Friday, April 27, 2012

Kim Carnes - Bette Davis Eyes

"Bette Davis Eyes" is another non-rare song and video, on the blog because it is a cover, something that may surprise many of our readers.  While the last 'songs that you didn't know were covers' entry -- Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" was a huge hit, "Bette Davis Eyes" was even bigger.

Kim Carnes (sometimes thought of as the female Rod Stewart due to her blonde hair and raspy voice) had a solid, interesting career even before the success of "Bette Davis Eyes."  She started in the New Christie Minstrels, singing folk songs in the late 1960's, then went out on her own as a singer / songwriter.  She gradually became successful , and really broke out in 1980.  In that year, her duet with Kenny Rogers, "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" hit #4, while Carnes' cover of a Smokey Robinson & The Miracles song, "More Love" hit #10.

But her cover of Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon's "Bette Davis Eyes" became a hit on an entirely different scale.  The song was originally recorded in 1974 by Jackie DeShannon as a pop / jazz song (yes, really).   DeShannon, best known for "What the World Needs Now Is Love" and "Put a Little Love in Your Heart," knew Carnes -- they appeared together in a 1967 film, C'mon, Let's Live a Little.  However, it was Donna Weiss who pitched the song, as a fallback after Carnes passed on her newer composition.  

Carnes' version of "Bette Davis Eyes" spent 9 weeks at the top on the Billboard charts (non-consecutive, as it was interrupted for one week by the "Stars on 45 Medley.")  Billboard named in as the #1 song of 1981, and it won a Grammy Award for Song of the Year.  How's that for a hit single?

Unfortunately, Carnes was not able to follow it up with another big hit, although she did have a sting of successful singles through 1986.  As her performing career waned, she transitioned to songwriting, eventually moving to Nashville, where she lives (and writes) to this day.

And the original Jackie DeShannon version ...

(Amazing, huh?)

Note that Carnes' "Voyeur" was posted on ERV in May 2014.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jason and the Scorchers - White Lies

One of the nice things about writing a blog on eighties rare videos is that is provides an opportunity to revisit and perhaps even introduce a few folks to bands who produced great music, but never made it big.

Jason and the Scorchers (JATS) are a great case in point.  Although front man Jason Ringenberg was originally from Illinois, the band formed in Nashville in the early 1980's.  Stylistically, JATS broke new ground as a country/punk band and probably defined cowpunk as much as any other group.

Loved by critics, Jason and the Scorchers never really broke out in spite of really strong material.  The short answer is that their sound was too country for rock stations and too rocking for country stations.  Ironically, just a few years later, the emergence of modern country with strong rock influences would lead to a rise in popularity of country music.

"White Lies" was the main single of Jason and the Scorchers first full length album -- 1985's Lost and Found.  The album barely broke the top 100, and the song did not chart on the hot 100.  Jason and the Scorchers put out two other solid albums in the 1980's before breaking up in 1990.  They have since reformed a few times and continue to perform.

In addition to being an innovative band that wrote great country/punk songs, Jason and the Scorchers were also known for their high energy live performances.  For folks who are so inclined, here is a clip of them on Conan O'Brien performing "White Lies" around 1998.

JATS strong cover of Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" was posted on ERV in 2013.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Breakfast Club - Right on Track

Your basic one hit wonder, Breakfast Club has an interesting backstory that has nothing to do with John Hughes.  (In fact, there is no relationship between the movie and the band at all, as far as I can tell).

However, Breakfast Club was Madonna's first band in New York.  Yes, that Madonna (and yes, that New York).  The Material Girl was briefly the drummer of Breakfast Club, in 1979, I believe.  She left to become the lead singer of her own band, Emmy, and then, of course, went out on her own.

Breakfast Club continued on, eventually signing a record deal and releasing their self-titled first album in 1987.  "Right on Track," helped out by a catchy, if somewhat bizarre video went on to become a top 10 hit, peaking at #7.  No doubt the grooving chickens helped (check out the video if you do not know what I am talking about -- coolest chickens ever.)

While Breakfast Club recorded a second album, it was never released and the band broke up in the late 1980's.

Coll trivia fact:  Stephen Bray, the Breakfast Club's drummer, was an old friend of Madonna's from Michigan.  He co-wrote "Right on Track," and co-wrote (with Madonna) "Into the Groove," "True Blue," and "Express Yourself"  among others.  Impressive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Joan Armatrading - Drop the Pilot

Joan Armatrading is yet another artist who should have had more American success, but never quite found her audience.  In some ways this is understandable, as her music is eclectic and a bit hard to categorize.  However, she is a really solid singer/songwriter and well worth a listen.

Armatrading was born in Saint Kitts, but her family moved to Birmingham (UK) when she was young.  John Peel (the famous UK disc jockey) became a fan early on, and was a supporter of hers throughout her career.  While Armatrading is a bit of a cult figure in the U.S., she had a successful career in Britain, with 14 charting singles between 1976 and 1992.

"Drop the Pilot" from 1983's The Key was her biggest U.S. hit, peaking at #78, while the LP hit #32.  The video is a wonderful combination of a performance and an old movie, with the old Purple Rose of Cairo trick thrown in.  (Yes, I know that Purple Rose of Cairo came out 2 years after this video.)  Additionally, "Drop the Pilot" is representative of Armatrading's work in that it contains elements from multiple musical styles.

For readers who are interested in checking out other songs, I recommend "I Love It When You Call Me Names," "Love and Affection," and "Me Myself I."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thomas Dolby - Airhead

So in typical ERV style, we're posting a Thomas Dolby song, but it isn't the one that you know and love.  However, it is rare and quite good, actually.

"Airhead" was the lead single from 1988's Aliens Ate My Buick (excellent title, right up there with Mars Needs Guitars, if you ask me (and you didn't)).  The album was a bit of a style change for Dolby, and was more dance influenced that the synth pop that preceded it.  As a result, his fans had a tough time with it.  The album peaked at #70 (Dolby's last charting LP), but fell off the charts relatively quickly.

The video is a wonderfully creative, slightly eccentric puppet show.  Dolby was (he probably still is) a visual artist; one suspects that he was involved in the design of the video.  I haven't been able to find anything out regarding a specific target for the song, but he did marry actress Kathleen Beller in 1988.  It is not too difficult to imagine Dolby finding inspiration for this song in the Hollywood scene.  [By the by, pay attention to the the lyrics; they are truly great.]

As Dolby's popularity waned, he transitioned to film and video game soundtrack work, and I believe that he continues to work in the industry to this day.

Cool trivia facts (a bunch):  Thomas Dolby's given name was Thomas Morgan Robertson; the Dolby nickname came from the keyboards and audio equipment that he used.  Surprisingly, Thomas Dolby is officially a one hit wonder in the U.S. -- while "She Blinded Me With Science" peaked at #5, he did not have another top 40 hit.  Lastly, Dolby played the keyboard intro to Foreigner's 1981 smash, "Waiting for a Girl Like You."  (See what you can learn by reading the whole entry.)

In the interest of completeness, here is the link to the extended dance version of "Airhead," called "Airhead's Revenge," and featuring Salt-n-Pepa.

Monday, April 9, 2012

April Wine - Just Between You and Me

As with any endeavor, inspiration for eighties videos can strike in strange ways.  After I finished the previous post (Lou Gramm's, "Just Between You and Me"), I thought that it would be cool to follow it up with April Wine's, "Just Between You and Me," a totally different song that has the same title (as astute readers will already have noticed).  Consider this a double shot of "Just Between ... "

Canadian rockers April Wine had been around for a lifetime by the time their 1981 album, Nature of the Beast came out.  The band formed in 1969 (!) and had released 8 albums prior to their U.S. breakout.  Nature of the Beast peaked at #26, and ended up going platinum in the U.S. (and double platinum in Canada).  In addition, two singles broke the U.S. top 100 -- "Just Between You and Me" (#21) and "Sign of the Gypsie Queen" (#57).

The video is pretty basic, highlighting the band in concert (in fact, "Sign of the Gypsie Queen" was shot using footage from the same concert).  I have to say, I love the three guitars and the big drum kit (with double bass); the whole thing is a great snapshot of a late 70s / early 80s rock band.

Cool trivia fact:  "Just Between You and Me" was the 14th video ever played on MTV and the first one by a Canadian performer, securing April Wine a place in music video history.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lou Gramm - Just Between You and Me

Lou Gramm (born Lou Grammatico) became famous as the voice behind Foreigner, who were massively successful during the late 1970's and early 1980's.  However, the creative tension between Gramm (who wanted the band to continue with the straight-ahead rock sound that made them stars) and guitarist Mick Jones (who was pushing for more ballets and new wave inspired keyboards) began to tear the band apart in the mid-1980's.

As a result (stop me if this sounds familiar), Gramm released a solo album in 1987 (Ready or Not).  The LP peaked at #27 and the single "Midnight Blue" broke the top 10. While Gramm returned to Foreigner to work on their next album (Inside Information), the writing was on the wall, and Gramm left Foreigner after his second solo album came out, 1989's Long Hard Look.  (To be fair, Gramm did rejoin the band in the 1990s, but the second iteration did not have much success).

Long Hard Look yielded two top 40 hits, "True Blue Love" (which peaked at #40) and "Just Between You and Me," which hit #6.  "Just Between You and Me" was co-written by the superb hired-gun songwriter Holly Knight (there is more on her on the post for John Waite's "Change," which she also co-wrote.)  The nicely done black and white video intersperses Gramm with a nice young couple who seem to be acting out the song's lyrics.

Gramm would go on to have a major health scare (a benign brain tumor) in 1997; while he survived, the resulting treatment impacted his weight and voice.  However, he seems to be doing well, and continues to perform.

By the way, "Midnight Blue" was posted on ERV in May 2014.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Talk Talk - Talk Talk

Talk Talk were part of the New Romantic movement of early 1980s British synth pop, along with other non-threatening bands such as Duran Duran, Haircut 100, ABC, A Flock of Seagulls and the like.  Amazingly (to me, at least), Talk Talk only had one top 40 hit in the U.S., 1984's, "It's My Life," although a No Doubt cover of the song would go on to hit #10 on the U.S. charts in 2004.

In their native Britain, though, Talk Talk were stars, and had 17 top 100 hits from 1982 - 1990, with "Talk Talk" charting twice, and "It's My Life" charting three times.  "Talk Talk" (the song) was off Talk Talk's (the band's) 1982 debut album, which was surprisingly not called Talk Talk.  (It was titled The Party's Over.)  As another interesting diversion, there have been a fair number of bands that named themselves after their own songs; a partial list will appear in the comments section.

The video for "Talk Talk" (the song) is classic 1982.  By the way, for our younger readers, the machine at the beginning of the video is called a turntable, and it was used to play spinning disks called records, which is how many people listened to music in the dark days before the iPod.  However, the quick cuts, interesting camera angles, white outfits (with ties), and electronic drums were proto-typical of an early 1980's new wave video designed for the new video music channel MTV.  I had not watched the video for this song in quite some time, and I have to say, it really is a somewhat dated thing of beauty.

In any event, Talk Talk (the band) would go on to become one of the most interesting bands of its era, as they evolved quite dramatically from a new wave band to an experimental post-rock band that were critically acclaimed -- and quite ahead of their time.  Unfortunately, this rapid evolution did not lead to huge commercial success, and the band broke up in 1992.  For readers who are interested in Talk Talk's development, almost anything from 1988's Spirit of Eden or 1991's Laughing Stock is recommended.

Is it just me, or does it appear that lead singer Mark Hollis is having some kind of seizure when he sings?

As an added bonus, we recently (2014) found a second version of the video; it is below for your approval.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Hyts - Backstabber

Here at ERV, we realize that there is a wide range of videos that could be considered rare, and we try to run the gamut.  In fact we even put some not-so-rare stuff up occasionally (the cover songs, for instance).  However, there can be little doubt that "Backstabber" is rare by any definition, and I suspect that most of our readers have never heard of the band or the song.

Hyts were a foursome out of California who signed to Gold Mountain Records in the early 1980s.  The band was made up of Pat Little (lead vocals, guitars), Stan Miller (bass), Tommy Thompson (keyboard, guitar) and Roy Garcia (drums).  Their self-titled debut album was released in 1983, and had a minor hit, "Backstabber" that reached #48 on the rock charts (it did not chart in the Hot 100).

The video is something else.  A "Psycho" inspired schlockfest, complete with a lead singer singing in the shower, dancing skeletons, and dancers who transform into mother (complete with knives) ... it really has to be seen to be believed.  Oh, and did I mention that the guitarist and bass player have matching outfits?  [I also love the video clip that it comes from, as it starts with a promo for a Duran Duran concert ... cool, old MTV].

At any rate, Hyts went on tour to support the record, but had to stop when drummer Roy Garcia was injured (he fell off the stage).  The follow up record (Looking From The Outside) was delayed by the label, and when it was finally released in 1986, it did not sell well.  The band was subsequently dropped by the label and faded from view ... until now.

As an aside, I don't believe that anything from the band was ever released on CD, much less digital download, so as far as I know, the only way to listen to their music is via old vinyl.  As of this writing, there were a few copies of both the album and single available on eBay.