Monday, July 30, 2012

New Edition - Candy Girl

For better or worse (mostly worse), New Edition created the template that would be used by boy bands during the 1980s and 1990s.  Unlike many other boy bands, though, New Edition was an actual group, and the members -- Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Bobby Brown, Ronnie DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant -- all grew up in Boston.

The group was spotted by promoter Maurice Starr at a talent show, who signed them to a recording contract in spite of the fact that they came in second.  Star modeled the band after the Jackson 5 (in fact, the name signified that they were a 'New Edition' of that group) and actively shaped their sound and image -- for example, he co-wrote "Candy Girl" and played guitar and synthesizers on the Candy Girl album.

"Candy Girl" was a success -- it peaked at #46 on the charts (and also became a #1 hit in the UK).  However, in an infamous story, the boys (they were 13 to 15) were dropped off after their first tour and handed checks for $1.87 each (they rest was spent on tour expenses, they were told).  Unsurprisingly, the band lawyered up, eventually firing Star and signing a lucrative contract with MCA.

From there, New Edition would go on to much larger success, with four consecutive gold or platinum LPs.  Later, both Bobby Brown and Bell Biv DeVoe found solo success, and in Bell Biv DeVoe's case, became one of the originators of what became known as New Jack Swing.

Maurice Starr would quickly move on and form a white version of New Edition, which he named the New Kids on the Block.

While "Candy Girl" is not groundbreaking, it is a solid updated version of the Jackson 5 sound.  The video (which I don't ever recall seeing on MTV) is the band singing and dancing around Boston, I believe.  And yes, they guys were really young back then.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Robert Cray - Smoking Gun

One of a handful of artists who helped reinvigorate the blues genre was Robert Cray.  In fact, his 1986 major label debut, Strong Persuader, played a key role in bringing an updated, mellow form of the blues back into the mainstream.  As a result, no less an authority than Rolling Stone magazine placed this album 42nd on its list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s.

Cray was in his early 30s when Strong Persuader was released, making him a younger spokesman for the blues.  And while some saw his mellow sound and commercial success as signs of a sellout, most critics viewed him as an artist who successfully brought the blues back to relevance in the 1980s.

"Smoking Gun" was the big hit off the album, and turned out to be Cray's only top 40 hit (yes, there sure are a lot of great musicians on this blog who are official one hit wonders).  The song peaked at #22 in 1986, while the album hit lucky #13.  The video tires to capture a performance vibe, with mixed success.

Cray would never match the success of Strong Persuader, but he has had a long, solid career, and continues to record and perform to this day.

Cool trivia fact:  Robert Cray played bass in Otis Day and the Knights' band in National Lampoon's Animal House.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Roxy Music - More Than This

The Universe made another request, playing this song serendipitously as  I was considering the next entry, and I do try to accommodate requests (especially from The Universe).  So without further ado ...

Many readers will be familiar with Roxy Music.  The English art rock band formed in the early 1970's, and went on to have huge success in Britain, where every one of their studio albums broke the top 10, including three number ones.  In the U.S., they were significantly less successful, although they built a loyal following through the 1970's and early 1980's.

The band was known for their sophistication, particularly lead singer Bryan Ferry -- perhaps the most debonair rock star ever.  As is often the case, their sound evolved over time, and gradually became less art rock and more atmospheric pop, although there was often a strong pop sensibility to their songs.  The band's final album, 1982's Avalon, represented something of a peak for the band.  Incredibly lush and layered, it is a real work of art.  Much of the music was written by Ferry while he was on vacation on the West coast of Ireland and their is something of an ethereal vibe that runs through the entire LP.

I don't use the word masterpiece much on the blog (I think the only other time that I have used it was for The Waterboys song "The Whole of the Moon") but I think that "More Than This" qualifies.  The striking guitar line, the lyrics, the synthesizers all paint a musical picture that is haunting, with a gentle sadness.  "More Than This" also has a spectacular, lingering outro that perfectly suits the song.

Amazingly, "More Than This" did not break the top 100 in the U.S. (#103), although it was a top 10 hit in the U.K. and Australia.  The Avalon album peaked at #53 in the U.S., (it was a #1 LP in Britain).  The video might be a tad bit overdone, but it does seem to suit the band and the song.

Bryan Ferry broke up Roxy Music soon after Avalon's release, and went on to have a successful solo career (particularly in the U.K).  The band did re-form and toured in the early 2000's, but Ferry has stated that he does not intend to release another Roxy Music album.

Cool trivia fact:  Roxy Music is a U.S. one hit wonder.  Their only top 40 hit was "Love is the Drug" (#30) from 1975.

Cool trivia fact #2:  10,000 Maniacs 1997 cover of "More Than This" hit #25 on the Billboard charts -- higher than any Roxy Music single ever, and much higher than the superior original version.  Go figure.

Cool trivia fact #3:  Rolling Stone rated Avalon as the 31st best album of the 1980's.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Badlands - Dreams in the Dark

By the late 1980's, hard rock was enjoying huge commercial success, a backdrop that should have made Badlands big, big stars.  Surprisingly, though, the band's blues-rock sound did not resonate with the record- buying public, making Badlands a rare case of an underrated late 1980's hard rock band.

The driving force behind Bandlands was guitarist Jake E. Lee, who left Ozzy Osbourne with the stated intention of forming a band.  The addition of lead singer Ray Gillen from Black Sabbath helped to cement that sound, which was roughed up blues-rock (think updated Led Zepplin).  Although the band was well-regarded in the music industry, their debut album (Badlands) was a commercial disappointment, peaking at #57 on the album charts.

"Dreams in the Dark" was their lead single, and it did not chart.  The video shows the band's approach -- I would describe them as a "let the music do the talking" sort of band.  Unfortunately, this image just didn't click with their audience at the time.

Their follow up LP, Voodoo Highway performed worse, and the band broke up in 1993.  Jake E. Lee has kept a pretty low profile since then, although he has put out a few solo albums and continues to play.  Ray Gillen died of an AIDS-related disease in 1993.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Divinyls - Boys in Town

"Boys in Town" was the debut single by Divinyls, the Australian rock/new wave act fronted by the charismatic Chrissy Amphlett.  The song was released internationally in 1983, as the lead single off the Desperate album.  (It had been released earlier in Australia, and was included on the soundtrack of Monkey Grip, an early Ken Cameron film.)

While the song was a big hit in their native Australia (#8), it did not chart in the U.S.  In fact, the Divinyls did not really break out in the U.S. until their eponymous 1991 CD, which includes the #4 hit "I Touch Myself."  By that point, the band was essentially a duo, with Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee (they used session musicians when they recorded or while touring).

The "Boys in Town" video is a performance clip from the Monkey Grip movie, and it shows the band in fine form.  Chrissy Amphlett really did use the illuminated mike stand in her early performances; that, combined with her schoolgirl outfit and aggressive attitude, made for a strong live show.

Sadly, Chrissy Amphlett passed away on April 21, 2013 after a long battle with breast cancer.

Cool trivia fact:  yes, the Divinyls count as a one hit wonder in the U.S., as "I Touch Myself" was their only  top 40 hit.

"Pleasure and Pain," the cool 1985 minor hit for Divinyls was posted on ERV on December 2017.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

10,000 Maniacs - Like the Weather

Few bands have as much of a disconnect between their name and their sound as 10,000 Maniacs.  The inspiration for the band's name came from the 1964 Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter film, Two Thousand Maniacs!, which is about as far from folk-pop as you can get.  As an aside, the band may not have remembered exactly how many maniacs were involved when they picked their name.

10,000 Maniacs' first big commercial success was their 1987 album, In My Tribe, and "Like the Weather" was their first charting single.  Although it did not break the top 40, it reached a respectable #68.  The band would go on to have seven additional charting singles, including two top 40 hits (but only one after lead singer Natalie Merchant left the band in 1993).  With their mellow sound and socially-aware lyrics, they became a staple of the "coffeehouse sound" and enjoyed significant success on college radio.

The video is pretty standard fare, although it almost seems to be a song by Natalie Merchant with a backing band.  To be fair, she did write the song, though.

As most readers will know, both 10,000 Maniacs and Natalie Merchant remain active in the music industry as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Rolling Stone views In My Tribe as the 65th best record of the 1980's.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

J. Geils Band - Love Stinks

You have to just love a video that starts with the drummer playing on his set in an alley with frozen fish (yes, you read that correctly), followed by some great power chords and a guy playing two trumpets while bouncing on a pogo stick.  Welcome to the wonderful, slightly insane world of the J. Geils Band.

The band formed in the late 1960's, and had a solid career in the 1970's, with its blues-influenced bar rock and energetic live shows.  Their breakout album was, of course, 1981's Freeze Frame, which was a #1 LP with two top five singles ("Centerfold" and the title cut).  As is typical for ERV, we are going to dig a tiny bit deeper and go with the title song from their 1980 album -- Love Stinks.  

"Love Stinks" is a bit more rocking than most of J. Geils' early 80's songs, but shows the direction that the band was moving towards -- a more radio friendly sound with strong hooks and slick production techniques.    Ironically, this transition would lead to huge success a year later but also accelerated the end of the band, as the creative tensions between singer Peter Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman (the band's songwriters) took its toll.

While the Love Stinks album peaked at #18, the single of the same name barely broke the top 40 at #38.  The well done video (unusual for its day) did generate some airplay on shows such as HBO's Video Jukebox, but was released before the video music revolution took hold.  Pity.

Some additional cool J. Geils insanity, also off the Love Stinks LP:  "No Anchovies, Please."

Cool trivia fact:  "Love Stinks" was the 83rd video ever played on MTV, and was played on the first day that the video channel was up.

J. Geils' "Come Back" was posted on ERV in June 2015.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Big Audio Dynamite - The Bottom Line

After being kicked out of The Clash, Mick Jones was left with a daunting task.  Specifically, what do you do for an encore after being a key member of the seminal punk band of the late 1970's and early 1980's?  Jones started off by co-founding General Public (along with members of The English Beat, among others) but left during the recording of their first album.  After a second failed band (Top Risk Action Company or T.R.A.C.), Jones finally sorted things out with Big Audio Dynamite (BAD).

To his credit, Jones did not attempt to re-create The Clash's sound in BAD, but instead pushed ahead with a dance and reggae influenced post-punk sound.  While Big Audio Dynamite was somewhat inconsistent during their career, they were also interesting and adventurous.

The first single from the first Big Audio Dynamite album (This is Big Audio Dynamite) was "The Bottom Line."  While it was not a hit, the song did generate some airplay, and showed the direction that Jones was moving in.  I'm not totally sure if the nearly one and a half minute introduction is courageous or just indulgent, but it is quite a way to introduce your second band to its audience.

The video captures the irreverence and sense of humor of the band, as well (although I don't remember seeing much of it on MTV at the time).  It also underscored just how much Mick Jones was into cowboy movies.

BAD would go on to have some success during the 1980's and 1990's, before breaking up in 1997.  Jones remains active in music to the present day.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Love and Rockets - So Alive

Love and Rockets emerged from the ashes of Bauhaus, an early and influential goth rock band that formed in 1978.  Bauhaus broke up in 1983, but the members stayed in touch and in 1985 agreed to a joint rehearsal.  Lead singer Peter Murphy didn't show up, but the other musicians -- Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins did and jammed together.  The jam session went so well that they decided to form a band, which became Love and Rockets, named after a comic book series by Los Bros Hernandez.

The band had somewhat of a cult following prior to their breakout 1989 hit "So Alive."  While their music was more driving and upbeat than Bauhaus (which is not saying much), it was still definitely indie rock, with a strong psychedelic vibe.  "So Alive," with its T-Rex and Lou Reed influences, is a bit of an aberration and caused some controversy among the bands' supporters, with some predictably calling it a sell-out.

In any event, the song became a big hit in 1989, ending up at #3 on the charts.  While Love and Rockets continued to make music until their eventual break up in 1999, they did not have another hit, leaving them as a one-hit wonder.  In the years since, there have been periodic reunions of both Love and Rockets and Bauhaus, although both bands appear to be on hiatus at the moment.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Georgia Satellites - Keep Your Hands to Yourself

"Keep Your Hands to Yourself" has one of the best opening lines of any eighties song: "I got a little change in my pocket going jing-a-ling-a-ling."  And with that auspicious beginning, the Georgia Satellites burst onto the music scene.  The Satellites played a wonderfully retro brand of rock and roll that owes as much to Chuck Berry as it does to Lynyrd Skynyrd.  However, their hybrid rock & roll/country stylings were well off the beaten trail in the mid-1980's, a fact that would eventually hurt the band.  [If this story reminds our readers of Lone Justice or Jason and the Scorchers, well, you may be on to something.]

The Georgia Satellites originally formed in the early 1980s, and actually broke up in 1984, as their career appeared to be going nowhere.  Fortunately, their manager continued to shop the band's demo recordings, and eventually found a small British label that released them as the Keep the Faith EP.  The positive response led to the band re-forming and they were subsequently signed by Elektra in 1986.

Their eponymous debut was a huge hit -- the album topped out at #5, while "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" peaked at #2, kept out of the top spot by Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer."  Sadly, from there it was all downhill, as rock radio more or less ignored the band, although they did manage to have a minor hit in 1988 with their cover of The Swinging Blue Jeans' song "Hippy Hippy Shake."  The band finally broke up in 1990.

Lead singer/songwriter Dan Baird would go on to have success with his 1991 CD, Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired, which goes on the list of greatest album titles ever.  Baird continues to perform as of this writing.  Other members of the Satellites re-formed the band and continue to perform as the Georgia Satellites.  Additionally, lead guitarist Rick  Richards is also a member of Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds (Izzy was a former member of Guns n' Roses, by the by).

Cool trivia fact:  "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" was supposedly based on an argument between the Satellite's drummer and his girlfriend, and was written on a tour bus.

Cool Trivia Fact #2:  The demo version of this song helped land the Satellite's recording contract.  However,  the band did not like any of the 'professional' takes of the song, so they put the original demo version on the album, and it is the version that you hear to this day (including in the video above).

The Satellites' video for "Battleship Chains" was posted on ERV in March 2014.