as over-produced, it still sounds like a stripped down rock song to me, with pop, rock and punk influences.  In other words, it was ahead of its time and sounded different from what was on the radio at the time.

Unfortunately, by the time Don't Tell a Soul came out, the band was already fraying, and they broke up in the early 1990's.  Westerberg continued to sporadically make music (most noteably for the Cameron Crowe movie "Singles"), though it seems like his heart wasn't in it after the Replacements broke up.

Lastly, pay attention to the lyrics; Westerberg is one of the great rock lyricists, in my opinion.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Waterboys - The Whole of the Moon

Mike Scott's masterpiece began on a snowy New York City street in January 1985, when his girlfriend asked him whether it was hard to write a song.  The song started as a few scribbles on the back of an envelope, and was still unfinished when the recording of the This is the Sea album began in March.

As an ode to artistic expression, the song's lyrics are clearly a tribute to the artists who inspired Scott.  While there has been much speculation about who it is written about, the only comments that Scott has made indicate that  C.S. Lewis was "in there somewhere" and that Prince wasn't (Prince had been rumored to be a source of inspiration, and some sources still cite him).

Amazingly, neither "The Whole of the Moon" single nor the This is the Sea album ever charted in the U.S.  "The Whole of the Moon" did chart twice in the U.K.; once in 1985, upon the original release (#26), and again in 1991 (peaking at #3), after the song won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.

After This is the Sea, Scott (who was the main creative force behind the Waterboys), opted to go for a smaller, more folk sound, which continued until the band broke up in 1993.

Cool trivia fact:  The video is directed by Irish director Meiert Avis, who has directed dozens of videos, including a bunch from U2.  The Waterboys posed a little bit of a challenge in that Mike Scott will not lip sync; hence an actual concert was created just for the video.