Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Charlie Sexton - Beat's So Lonely

Part of the vibrant Austin, Texas blues scene, Charlie Sexton was taught guitar by W.C. Clark, the famed instructor of Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan, among others.  By the mid-1980s, Sexton had developed a reputation as something of a guitar prodigy, which led to a recording contract.  Amazingly, his first album, 1985's Pictures for Pleasure, came out before Sexton's 17th birthday.

In an effort to make Sexton's sound more commercial, synthesizers and drum machines were added, which resulted in an inconsistent album.  However, this formula worked quite well on the lead single, "Beat's So Lonely," and the song became a hit, landing at #17, while the LP hit #15.  Unfortunately, none of Sexton's subsequent songs or albums did as well, leaving him as a one hit wonder.

Fortunately, Sexton remained in demand as a studio musician and collaborator with country, blues and rock artists including Bob Dylan, the Arc Angles, Lucinda Williams and  Edie Brickell.  He continues to write and perform to this day.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Planet P Project - Why Me?

Long time reader Krista requested this, and I have to say that it is an excellent pick, even if it did take me a minute to even remember the song.

Planet P Project (named after a planet from Robert A. Heinlein's book Starship Troopers) was an experimental band comprised of keyboardist Tony Carey and producer Peter Hauke.  Carey had previously played in Rainbow from 1976-77, and was working on his solo career in the early 1980s.  While Carey's solo work was relatively straight ahead rock, Planet P Project provided an outlet for his avant-garde side.

Amazingly, "Why Me?" caught somebody's eye at MTV and the video went into moderate rotation for a while.  It was definitely among the stranger things being played on the channel at the time, both musically and visually.  While "Why Me?" did not break the top 40, it did chart -- hitting #64, and helped the self-titled album reach #42 on the charts.  When the follow up album, 1984's Pink World only reached #121, Carey dropped Plant P, although he did reform the concept in 2005 and has released three albums in recent years.

Note that Tony Carey's 1982 single, "I Won't Be Home Tonight" was posted on ERV in July 2014.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Call - Let the Day Begin

The Call are another in a long list of bands who were critically acclaimed, but never quite found their audience.  Other artists that would I would place in this category include Marshall Crenshaw and XTC.  Note that the Underrated label to the right captures a bunch of additional bands (or songs) that by all rights should have been bigger than they were.

The Call was led by singer-guitarist Michael Been, and formed in California in the early 1980s.  Critics liked their roots rock sound and sophisticated lyrics, with some referring to The Call as a kind of updated version of The Band.  These comparisons were likely helped by Robbie Robertson appearing on their 1985 album, Reconciled.  Peter Gabriel was also a fan, and guested on the same album.

"Let the Day Begin" from the 1989 LP of the same name was The Call's biggest hit -- it reached #51 on the charts, while the album peaked at #64.  Unfortunately, the band broke up in 1990, when Been left to pursue a solo career.  The Call then re-formed in 1997 but broke up for good in 2000.

Sadly, Michael Been died of a heart attack in 2010, while working as a sound tech for his son's band (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).

Note that The Call's "When the Walls Came Down" was posted on ERV in June 2014.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Donnie Iris - Ah! Leah!

While the lyrics hint at a great story behind Donnie Iris' "Ah! Leah!," it turns out that there really isn't one.  In fact, the song originally had an anti-war concept before turning into a love / lust song, and the name came from a previous band mates' girlfriend.  Ah well.

"Ah! Leah!" was Donnie Iris' (given name:  Dominic Ierac) first solo hit, but he had an interesting career before that. He started as the lead singer of The Jaggerz, who had a huge hit in 1970 with "The Rapper."  After The Jaggerz broke up, Iris was asked to join Wild Cherry, who were popular based on their 1976 hit "Play That Funky Music."  And after Wild Cherry broke up, Iris went out on his own with Mark Avsec, the keyboard player for Wild Cherry.

Iris' first album, 1980's Back on the Streets, went to #57 on the charts, while "Ah! Leah!" hit #29.  Iris would go on to have 5 more charting singles, including two more top 40 hits through 1985, so there is no one hit wonder story here.  However, legal problems with his record label prevented any new material from being released from 1985 through 1992, which effectively ended Iris' mainstream popularity.  Even so, Iris (and Avsec) continue to record and perform to the present day.  

Cool trivia fact:  The actress in the "Ah! Leah!" video is rumored to be Joanna Lumley, who became famous as Patsy Stone in the BBC comedy Absolutely Fabulous.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Johnny Hates Jazz - Shattered Dreams

Named after a friend of the band (who really did hate jazz), Johnny Hates Jazz was one of a series of groups who shot to prominence, only to quickly fade away.  [Spandau Ballet, Cutting Crew, Level 42 and The Blow Monkeys all come to mind right away in this category.]

Johnny Hates Jazz formed in 1986 and were ironically signed by Virgin Records after performing at Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London.  Seriously.  "Shattered Dreams" was their first single on Virgin, and it became a worldwide smash -- hitting #5 in the UK and #2 in the U.S. (where it was released in 1988).  Their follow up single, "I Don't Want to be a Hero," also from their debut LP Turn Back the Clock did reasonable well, peaking at #31 in the U.S.  For those keeping score at home, this means that Johnny Hates Jazz was not a one hit wonder.

While they did not appear on the U.S. charts after those two songs, the band had four additional top 100 songs in Britain, all but one from their Turn Back the Clock album.  The band (minus original lead signer Clark Datchler) did release a second album in 1991, but it did not chart, and they officially broke up soon afterwards.

The video shows the trio in fine form, and while it is a bit reminiscent of The Car's "You Might Think," it still gets a solid in my book.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Glass Moon - On A Carousel

Glass Moon's "On A Carousel" is a perfect video for the blog because (1) it is rare and (2) it is a cover.  As many readers will know, ERV loves to highlight covers, especially of songs that are not commonly known to be remakes.  In this case, the cover was somewhat rare, so many folks may not know either the cover or the original version of this song.

Glass Moon was an early and brief MTV success story.  The band was from Raleigh, North Carolina and formed in the early 1970s.  They released three records in the early 1980s, and had three charting singles, with 1982's "On a Carousel" standing out as the only one that broke the top 100 -- it hit #50.  Unfortunately, the Growing in the Dark album did not chart, and the band broke up after their 1984 effort (Sympathetic Vibrations) did not do any better.

The video is a pretty typical early effort, mixing the band performing with some playground shots.  It is not the most polished video, but that just adds to the charm, in your author's opinion.  It did show up in moderate rotation for a time on MTV.

As to the song, "On a Carousel" is a cover of a Hollies song from 1967 that originally hit #11 on the U.S. charts (and #4 in the UK).  It is notable as the first Hollies song where Graham Nash was the lead vocalist (although it was only for the first few lines).  Nash would leave the Hollies in 1968 and go on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash.  (I think he ended up doing ok for himself.)

The 1982 Glass Moon version:

And the 1967 Hollies original -- the video filmed for a 1960's Granada TV program (or programme, if you are reading this in the UK):

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Concrete Blonde - God is a Bullet

Concrete Blonde came out of the post-punk LA scene and became an influential alternative rock band, one of several who drove indy rock's explosion in the early 1990s.  In this regard, they loosely fit in with The Pixies.  However, Concrete Blonde also had a distinct sound with thoughtful lyrics that made that somewhat unusual.  And as you'd expect, this led to more popularity among music critics and college students than the general public.

The band was led by singer/bassist Johnette Napolitano and guitarist James Mankey, who had worked together as Dream 6 in the early 1980s.  By 1986 they had generated enough buzz to be signed by I.R.S. records, where label-mate Michael Stipe (of R.E.M.) suggested their name.  The term Concrete Blond was a derogatory term referring to the bleached blonds of the LA hair metal scene, but in interviews the band claimed that they just liked the term, as it had both hard and soft connotations which seemed to suit their style.

In typical ERV fashion, we are going to skip over the band's big hit, "Joey" (which is from 1990, anyhow) and present "God is a Bullet" from 1989's Free LP.  The song did not chart on the main charts (it did hit the Modern Rock Tracks) and I don't recall seeing the video at the time. However, it is a really solid, driving rock song -- perfect for the blog.

Concrete Blonde would have major success with their 1990 album, Bloodletting (which contained "Joey") and released a few additional albums in the early 1990s before breaking up.  They re-formed in the early 2000s before breaking up again in 2006.