Thursday, November 29, 2012

Adam and the Ants - Stand and Deliver

One of the more theatrical bands to come out of the late 1970's punk / new wave movement in the U.K. was Adam and the Ants.  The band started as an art / punk band, evolved more towards glam / new wave, and put out several solid singles (and a bunch of great videos at a time when this was rare).  The band was known for their striking look and soon emerged as one of the leaders of the new romantic movement in Britain.

Interestingly, while Adam and the Ants never charted in the U.S top 100, they had 7 top 10 hits in their native U.K., including two #1s (and yes, "Stand and Deliver" is one of them; "Prince Charming" was the other).  "Stand and Deliver" was the lead single from the third (and final) Adam and the Ants album, Prince Charming, which was released in 1981.

The following year Adam broke up the band, although he continued to work with guitarist Marco Pirroni, and began recording under the name Adam Ant.  [As an aside, this has led to some confusion over whether a song is Adam Ant and or Adam and the Ants, not that it makes a ton of difference.]  Ant continued to have success in the U.K., and even had some U.S. chart successes, helped by MTV.  However, Ant decided to focus on acting after his 1985 album, Vive Le Rock and he effectively left the music industry for the rest of the 1980s.  Subsequently, he continues to sporadically record music (and tour).  Amazingly, I believe that his  more recent efforts (albums in 1990, 1995 and perhaps 2012) are surprisingly good, and worth a listen.

So without further ado, here is the dandy highwayman himself.

More coolness:  a brief making of video for "Stand and Deliver."  Note that I have added a Making of label to the right, for those who are interested.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Run-D.M.C. - King of Rock

And after a brief delay (holidays, don'tchaknow) we are back.  Long time readers will know that ERV likes to cover many different genres from the eighties, including the then-emerging hip hop scene.  That includes arguably the most important rap band of the decade (perhaps ever), Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C. was named after the two primary rappers -- Joseph 'Run' Simmons and Darryl 'D.M.C.' McDaniels (Jason 'Jam-Master Jay' Mizell was the third member of the group).  They were the first successful 'new school' rap act, and started the crossover process, where rap began to be accepted as a legitimate music genre by mainstream audiences.

King of Rock was the group's second album, and was released in 1985.  The album was produced by Russell Simmons and Larry Smith and was mixed by Rick Rubin.  It took hip hop directly into the rock scene, by using guitars and drums as an integral part of the music.  The result was something that sounded different from anything else out there, but which was accessible to rock audiences.  King of Rock was a trendsetting album, but it was not a huge hit -- it reached #52 on the album charts.  The single "King of Rock" did not chart on the Billboard 100.

The video, featuring Larry 'Bud' Melman (Calvert DeForest) from David Letterman did receive some airplay on MTV back in the day, which was a rarity for rap videos.  For example, Yo! MTV Raps was not launched until 1988.  Again, the video was not a huge hit, but it laid the ground work for what was to come.

Run-D.M.C. would go on to have huge success with their next album, 1986's Raising Hell, which included the top ten remake of Aerosmith's "Walk this Way."  They remained at the forefront of the rap scene through the early to mid 1990s, at which point they gradually faded from view.  The group officially disbanded following Jam-Master Jay's murder in 2002.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Treat Her Right - I Think She Likes Me

Boston-based Treat Her Right was an interesting band who performed a modern, alternative version of the blues.  Loved by critics and the college rock crowd, they never quite broke out, but they were one of the bands that laid the foundation for the 1990's alternative trend.

The band was named after the 1965 Roy Head and the Traits song, and had an obvious appreciation of old school and lesser-known rock, as evidenced by the two covers on the debut album (which were by James Blood Ulmer and Captain Beefheart).  In addition, they were unusual from an instrument perspective, as they used the guitar almost as a bass, and a cocktail drum kit.

Treat Her Right released three albums from 1986 - 1991.  I believe that only their self-titled debut LP charted (at #127).  "I Think She Likes Me" did not chart on the top 100, but did hit #15 on the Mainstream Rock charts in 1988.  In typical blues style, the song is based on a true story that happened to guitarist Mark Sandman in Colorado.

After the breakup of Treat Her Right, Sandman would go on to form Morphine, and would carve out a successful career playing alternative blues until his sudden death from a heart attack in 1999.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Donald Fagen - New Frontier

Donald Fagen is one of those musicians who totally marches to his own beat.  Fagen (and Walter Becker) were Steely Dan, a truly outstanding fusion (jazz-rock) band that recorded some of the most interesting songs of the 1970's and early 1980's.  When that partnership ended, Fagen went out on his own and his first solo album was 1982's The Nightfly.

Conceived as a sentimental remembrance of 1950's and early 1960's America, The Nighfly is now regarded as a classic, and further cemented Fagen's reputation as a songwriting genius and a studio perfectionist.  The album is impeccably arranged and produced and the material is extremely strong.

The video for "New Frontier" is typical Fagen -- understated and lovingly crafted as a real work of art.  No less a source than Allmusic states that it "was widely considered one of the great videos of the early MTV era."  The attention to detail, down to the animation is remarkable.  Fagen appears only in a poster seen in the video, underscoring him as the anti-celebrity.

Helped by the video, "New Frontier" rose to #70 on the charts, while the other single from The Nightfly, "I.G.Y." peaked at #26.  The album hit #11 and went platinum.

Unfortunately, Fagen then developed a case of writers block; his next album was not released until 1993.  He eventually reconciled with Walter Becker and has remained active as both a solo artist as as a member of  Steely Dan in recent years.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Was (Not Was) - Walk the Dinosaur

With a really catchy backbeat and a fun, Flintstones-esque video, "Walk the Dinosaur"  became a big hit in the late 1980's.  The song was originally released in 1987 in the UK, where it would climb to #10, but it would not peak on the U.S. charts (at #7) until 1989.  Needless to say, it became Was (Not Was') biggest hit, although it is worth noting that the band had an additional top 40 hit, as "Spy in the House of Love" reached #16 in 1988.

Was (Not Was) was founded by David and Don Was (really David Weiss and Don Fagenson) in the late 1970's, and over time the band gained a small following with their funky, slightly strange dance pop sound.  However, only 1988's What Up, Dog?  broke the top 50 on the Billboard album charts.  By the early 1990's, the band went on hiatus, as David and Don Was pursued other endeavors -- Don became a successful record producer while David became a journalist (and produced several soundtracks).  They reunited in 2004 and continue to perform together to the present time, even releasing a new CD in 2008.

Curiously, "Walk the Dinosaur" is an upbeat song with dark lyrics -- the song is about nuclear Armageddon. (Somehow that part didn't make it into the video).  Also, the song has taken on a life of its own -- it has appeared on several soundtracks (including the 1994 version of The Flintstones movie) and was used at Chuck E. Cheese's and Disney's Animal Kingdom.  Go figure.

Oh and consider yourself warned -- this thing will bounce around your head at random times for a few days. It is a damn catchy beat.  And with that warning ... "Boom boom acka lacka lacka boom."

Cool trivia fact:  Rolling Stone ranked What Up, Dog? as the 99th greatest album of the 1980's.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Go-Go's - Turn to You

Most readers will be familiar with the Go-Go's, the all-female new wave band from California.  Best known for being one of the first successful female bands that controlled their music (i.e., wrote their own songs and played their instruments), they emerged on the scene with a hugely successful debut album, 1981's Beauty and the Beat.  That LP went double platinum and was the #1 record in the U.S. for six weeks, making it one of the most successful debut albums of all time.  Unfortunately, the band only released two other albums in the 1980's before breaking up due to drug use and creative differences.

"Turn to You" was the last of the band's five top 40 hits, reaching #32 on the charts and coming off the Go-Go's final studio album of the decade, 1984's Talk Show.  Talk Show is an interesting album -- it received generally positive reviews, and was seen as a return to form after the somewhat disappointing Vacation LP.  However, it did not do well from a sales perspective, peaking at #18 and failing to even go gold.  In recent years the band has generally avoided playing material from this album in concert, leading some to speculate that the songs are associated with the difficult time around the Go-Go's breakup.

The video is something else, involving lots of early 1960's period details, a young Rob Lowe, the band members dressed as men, and the like.  It was the band's first story video and I think they did a solid job with it.

Cool trivia fact:  "Turn to You" was written by Charlotte Caffey and Jane Wiedlin and was inspired by Caffey's boyfriend at the time, baseball player Bob Welch.

Cool trivia fact #2:  The video was directed by Mary Lambert, who directed a ton of 1980's videos, including Janet Jackson's "Nasty" and "Control" and Madonna's "Borderline," "Like a Virgin," "Material Girl," and "Like a Prayer."  Lambert then transitioned to feature films; she mainly directs horror movies, including Pet Sematary and Pet Sematary II and most recently, Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.

As a cool added bonus, I found some footage on the making of "Turn to You," which is presented below, for those who are interested.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Julian Cope - World Shut Your Mouth

The ambitious, eclectic and eccentric Julian Cope has been one of the more interesting figures in the music industry over the past few decades.  Cope first showed up on the scene as the lead singer of The Teardrop Explodes, a psychedelic new wave band from Liverpool.  The band achieved a fair amount of success in the UK in the early 1980's, before creative tensions and drug use tore the band apart.

Cope then went on to a successful solo career.  To be fair, his solo work is somewhat inconsistent, partly due to continued drug use and partly a result of his avant-garde tendencies.  However, at his best, Cope recorded some truly great (and under appreciated) independent rock.

"World Shut Your Mouth" was Cope's most successful single, and was off the Saint Julian LP.  The song was a top 20 hit in the UK, but only rose to #84 in the U.S.  It remains Cope's only charting (top 100) song on Billboard.  The video is pretty straight ahead, with the exception of the jungle gym mike stand.

In the aftermath of Saint Julian, Cope remained a prolific songwriter and continues to release material to the present day.  In addition, he has written 2 autobiographies, 2 books on lesser-known music (one each on the German and Japanese underground music scenes), and 2 books on ancient monuments and sites in the UK and Europe.

Cool trivia fact:  Cope recorded Saint Julian using a Gibson ES-335 12-string guitar, but he only used 9 strings -- the E, A and D strings were singles, while the the G, B and high E strings were doubled.  This is an unusual set up, but it does seem to fit Cope.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Chris Whitten (formerly of The Waterboys) played drums on Saint Julian.  Whitten was also the drummer on "The Whole of the Moon."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Michael Penn - No Myth

The brother of actors Sean and Chris Penn, Michael Penn has had a long career as something of an anti-rock star.  While his first LP, 1989's March did peak at #31 on the album charts, most of his successive work has not had anything close to that level of success.  Nevertheless, Penn is regarded as a strong singer-songwriter and has recorded a bunch of critically acclaimed albums over the years.

"No Myth," the superb first single from March remains as Penn's only top 40 hit; it hit #13 on the charts.  The incredibly catchy song received a bunch of airplay back in the day and the video was in heavy rotation on your favorite video music channel, as well.  Penn was actively involved in the production of the video, mostly because he didn't want it to look too commercial, and I think that he succeeded for the most part.

Penn remains active in the music industry as of this writing, with his wife, Aimee Mann (formerly of 'Til Tuesday).

Cool trivia fact:  Penn may have been cursed by the infamous "best new artist" problem -- he won the 1990 MTV VMA for Best New Artist.  (Ironically, his wife also has the same award -- "Til Tuesday won the 1985 Award).  See the comments section for a list of the VMAs for Best New Artist (current as of this post).