Sunday, September 30, 2012

The BusBoys - Boys are Back in Town

The BusBoys are another interesting rock and roll story, and are another band that by all rights should have have been more successful.  The band's big break came when they were featured in the movie 48 Hours (they were the bar band and wrote half of the soundtrack).  While the movie was a smash, the record label was slow to promote the soundtrack, and never released "Boys are Back in Town" as a single.  As a result, The BusBoys did not really capitalize on their success.

The back story to 48 Hours highlights just how unique the band was.  The studio decided that they wanted a black rock and roll band for a scene in the movie, and The BusBoys were one of the only bands that fit the bill.  It also didn't hurt that they had the same agent as Eddie Murphy.  However, their label (Arista) never did figure out how to promote the band, and dropped them after two records.  While they did have a minor hit with "Cleanin' Up the Town" from the 1984 Ghostbusters soundtrack (it hit #68), even that was not enough to convince a major label to re-sign them.

Although they never really broke out, the band has remained together and continues to perform to this day.

I also have to say, I dig the old school MTV intro.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Long time readers will know that in addition to posting rare videos, ERV also likes to highlight covers, particularly ones that fit in the category of "songs that you didn't know were covers."  That is how a totally non-rare song, such as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"  (or "Bette Davis Eyes" or "I Love Rock 'n' Roll") can show up on the blog.

So try this one on for size:  Cyndi Lauper's breakout hit is a cover.  "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" was originally written and recorded by Philadelphia local hero Robert Hazard and the Heroes in 1979.  When Lauper was putting together her first album, 1983's She's So Unusual, the record label provided her with a bunch of material.  At that time, the label (Portrait / Epic) was interested in Lauper for her voice, but did not have confidence in her songwriting, so they relied on other material (this perception changed after the success of the Lauper co-written hit, "Time After Time").

To her credit, Lauper re-worked the lyrics to suit her, and changed the style of "Girls," making it much more upbeat.  And, undoubtedly some of the success was due to the video, which went on to win the 1984 MTV VMA for Best Female Video.

The song, of course, became a smash, peaking at #2 on the charts -- the first of 4 consecutive top 5 hits from She's So Unusual.  That album, in turn, peaked at #4 and sold 6 million units in the U.S. (16 million worldwide), launching Lauper's career.

Robert Hazard, on the other hand, never had that hit, and is another in a long list of artists who wrote strong material but never found commercial success.  For readers who are so inclined, Mr. Hazard's "Escalator of Life" is also up on the blog (click on the link to see it).  I will also point out that the original version of "Girls" is very good, in your author's opinion.

The famous Cyndi Lauper Version:

And the Robert Hazard version:

Cool trivia fact:  Rolling Stone ranked She's So Unusual as the 75th greatest album of the 1980's.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bon Jovi - In and Out of Love

I'll admit it:  I've always had a soft spot for Bon Jovi.  First off, the band is from my home state (NJ), and second, they wrote a bunch of damn good pop metal songs in the eighties, and then were able to evolve musically during the nineties.

In typical ERV form, we are not going to feature any of the videos from Slippery When Wet; instead we went with "In and Out of Love," from 1985's 7800° Fahrenheit (so named because that is the temperature at which rock melts).  7800° Fahrenheit highlighted the radio-friendly pop metal sound that would take over the music world a year or two later, but it didn't quite resonate with the listening public at the time.  It is not as if the album was a bust -- it hit #37 and went gold, but that is a far cry from the 12 million units that Slippery did.  (As a side note, 7800° Fahrenheit did go platinum in 1987, pushed by the success of Slippery When Wet.)

The "In and Out of Love" video is typical Bon Jovi -- fun and enjoyable.  The video was shot in Seaside Heights, NJ, and features a cast of locals, with a guest appearance by Father Guido Sarducci.  (I linked him to Wikipedia for our younger readers.)  The clips of London and Japan that bookend the video underscore the background of the song -- Jon Bon Jovi wrote it after the band's first tour.

After 7800° Fahrenheit, Bon Jovi focused on improving their music (and sales) and made two significant changes.  First, they brought in professional songwriter Desmond Child to help with a few songs and second, they test marketed the songs (yes, really) with local teenagers in NJ to help determine what went on the record.   The results:  two consecutive #1 singles ("You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer") and a boatload of record sales.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lou Reed - Dirty Blvd.

Although Lou Reed had only modest commercial success, he was an important and influential musician who reshaped the language of rock.  In particular, he approached songs in much the same way that a novelist would, leading to lyrics that touched on adult and even previously taboo topics in a mature way.

For readers who are unaware, Reed got his start in the Velvet Underground.  Much has been written about them; suffice to say that they were an enormously influential band who laid the foundation for punk and new wave.  The famous quote about the VU was that "the first Velvet Underground album only sold 10,000 copies, but everyone who bought it formed a band."  [This quote has been attributed to both Brian Eno and Peter Buck.]

In 1989, Reed released his 15th solo album, a concept album titled New York.  Although it was well-regarded by critics (who appreciated the back to basics approach), it was not a huge commercial success.  The album peaked at #40, and "Dirty Blvd." did not chart on the main charts (it did hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks).  I don't think that the video was played much on MTV, though it was played on 120 Minutes (the alternative video show running at the time).

At any rate, "Dirty Blvd." is vintage Lou Reed -- he does his talk/sing thing over a catchy guitar hook, telling a story with provocative lyrics.  I have to say, this is a guy who was creating solid rock songs 25 years after his first band started.  Impressive.

Sadly, Lou Reed died on October 27, 2013.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Steel Breeze - You Don't Want Me Anymore

A testament to the growing power of MTV, "You Don't Want Me Anymore" became a hit for Steel Breeze in 1982.  The song was undoubtedly helped by the quirky video, which went into heavy rotation on your favorite video music channel.

Based in California, Steel Breeze was named after a line in Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond."  [The line:  "You were caught on the crossfire/Of childhood and stardom/Blown on the steel breeze".]  The band released their self-titled debut album in 1982, and actually had two top 40 hits -- "You Don't Want Me Anymore" which peaked at #16 and "Dreamin' Is Easy" which hit #30 (and no, I don't remember "Dreaming Is Easy" either).

The band (with multiple lineups) released four albums after their debut, but none of them charted and they more or less faded from view ... until now.

Cool trivia fact:  "You Don't Want Me Anymore" was the last charting single produced by Kim Fowley, best known for being the manager of the Runaways.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sinéad O'Connor - Mandinka

Before her controversial antics turned her into a virtual pariah, Sinéad O'Connor was an important and interesting new artist.  Her debut album, 1987's The Lion and the Cobra is still viewed as a significant album for both alternative rock and female artists.  In fact, O'Connor's aggressive style set the stage for a host of female performers during the 1990's, including Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette.

For the blog, I have chosen "Mandinka," the song that really launched her career in the U.S.  The video was played on MTV a bit back in the day, including on 120 Minutes (now who remembers that show?), which helped to make it a college rock hit.  However, the song did not chart on the Billboard 100.

Of course, Sinéad O'Connor's follow up album, 1990's I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got became a huge hit (#1 just about everywhere), led by the Prince-penned "Nothing Compares 2 U" (also #1 just about everywhere).  From there, things went downhill in a hurry, as O'Connor's controversial political stands and erratic behavior hurt her popularity to the point that she was booed offstage at a Bob Dylan tribute concert.  She eventually "retired" from the music industry for a number of years, although she has released new material in recent years.

Cool trivia fact:  Sinéad O'Connor is a rare one hit wonder -- her only top 40 hit (the previously mentioned "Nothing Compares 2 U") was a #1 hit.  "The Emperor's New Clothes," O'Connor's only other charting hit in the U.S., peaked at #60.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Kinks - Do It Again

One of the amazing things about music in the eighties was how diverse it was, something that we try to reflect at ERV.  In fact, along with all of the the new bands that came onto the scene, there were quite a few older bands that were still writing good songs -- Queen, Cheap Trick, Nazareth and Roxy Music are already up on the blog, for instance.  [Interestingly, it seems to me that many of these "classic rock" bands ran out of steam in the mid-1980's.]

"Do It Again," from the Kinks 1984 LP Word of Mouth was arguably the bands' last great song.  It was unarguably the last Kinks song to chart on the Billboard 100, peaking at #41.  This made it the 23rd top 100 U.S. single from the band, highlighting a career that spanned 20+ years.  While it would be hard to put the Kinks in the same category as the Beatles or the Stones, they have always seemed to be somewhat underrated to me.  The band has an extremely strong catalog of songs that should put them in the top tier of rock bands ever ... but somehow they seem to fly a bit under the radar.

At any rate, "Do It Again" is obviously autobiographical and both the song and video come off as nostalgic and perhaps a little bit weary.  Given the bands' long history and many ups and downs, it is easy to see where this comes from.  Even so, this does not take away from the song, and it remains a solid way to remember the band.

Cool trivia fact:  "Do It Again" is also the name of a wonderful documentary, about a newspaper reporter who decided to embark on a quest to convince the Kinks to reunite.  The doc gets ERV's highest review -- see it if you get the chance.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The S.O.S. Band - Take Your Time (Do It Right)

Long time reader(s) of ERV will know that we have a soft spot for early 80's funk, and "Take Your Time" is one catchy song.  I debated putting it up, since it is not a promotional video, but then I thought of all the positives:

  1. It is a Soul Train clip ...
  2. ... which means that Don Cornelius introduces the band.  Was there a cooler, more debonair dude ever?  (Maybe, but you have to think that Mr. Cornelius is in the discussion)
  3. The song has a xylophone in it.  Funkiest xylophone ever?  (Maybe, but you have to think that this xylophone is in the discussion)
  4. I totally love how much Bruno Speight (guitar) and John Alexander Simpson (bass) are grooving to the song (around 1:43 for the best example ... bopping in time)
  5. The guitar line has to be on the short list of best funk guitar lines ever (see 2:55)
  6. The band looks like they were some kind of funky navy ... or they had been watching too many Adam and the Ants videos

So there you go ... some readers may know that this was off the first (and self-titled) S.O.S. album, from 1980.  The album sold well, driven by "Take Your Time," which hit #3.  While the S.O.S. band did not have another top 40 hit on the main charts, they had a string of R&B hits, four of which showed up on the Billboard 100.  Most of these songs were produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis; the band worked with them starting in 1983.

Although there have been some personnel changes, the S.O.S. band continues to perform to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  S.O.S. stands for Sound of Success.  The band was originally called Santa Monica (although they were from Atlanta, Georgia, as Mr. Cornelius points out), but they changed their name prior to their first album.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

World Party - Ship of Fools

World Party are essentially a one-man band, formed by Welsh multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger in 1986.  Wallinger created World Party after leaving The Waterboys; he had been the keyboard player for that band from 1983 to 1986 (so he did play on the classic "The Whole of the Moon," which was previously featured on this blog.)

Wallinger recorded World Party's debut album, Private Revolution, at his home studio.  He also wrote and performed most of the instruments on the album, although he did use a few studio musicians, including a then-unknown Sinéad O'Connor.  Private Revolution was a psychedelic, retro-sounding pop album, and it did surprisingly well -- the LP hit #39 on the U.S. charts, while "Ship of Fools" clocked in at #27.

While World Party's 1990 follow-up, Goodbye Jumbo did not do as well (peaking at #73), it contains two great pop songs -- "Way Down Now" and "Put the Message in the Box" and it is recommended listening.  Wallinger continues to be active both as World Party, and with other musicians, although he did have a hiatus in the early 2000s due to a brain aneurysm (he has since fully recovered).  And for those keeping score at home, "Ship of Fools" was World Party's only top 40 U.S. hit.

Cool trivia fact:  While Wallinger did work with a few studio musicians on Private Revolution, he also listed multiple pseudonyms on the albums credits, including:  Delahaye, Rufus Dove, Will Towyn, Martin Finnucane, Ahmed Gottlieb and Millennium Mills.