Saturday, December 28, 2013

Huey Lewis and the News - Workin' For A Livin'

Before Huey Lewis and the News blew up (to the tune of two consecutive #1 LPs and 15 top 40 hits), they were just a hard working bar band out of San Francisco.  The band formed from the remains of Clover (mentioned on the blog post for the Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes song, "New Romeo.")  The new group was originally called American Express, but when the financial company complained, they changed their name, signed to Chrysalis and released their first album in 1980.

"Workin' For A Livin'" comes off the solid second album, 1982's Picture This.  The song was co-written by Lewis and guitarist Chris Hayes, and is one of the more rocking songs in the Huey Lewis and the News catalog.  Although the band's migration to middle of the road pop brought them huge commercial success, I enjoyed the more rocking songs ... but then again, I have not sold 30 million units.

The "Workin' For A Livin'" video is a great piece of straight ahead bar band rock.  Nothing fancy here, just the band playing ... ahh the early days of MTV.  By the by, the song was a slight disappointment back in the day, only reaching #41, while the album hit #13.

Note that the Huey Lewis and the News song, "Heart and Soul" was featured on our first bunch of All Hallows Even songs in October 2011, and is a cover of an Exile song (really).  We also posted "Some of My Lies Are True" in April 2014, and "Doing It All For My Baby" in October 2018.

Cool trivia fact:  Huey Lewis' given name is Hugh Cregg.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Tone Lōc - Funky Cold Medina

An early and somewhat forgotten rap success story belongs to Anthony Smith, aka Tone Lōc.  Born and raised in Los Angeles, Lōc left Compton (and the infamous Crips gang) to seek fame and fortune as a rapper.  He then had the good fortune to work with Young MC and The Dust Brothers; the result was 1989's  Lōc-ed After Dark, which became the second rap album to hit #1 on the charts, following The Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill.

"Funky Cold Medina" was the second Young MC penned song to become a huge hit, reaching #3 on the charts ("Wild Thing" had previously hit #2).  The song used Foreigner's "Hot Blooded" as the main sample, but also sampled "Honky Tonk Women" and "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones and "Christine Sixteen" by Kiss.  (Ahh, the pre-litigation days of sampling ...)

Sadly, "Funky Cold Medina" was it as far as Tone Lōc's successful rapping career went -- he would never have another charting LP or top 40 single.  He then transitioned to acting, and seems to be making a decent living.

The video is Lōc-tastic and shows off his larger than life personality and sense of humor.  Definitely one of our favorites from back in the day.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Belinda Carlisle - Mad About You

I don't dislike Belinda Carlisle -- really, I don't.  While her solo work was a bit slick and commercial for my taste it was also pretty inoffensive.  And truth be told, there is nothing wrong with a good pop song.  In fact, we tend to be somewhat deferential here at ERV, recognizing the tremendous amount of skill and work that goes into writing and recording any song.

Having said that, I found Carlisle's solo career somewhat disappointing.  The Go-Go's brand of new wave and surf influenced pop rock was creative and interesting -- even at the end, they were still churning out solid material, such as "Turn to You" (featured on ERV in November 2012).  In contrast, Carlisle seemed to take the safe route, recording well-crafted but less interesting pop songs.  I wonder if part of the issue was losing the songwriting influence of Jane Wiedlin, who co-wrote many of The Go-Go's strongest songs (often with Charlotte Caffey who continued to work with Carlisle).

Anyhow, "Mad About You" was the lead single off Belinda Carlisle's 1986 solo album, and it did quite well, hitting #3 on the charts, while the Belinda LP peaked at #13.  Carlisle would go on to have 5 additional top 40 singles and two additional top 40 albums before her success waned.

The video for "Mad About You" was directed by Leslie Libman, who would go on to become a successful TV director.  The video features Morgan Mason, Belinda Carlisle's husband (in fact, they married in 1986) and Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran fame) playing the guitar solo, just as he did on the record.

Cool trivia fact:  "Mad About You" was originally intended to be a Go-Go's song when the band briefly considered recording an album without Jane Wiedlin.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Faith Brothers - A Stranger On Home Ground

The Faith Brothers were a British pop/rock band who recorded two strong albums in the mid-1980's.  Led by their passionate and political frontman, Billy Franks, their sound contained elements of rock, pop and soul.  The band was also known for their thoughtful lyrics, which often addressed social or political issues.

The group formed in Fulham, London and released their first album, Eventide (A Hymn For Change) in 1985.  "A Stranger On Home Ground" comes from this LP (it was the second single, I believe).  A second album (A Human Sound) following in 1987, but neither record broke through commercially, and the group broke up by the end of the decade.

I do not recall hearing this back in the day, but came across it while researching the blog and enjoyed it.  This is a true rare video, from a unique band who never quite found their audience.

Cool trivia fact:  In 2009, Billy Franks was the subject of a documentary called Tribute This! where he and three friends tried to recruit 10 famous artists to do a tribute album to ... Billy Franks.  (Yes, really).

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Queensryche - I Don't Believe In Love

Although they were often categorized as a heavy metal band, Queensrÿche was actually more of an alternative hard rock band.  Their music combined a guitar-driven sound and Geoff Tate's screaming vocals with elements of progressive rock and Pink Floyd.  The result was some of the most unique and interesting rock music of the decade.

The band formed in 1982 in Bellevue, Washington and they released their self titled debut EP in 1983.  Two successful LPs followed in 1984 and 1986 before the group released the audacious concept album Operation: Mindcrime in 1988.

Mindcrime tells the story of a drug addict who gets involved with a revolutionary group, with disastrous results.  The story begins and ends in the same place -- with the lead character, in a psychiatric hospital.  A great review is on Something Else Reviews, which goes into more detail.  Many critics consider the LP to be one of the best concept albums of all time and one of the best hard rock albums of the 1980's.

For the blog, we went with "I Don't Believe In Love."  Interestingly, none of the singles from Mindcrime charted, although the album went platinum and reached #50 on the charts.

After Mindcrime, Queensrÿche released several strong albums, including 1990's Empire, which included the group's only top 40 single, "Silent Lucidity" (#9), making the band an official one hit wonder.

Original guitarist (and songwriter) Chris DeGarmo left the group in 1997.  In 2012, lead singer Geoff Tate was fired, which led to a court battle.  As a result, there are currently two versions of Queensrÿche using the name.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Blotto - I Wanna Be A Lifeguard

The 36th video played on MTV's first day was the humorous and slightly bizarre "I Wanna Be a Lifeguard" by Blotto.  The video music channel continued to play the video for some time, and it became something of a trendsetter -- in its early years, MTV played a small number of eccentric videos mixed in with more traditional counterparts.  This gradually ended by the late 1980's.

Blotto was an unlikely success story.  The band formed in 1978 in Albany, New York and built a small following over the next couple of years.  Named after a dog in the 1931 Thorne Smith novel The Night Life of the Gods, the group used pseudonyms -- all with the last name Blotto (a nod to the Ramones).  Their comedy-infused new wave was not totally out of place with acts like the B-52s and The Tubes leading to gigs in metro New York (coincidentally, the headquarters of MTV).

In 1980, the band cut an EP - Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What's Yours and worked with some students at SUNY Albany to make a video of "I Wanna Be A Lifeguard."  The result is below.  In retrospect, videos with any kind of story were rare in the early days of MTV, giving the band a leg up.

Unfortunately, this early exposure did not lead to a huge amount of success as MTV was just starting its meteoric rise.  Blotto did release some additional work including an LP (1983's Combo Akimbo) before breaking up in 1984.  The surviving members of the group (bassist "Cheese Blotto" (Keith Stephenson) passed away in 1999) continue to perform periodically as of this writing.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Santana - Winning

It is nearly impossible to summarize Carlos Santana's long and storied career in a few sentences, so we'll direct readers to Allmusic instead.  (how's that for a cop out?)  Suffice to say that his brand of Latin-influenced rock has been influential since the late 1960's.  It is also worth noting that the band's commercial success has ebbed and flowed through the years.

In general, the 1980's and 1990's (prior to 1999's Supernatural) were not terribly kind to the group, although they did have a few hits here and there.  One such hit was 1981's "Winning" from the Zeebop! album.  The song reached #17 on the charts, while the album hit #9.

I don't recall ever seeing the video on MTV which makes sense as Santana was seen as an older band in the early 1980's.  Additionally, the video itself is a basic performance piece that would not have stood out at the time. However, it is a solid song, highlighted by Santana's signature guitar sound and the strong vocals of Alex Ligertwood (lead singer of Santana from 1979 through 1994, with a bunch of breaks).

One cool aspect of "Winning" is that it is a cover of a song by Russ Ballard.  Ballard is an interesting figure who wrote several great rock songs, but never hit it big on his own.  His songwriting credits include:  "Free Me" (for Roger Daltrey),"You Can Do Magic," (America), "I Know There's Something Going On," (Frida), "New York Groove," (covered by Ace Frehley), and "I Surrender" and "Since You Been Gone" (both covered by Rainbow).

The Santana video:

The original version by Russ Ballard:

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jody Watley - Still A Thrill

The Queen of Cool, Jody Watley, was a major star for a few years in the late 1980's.  Between 1987 and 1989, she scored two top 20 albums and six top 10 hits.  While her pop success has faded since then, she remains active and continues to have dance hits to the present day.

Watley got her start as a Soul Train dancer, and then was invited to join Shalamar in 1977.  Frustrated by the group's lack of interest in her songs, she left the group in 1982 and moved to London, where she worked with Musical Youth and Art of Noise (she was also part of the 1984 Band Aid project).  She later returned to the U.S. and released her eponymous (and hugely successful) solo album in 1987.

For the blog, we went with "Still A Thrill," a lesser-known single from her debut album.  The song only reached #56 on the charts, and I do not think that the video was widely played at all.  This is a shame, because it is a great late 1980's funk song, with a definite Minneapolis feel to it.  It turns out the Watley's co-writer was none other than André Cymone, who had been Prince's bass player (pre-Revolution).  Cymone and Watley were also married until 1995.

Cool trivia fact: Watley's dance partner (and choreographer) was Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor, a fellow Soul Train dancer from back in the day.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Bob Mould - See A Little Light

Best known for his work in the influential alternative band Hüsker Dü, guitarist Bob Mould continued recording and performing after Hüsker Dü's demise in 1988.  His work as a solo artist and in the band Sugar showed that his artistic growth, which began in Hüsker Dü, continued long after that group broke up.

For readers who  are unfamiliar with Hüsker Dü, they are simply one of the most important alternative artists of the 1980's.  Specifically, their migration from hardcore punk to a more melodic punk/rock sound laid the groundwork for the 1990's and influenced bands as varied as Nirvana, The Replacements and The Pixies.

"See A Little Light" is off Mould's first solo album, 1989's Workbook, which is a well-crafted and surprising record.  While Hüsker Dü's punk/rock songs had a definite pop sensibility, many listeners were probably still unprepared for the indie approach taken here.  The pop sound is front and center, with some strong folk influences added in.  Sadly, the song and album deserved better results than they achieved -- the song did not break the top 100, and the album peaked at #127.

After two softer solo records, Mould founded Sugar in 1992 and returned to a more alternative rock sound.  Sugar broke up in 1995, but Mould has remained active in the industry (with some extended breaks) to the present day.

By the by, Hüsker Dü's "Makes No Sense At All" was posted on ERV in March 2014.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes - New Romeo

Some bands are just better live.  Case in point:  Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.  While their live shows were the stuff of legend, this never seemed to translate to vinyl.  As a result, they were local heroes at the Jersey Shore, but never became household names.

Southside Johnny (John Lyon) began playing in bars in the early 1970's, and was part of the dynamic Asbury Park, NJ music scene, which also included Bruce Springsteen and musicians who eventually became the E Street Band.  By 1975, the Jukes lineup had more or less solidified, and included Steven Van Zandt.  A recording contract followed, as did a bunch of records, but Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes were never able to really establish themselves, hurt by the long shadow of Springsteen and a lack of standout original material.  In fact, many of the group's best-known songs were covers, which bring us to ...

"New Romeo" which was a modest hit for the band in 1984.  The song was off their In the Heat album and did generate a bit of radio play at the time, but was not a major success.  The album reached #164 on the charts, while the song peaked at #103.

It turns out that "New Romeo" was a cover of an Alex Call song.  Who is Alex Call? (glad that you asked).  Call was a founding member of the California country rock band Clover, who are best known as the backing band for Elvis Costello's spectacular debut album, My Aim is True.  Huey Lewis was also a member of the band for a time.  But Call is probably best known for co-writing "867-5309/Jenny" for Tommy Tutone, which was featured on ERV back in June.

The Southside Johnny video is not half bad, and features early appearances by actors Willem Dafoe and Vince Spano:

And the original Alex Call version of the song:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aztec Camera - Oblivious

Aztec Camera is another in a long line of interesting pop bands who never broke through.  While they were generally well-regarded by critics, their acoustic pop sound may have been seen as out of step with the musical trends of the time.  This resulted in very little success in the U.S., where none of their singles charted on the main charts, and none of their albums broke the top 100.  Fortunately, they did better in their native Britain, where they had 15 charting songs, including six that broke the top 40.

The band was led by Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame; in fact, for all practical purposes he was Aztec Camera.  He began recording indy demos at the age of 16, and caught the ear of legendary BBC DJ John Peel, which led to radio play and a recording contract.

"Oblivious" comes off the group's first album, 1983's High Land, Hard Rain.  This album is now generally regarded as the group's best effort, made all the more amazing by the fact that Roddy Frame was all of 19 when it was released.  It is a great example of their work -- a well-crafted pop song with catchy hooks and clever lyrics.

It appears that Aztec Camera made two videos for the song, so we will include both here.

By the by, Aztec Camera did a very cool cover of Van Halen's "Jump" (yes, really) that is up on the ERV Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness - I'm An Adult Now

Many years ago, when I was in college, I had a really cool friend -- Catherine Alice, though she went by Ali.  Ali's two favorite expressions were: "Bodacious ta-tas" (originally from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, I think) and "Cheese-eating high school boy" from The Pursuit of Happiness song, "I'm An Adult Now."  It is slightly amazing that hearing this song recently (while working on the blog) reminded my of Ali and her expressions, 25 years later.

At any rate, The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH) was a Canadian independent band fronted by Moe Berg.  Although Berg was from Edmonton, the group formed in 1985, when he moved to Toronto.  TPOH released a few independent singles (including "I'm An Adult Now") before signing with Chrysalis Records.  Their first LP, Love Junk was produced by Todd Rundgren (who appeared on ERV back in March), and was released in 1988.

TPOH crafted some clever college rock material, but they never broke through in the U.S.  Love Junk peaked at #93 on the album charts, and "I'm An Adult Now" did not chart, although it did generate a little bit of airplay on MTV and college radio.

While The Pursuit of Happiness never officially broke up, they more or less stopped recording after 1996, though they did record two new tracks for a 2005 greatest hits collection.  Moe Berg remains in the music industry as of this writing, working primarily as a producer.

Note that we have two videos for the song -- the 1986 original independent video:

And the 1988 version:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scandal - Love's Got A Line On You

Formed in 1981 by guitarist Zach Smith, Scandal had a charismatic female lead singer, a knack for writing radio-friendly pop/rock songs and a focus on videos.  This could have translated to huge success, but personnel problems plagued the band, limiting their success.

Scandal was best-know for their lead singer, Patty Smyth.  Attractive and stylish, Smyth was the perfect front woman for the band.  According to legend, Columbia signed the group based on the homemade video shot for ... "Love's Got A Line On You" (more on that later).  The debut EP would go on to become the biggest selling EP in Columbia Records' history.

The band's second LP, The Warrior, also did well, but Smyth left Scandal soon afterwards and the group broke up.

For the blog, we went with the aforementioned  "Love's Got A Line On You," from the debut EP.  The song reached #59 on the charts, making it (at the time) Scandal's highest charting single.  The video really shows off the band's MTV-friendly image.

And of course, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we have the original video (supposedly shot for $20) that helped the band get signed:

Cool trivia facts:  Scandal is a virtual treasure chest of cool facts.  Lets start with the original video above (the inexpensive one).  Does the rhythm guitarist look familiar?  If you guessed that it was Jon Bon Jovi, well, it is.  Two years before his MTV breakout "Runaway," he was kicking around the New York recording scene and worked with the band.  Supposedly, the drummer is none other than Clem Burke (best known for his work with Blondie, although he also played with The Romantics during much of the 1990's).

Scandal is also a one hit wonder (this really surprised me).  While "The Warrior" was a #7 hit, they did not have another top 40 single.  "Goodbye To You" hit #65, "Love's Got A Line On You" reached #59 and both "Hands Tied" and "Beat of a Heart" peaked at ... #41.

Some readers may recall that Patty Smyth (who was pregnant at the time) was asked to join Van Halen; she turned it down and the gig went to Sammy Hagar.  By the way, Patty Smyth's "Never Enough" video (which was a cover) was posted on ERV in April 2014.

Lastly (and sadly), the original members of the band have not fared well in recent years.  The band's original bassist, drummer and keyboardist have all passed away.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sheila E. - A Love Bizarre

Although she is sometimes though of as a Prince protégé, Sheila E. (Escovedo) was actually an accomplished musician before she played with His Purpleness.  Several family members were professional musicians, most notably her uncle (and I believe her father), who were in Azteca.  In fact, she initially met Prince at one of her concerts in 1978 before re-connecting with him in the mid-1980's.

Sheila E. began working with Prince during the Purple Rain sessions (1984), and it quickly turned into a full collaboration.  Her 1984 LP, The Glamorous Life was primarily comprised of songs written by Prince, including the title track (which was originally intended for Apollonia 6).

While the single "The Glamorous Life" remains Sheila E.'s best known song (and highest charting at #7), we opted for "A Love Bizarre," from her 1985 album, Romance 1600.  The song was also written by Prince and performed as a duet between The Unpronounceable Symbol and Sheila E.  It also did well (#11), underscoring the Midas touch that Prince had during the 1980's.

Sheila E. eventually joined Price's band for a few years (87-89) before going off on her own.  While she has recorded a few solo albums, she has mostly worked as a musician in the intervening years (including a few stints with Prince).

Cool trivia fact that may only interest me:  "A Love Bizarre" is the second song featured on ERV from the Krush Groove soundtrack.  The Beastie Boys "She's On It" was on the blog back in May 2012.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Sheila E. is not a two hit wonder.  In addition to "A Love Bizarre" and "The Glamorous Life," she also broke the top 40 with "The Belle of St. Mark."  Nope, I don't remember that one either.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Melissa Etheridge - Like The Way I Do

Melissa Etheridge is the second native Kansas artist to appear on ERV, as long time readers may remember Clocks from August 2011.  Unlike Clocks, Etheridge built quite the following, capped by her 1993 CD, Yes I Am, which has sold more than six million units.

For the blog, we went with "Like The Way I Do," from her 1988 self titled debut album.  The record actually generated a fair amount of buzz, and ended up peaking at #22 on the charts, while "Like The Way I Do" did not initially chart (the song hit #42 upon its re-release in 1995).  Interestingly, I don't remember seeing the video on MTV back in the day (readers should feel free to leave a comment if they recall seeing it).

While the video is a pretty standard performance piece, Etheridge's music was somewhat off the beaten track for 1988.  At the time, highly polished pop and hair metal dominated the charts, and Etheridge's folky roots rock reminded  critics of Springsteen or Mellencamp.  It didn't hurt that her raspy voice seemed tailor-made for the songs either.  While Etheridge's hairstyle seems dated (in the video), I think that the songs from her debut album have held up remarkably well.

As most folks will know, Etheridge remains active in the music industry to the present day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Motörhead - Ace of Spades

As subtle as artillery, Motörhead's punk-infused hard rock was way ahead of its time.  But while the band laid the groundwork for thrash and speed metal, they never really broke through commercially in the U.S.  Even today, when many critics sing the praises of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash (deservedly so), Motörhead seems (sadly) to be a bit of a forgotten band.

Formed by  Lemmy (Ian Kilmister) in 1975 (!) after he was kicked out of Hawkwind, the new band (named after the last song that Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind) had a tough start.  In fact, by 1977, the trio including guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer "Philthy Animal" (Phil Taylor) were flat broke.  The band decided to do a farewell show before breaking up, which led to a one album contract with Chiswick Records.  The following year, they managed to sign a one single deal with Bronze Records, which was extended several times as the band's popularity grew in the U.K.

"Ace of Spades," from the 1980 album of the same name would go on to become the band's signature song.  The video is a simple performance piece and it fits well with the group's dark, rocking sound.  Motörhead is definitely a "let the music do the talking" sort of group, and it totally comes off in the video.  I also think that their sound has held up remarkably well (this is a 30 year old song!).

Lemmy continued to record and perform with Motörhead until his death in Deceber 2015.  However, "Fast" Eddie Clarke left the group in 1982 to form Fastway, though he has played with Lemmy several times during the past few years. "Philthy Animal" (Phil Taylor) left Motörhead in 1984, rejoined the group in 1987 and left for good in 1992.

Motörhead recorded a cool, acoustic version of "Ace of Spades" for a Kronenbourg beer commercial in 2010; this version (well worth a listen) is below.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper - Elvis Is Everywhere

Every now and then, MTV would highlight something bizarre -- as in straight out of Dr. Demento bizarre.  (Weird Al immediately comes to mind).  One of these unlikely success stories was the psychobilly craziness of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.

Mojo Nixon (born as Neill McMillan) and Skid Roper (born as Richard Banke) began working together in San Diego in the early 1980's.  Nixon was the hyperactive hillbilly, while Roper provided the accompaniment (mostly the washboard, I believe).  Although the duo had "novelty band" written all over them, Nixon's manic monologues and the band's rockabilly/cowpunk/psychobilly sound generated some airplay on college radio.

For some strange reason, MTV got behind "Elvis Is Everywhere" from the band's third album Bo-Day-Shus!!!  Even better, the video music channel used Nixon as a part time VJ and ran a few short clips between videos ... well, just because.  The results led to some short-lived success, as the album charted (#189) and the song received some airplay.  [We're particularly partial to the claim that Commodore Elvis needs boats.]

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper continued releasing albums through the 1980's before breaking up in 1989.  Nixon continued working, but was hampered when his label went bankrupt.  However, he remained in the industry as a musician and personality (though there have been several retirements) to the present day.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Blow Monkeys - Digging Your Scene

The Blow Monkeys were part of the U.K. blued-eyed soul scene of the mid 1980's.  The band formed in 1981 and were led by singer/songwriter Dr. Robert (Bruce Robert Howard).  While the group had ten singles and four albums on the U.K. charts between 1986 and 1990, they are essentially a one hit wonder in the U.S. -- although they did contribute a cover of "You Don't Own Me" to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

For the blog, we opted to go with their one charting single, 1986's "Digging Your Scene" from the Animal Magic LP.  The smooth retro soul sound contrasts nicely with the lyrics, which are pretty blatantly about AIDS.  Interestingly, Dr. Robert (the songwriter) was straight but really enjoyed the gay/club scene in Britain.  Given all of the negative attention on AIDS at the time, he decided to write a song expressing his support for the community.  "Digging Your Scene" would go on to reach #14 in the U.S., while the album went to #35.

While the Blow Monkeys were unable to maintain their success in the U.S., they remained popular in the U.K. and became increasingly political over time.  Their 1987 anti-Thatcher song "Celebrate (The Day After You)" was banned by the BBC for it's perceived political bias, although it did reach #52 on the charts there.  The band broke up in 1990, but reunited in 2007 and has continued to perform as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Although The Blow Monkeys' name sounds slightly obscene, it is actually Australian slang for someone playing the Didgeridoo.  It turns out that front man Dr. Robert spent his teen years in Australia before returning to the U.K. and I suppose that he liked the expression.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Greg Kihn Band - Jeapardy

The Greg Kihn Band was a solid working group that had some meaningful success in the early 1980's with three top 40 albums and three top 40 singles.  While Kihn was originally from Baltimore, he moved to San Francisco in the early 1970's to work in the music industry.  By 1976 Kihn had a band and a recording contract.

Success came slowly for the band, who played constantly as they built a following.  Their first real breakthrough was 1981's "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)," which reached #15 on the singles chart.  However, they are probably best-known for "Jeopardy" from their 1983 Kihnspiracy LP (yes, Kihn has a thing for puns as album titles).

The wild, surreal video quickly gained traction on MTV and helped propel the song to the #2 slot on the charts (behind Michael Jackson's "Beat It").  While the song isn't spooky, the video, complete with skeletons, zombies and a giant, tentacled monster seemed like a great fit for our All Hallows Eve videos.

Although Kihn has not had a charting single since 1986, he remains active in the music industry.  He was also a DJ on KFOX in San Jose, California for 16 years (he and the station parted ways in 2012).

The Greg Kihn Band's rarer (and excellent) "Reunited" was posted on ERV in April 2014.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ramones - Pet Sematary

Written for the Stephen King movie of the same (intentionally misspelled) name, "Pet Sematary" would go on to become one of the Ramones bigger radio hits.  The song would reach #4 on the Modern Rock charts, while the Brain Drain album peaked at #122.  In spite of this success, neither the song nor the album were well-regarded by critics, who viewed the song as more hard rock than punk.  [Readers who are so inclined should contrast "Pet Sematary" with "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," which was also used in the Pet Sematary movie.]

While this criticism is valid, "Pet Sematary" still manages to combine a Stephen King horror flick with the Ramones, making it a fantastic Halloween video.  In fact, it was a match made in horror heaven, as King is a big fan of the Ramones.

The video combines scenes from the movie with the band playing in a ... well, cemetery.  While there a bunch of actors, fog machines, and graves also present, there really isn't much more to the video (although I did appreciate the fact that the band is buried in the end).

By the by, the Ramones were featured on ERV last August with "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" which is well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Specials - Ghost Town

Kicking off this year's All Hallows Even festivities is "Ghost Town" by The Specials.  The Specials were a truly innovative band, and one of the first 2 Tone ska bands in the U.K.  Founded in 1977, they combined an updated ska sound with an aggressive punk attitude.  Add in political lyrics, and you have the makings of an important and interesting band.

The group had 7 top 10 hits in the U.K. between 1979 and 1981, without much success in the U.S.  "Ghost Town," a non-album single released in 1981, spent three weeks as the #1 song in the U.K.  Inspired by the economic problems and urban decay of Britain in the early 1980's, the song touched a nerve in the U.K., but remains somewhat unknown in the U.S.

The video, featuring the band driving around in a Vauxhall Cresta through empty London streets is simple but effective, and is a great way to start off the Halloween season.

Many critics view "Ghost Town" as The Specials greatest achievement.  Unfortunately, the band partially disintegrated soon after the song was released, with the three primary singers (Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding) leaving to form Fun Boy Three.  While The Specials carried on (as The Special AKA) for one album, it was not as successful, and Jerry Dammers (the band's primary songwriter) disbanded the group in 1984.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Krokus - Midnite Maniac

One of the few rock acts to emerge from Switzerland, Krokus built a successful career with their straight-up version of hard rock.  The band formed in Solothurn in the mid-1970's and gradually developed a local following.  An AC/DC concert in the late 1970's apparently made a huge impression on the band, and Krokus' music steadily became more anthemic in the 1980's -- a move which coincidentally led to greater international success.

The band's big breakthrough in the U.S. was their 1983 Headhunter LP, which featured "Screaming in the Night."  The Road Warrior influenced video went into heavy rotation on MTV, helping the album rise to #25 on the charts.  Krokus would go on to release several more moderately successful albums in the mid-1980's before their popularity waned at the end of the decade.

For the blog, we went with "Midnite Maniac" from the band's 1984 album The Blitz.  The song is a pop metal gem, while the video contrasts the band's unique style on stage with a retro story line.  By the way, is it me, or does the video seems to be heavily influenced by Def Leppard's "Photograph"?  You be the judge of that.

"Midnite Maniac" would become the band's first charting single in the U.S. (#71), although a 1986 cover of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" would become Krokus' highest charting single at #67.

Cool trivia fact:  Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance co-wrote "Boys Night Out" for The Blitz album (with lead singer Marc Storace and guitarist Fernando von Arb).  The Adams/Vallance connection to Krokus was Bruce Fairbairn, who produced The Blitz.  Eagle-eyed readers may also recall that Fairbairn got his start with Prism who were featured on ERV in May 2012.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know

Tracey Ullman has enjoyed a long and diverse career as a singer, actress and comedienne, helped by her gentle and observant comic touch.  Although we are more focused on her 1980's music for the blog, her TV shows The Tracy Ullman Show (which spawned The Simpsons) and Tracey Takes On ... are definitely recommended.

While Ullman is best-known for her sketch comedy, she got her start in West End (London) musical theater, and her growing visibility there led to a recording contract.  Ullman's first album, 1983's You Broke My Heart in 17 Places is a quirky, nostalgic take on 1960's pop that became a surprise success in both the U.S. (#34, with 2 top 100 singles) and the U.K. (#14, with three top 10 songs).

For the blog, we went with Ullman's biggest hit, "They Don't Know," a cover of a 1979 Kirsty MacColl song.  The video is pure Ullman, with bowling reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, a cameo from Sir Paul McCartney and grocery cart dancing.  The comic touches are really outstanding, as well.

Unfortunately, Ullman was unable to maintain her success and refocused on comedy and acting when the follow up LP did not do as well ... but I think things turned out all right for her.

The Kirsty MacColl original version of the song received a bunch of airplay in the U.K., but did not do as well on the charts, hurt by a distributors strike.  By the by, MacColl was an  English singer / songwriter who flirted with major success, but never quite broke through.  In the U.K., she had 7 top 40 singles 4 top 50 albums.  She also performed with The Pogues and sang backup for a bunch of artists including: Robert Plant, The Smiths, Alison Moyet, Simple Minds, Talking Heads and Big Country.  Sadly, MacColl died in a tragic boating accident in 2000.

The Ullman video:

The Kirsty MacColl original:

Note that the Pogues song "Fairytale of New York," which features Kirsty MacColl, was posted on ERV in December 2014.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Change of Heart

Since their 1976 founding, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been considered one of the preeminent bands in rock and roll.  Their updated, Byrds-influenced brand of music led the group to fame, fortune and critical acclaim.  While the songs and attitude are straightforward, they are impeccably executed, leading many to view Petty as one of the foremost singer/songwriters of his generation.  How's that for a rave introduction?

My all-time favorite Tom Petty song is "Change of Heart" from the 1982 Long After Dark album.  While the song was a solid success (reaching #21 on the charts), the video was overshadowed by "You Got Lucky" with all of its post-apocalyptic goodness.  This is a shame, because "Change of Heart" is one of a handful of videos directed by the legendary Cameron Crowe.  Crowe is a fascinating figure; the crib notes version is: Rolling Stone writer in his teens, then wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and wrote/directed Almost Famous -- two films that get ERV's highest recommendation.  [He's done a bunch of other solid work, but those two really stand out to us.]

The "Change of Heart" video is a well-crafted performance piece, featuring a live audio track and keyboardist Benmont Tench (previously featured on ERV as the songwriter of one of two salacious Feargal Sharkey songs).  Straight up rock and roll doesn't get any better than this.

Note that the excellent (and underrated) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers duet with Stevie Nicks, "Insider" was posted on ERV In February 2015. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Public Enemy - Don't Believe the Hype

Powerful, political and controversial, Public Enemy (PE) helped to re-define rap, transforming it to a 'new school' sound.  However, unlike the gangsta rap acts, PE's lyrics were sophisticated and political, complimenting the strong backing sounds.

Public Enemy came out of Long Island, NY and was led by Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour), complimented by sidekick/class clown Flavor Flav (William Drayton) and DJ Terminator X  (Norman Rogers).  The group's entourage included bodyguards who helped the group present a strong, militant image.

While PE's debut LP, 1987's Yo! Bum Rush the Show generated some buzz within the hip hop community, it was their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) that really broke the band.  The aggressive funk/rock backing music seemed to be perfectly paired with Chuck D's words (and Flavor Flav's jokes).  The album would become critically acclaimed and commercially successful, helping to usher in the golden age of new school hip hop.

For the blog, we went with "Don't Believe the Hype" off the group's second album.  I don't believe that the song charted, while the album reached #42.  Of course, PE would go on to have tremendous success in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  While they have taken several breaks over the years, I believe that they are still together as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  PE is an official one hit wonder, as only 1994's "Give It Up" (#33) broke the top 40.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Long Ryders - Looking for Lewis and Clark

"Looking for Lewis and Clark" is another reader suggestion and a mighty fine one at that.  The song is by the Long Ryders, a really interesting LA-based band who deserved a lot more success than the pittance they received.

Guitarist/singer Sid Griffin founded the band in the early 1980's.  Named after the 1980 Walter Hill western film of the same name (but with a more traditional spelling), the group quickly gathered a following.  They released their first EP in 1983, and the band's rocked up country sound and political lyrics endeared them to critics and fans alike.  We think of the Long Ryders as sounding like a more rocking version of 1980's R.E.M.; readers who enjoy that music would be well served to check out the band's catalog.

While The Long Ryders were loosely associated with the Paisley Underground scene, many critics (correctly, in our view) consider them more of a roots rock or country rock band.  [As an aside, the term Paisley Underground refers to an LA-based style of roots rock that had strong 1960's (Byrds) and psychedelic influences.  Artists associated with the scene include The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, Rain Parade, and The Three O'Clock.]

"Looking for Lewis and Clark" was the lead single off the group's major label debut, 1985's State of Our Union.  The song charted in the U.K. (#59) but did not hit the U.S. charts.  It did generate a bit of college radio play, but I do not recall ever seeing the video on MTV.

After a few more years of struggling to break through, the Long Ryders broke up at the end of 1987.  Sid Griffin moved to London a few years later and founded The Coal Porters, a bluegrass act.

We particularly love the call-outs of  Tim Hardin and Gram Parsons in the song.

The Long Ryders' cover of "I Want You Bad" was posted on ERV in March, 2016.

Monday, September 30, 2013

INXS and Jimmy Barnes - Good Times

As fall rolls in (in the Northern hemisphere), our thoughts turn towards the upcoming All Hallows Even.  And yes, before you ask, ERV will have a special collection of Halloween videos (just as we do every year), starting in about two weeks.  Consider this an offering from the chef -- a tasty morsel prior to the full meal of Halloweeny videos.

"Good Times" was off the soundtrack of the 1987 teen vampire film The Lost Boys which starred Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Jami Gertz and the Coreys (Haim and Feldman).  I may be biased, but the movie is not half bad, and the soundtrack is actually pretty strong (and used extensively in the movie itself).  Helped by MTV, "Good Times" would peak at #47, while The Lost Boys soundtrack would reach #15 on the album charts.

Americans (well, non-Australians) may also wonder why Jimmy Barnes got to sing with INXS.  It turns out that Barnes was the lead singer of the Australian rock band Cold Chisel before becoming a solo artist.  Cold Chisel enjoyed huge success in their home market (6 top 10 LPs, including 3 #1s) but never broke through internationally.  The group disbanded in 1983, and Barnes would go on to have a successful solo career in Australia, with 7 #1 LPs (and 3 #2s).

Making the song even more interesting (and more Australian, to boot), it is a cover of a 1968 Easybeats song.  The Easybeats were the most successful Australian rock band of the 1960's and the first Australian rock act to have an international hit with "Friday on My Mind."

The INXS and Jimmy Barnes version:

The original Easybeats song:

Note that INXS was previously featured on ERV with "Don't Change" back in December 2011.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters - When Things Go Wrong

The 11th video ever played on MTV, "When Things Go Wrong" is another great, nearly forgotten classic by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters.  Lane was a native Californian who began her career as a folk artist in the late 1960's.  By the mid-1970's, she had moved to Massachusetts and became involved in the vibrant punk and new wave scene.  After hanging out at the legendary Rathskeller club (nicknamed The Rat) in Boston, she decided to put a group together.

The resulting band released an independent three song EP in 1979, which sold more than 10,000 copies.  Later that year, Jerry Wexler (one of the most well-regarded A&R executives in the industry) signed them to Warner Bros. and the band's major label LP came out in 1980.  Unfortunately, poorly produced records and a lack of marketing doomed the group.  "When Things Go Wrong" managed to reach #87 on the singles chart, but the band did not have another charting single or album as far as I can tell.  By 1983 the Chartbusters had broken up, although Lane remained in the industry.

In 2001, there was a Robin Lane & The Chartbusters reunion, which led to a new album in 2003.  More recently, Lane has been involved with the Turners Falls Women's Resource Center, where she uses music therapy to help abuse survivors. [As an aside, this gets my vote for coolest post rock star job ever.]

Cool trivia fact:  Robin Lane was married to Andy Summers (guitarist of The Police) from 1968-70.

Addendum:  Thanks to reader Shellie, who mentioned a TV show in Boston, called Chronicle, that featured Robin Lane over the summer.  The show is up on YouTube (here), for folks who are interested (It gets a recommendation from ERV).

Monday, September 23, 2013

XTC - Mayor of Simpleton

This is XTC's second appearance on the blog, as "Senses Working Overtime" showed up way back in September 2011.  As we mentioned in that post, XTC produced some outstanding 1960's influenced pop, but somehow managed to avoid becoming big stars.  Their lack of major success seems to have been the result of two factors:  (1) Their inability to tour (guitarist/singer Andy Partridge's stage fright is the stuff of legends), and (2) The lack of trendiness in their music.  Ironically, while they often seemed out of step back in the day, their music has aged remarkably well, in ERV's opinion.

"Mayor of Simpleton" was from the band's 1989 Oranges and Lemons album, and at #72, it was their highest charting U.S. single.  In fact, XTC's only other charting song in the U.S. was "Generals and Majors," which reached #104 in 1980.  "Mayor of Simpleton" was undoubtedly helped by the catchy video(s) below, which led to some airplay on MTV, particularly during the 120 Minutes segment.

Due to the wonders of the internet, we also know that there were two version of the video -- a U.S. version:

And a U.K. version:

XTC continued making music through 1992, when a dispute with their label led the band to stop recording for six years.  Once they were released from their contract, XTC resumed releasing music on a smaller scale until they disbanded in 2005.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Paul Simon - Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes

In 1986, Paul Simon's career was at an interesting juncture.  On the one hand, he was one of the foremost singer/songwriters of the 1970's, with three top 5 LPs (plus another three top 5 albums as half of Simon and Garfunkel).  Oh, and he had recorded 26 top 40 singles, too.

On the other hand, his 1983 album, Hearts and Bones had not broken the top 30, and a case could be made that his most interesting work (and biggest successes) were behind him.  Simon had other ideas, however, and recorded the unexpected and brilliant Graceland album.

Some readers may have a hard time appreciating just how out of left field this album was.  World music was in its infancy, and South African music was essentially unknown in the rest of the world.  In addition, music was very stratified in the 1980's.  The idea of combining western pop with mbaqanga and turning it into an album ... this was insanity.  And genius, as it turned out.  The resulting album was a masterpiece that managed to sound fresh and familiar at the same time.

The album rejuvenated Simon's career, and went 5x platinum in the U.S., where it peaked at #3.  It had similar success globally.  Graceland also appeared on seemingly every best of list -- Rolling Stone considers it the 5th best album of the 1980's.

For the blog, we went with "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes," our favorite cut from the LP.  The song features Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a black South African men's choral group singing the intro (in Zulu of course).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Saga - Wind Him Up

Way back in the dark days of August 2011 (when we started ERV), the first thing that we did was to compile a list of 35 or so potential videos for the blog, most of which have already appeared.  One name on the list was Saga.  So after sitting in the bullpen for more than two years, the Canadian progressive rock band finally gets its turn.  [As an aside, the bullpen list now has 216 names, and continues to grow.]

Saga formed in Oakville, Ontario (near Toronto) in 1977 and were originally called Pockets.  They released their first record in 1978 and gradually built an audience in their homeland.  The group's third LP, Silent Knight (1980) even charted in Canada (#42), although they remained relatively unknown in the U.S.

This all changed in 1981 when they released the Worlds Apart album.  Two videos from the record went into heavy rotation on your favorite video music channel and Saga became an early MTV success story.  The Worlds Apart LP reached #29 in the U.S. (#22 in Canada), while "Wind Him Up" (#64) and "On the Loose" (#26) both charted.  Saga even won the Juno Award for Most Promising Group of the Year in 1982 (regular ERV readers will now shake their heads knowingly ... another example of the cursed nature of a best new anything award).

Unfortunately, the band's commercial success did not last, but Saga has remained a working band and continues to regularly release albums and tour.  They remain particularly popular in Germany, Scandinavia and Puerto Rico.  As of this writing, Saga has released 21 studio albums and remains active in the industry.

For the blog, we went with "Wind Him Up," an early story video.  While the video was clearly shot on a budget, the band's dramatic flair and storytelling were ahead of their time, and helped generate traction on MTV.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fine Young Cannibals - Johnny Come Home

Named after a 1960 movie, Fine Young Cannibals were a British pop/soul band formed from half of The Beat (The English Beat to Americans), who were previously featured on ERV for "Save It For Later."

The Beat broke up in 1983, surprising guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele, who were notified by their accountant that vocalists Ranking Roger and Dave Wakelin had left the band to form General Public.  Once Cox and Steele decided to continue making music, the first order of business was to find a singer, which proved to be a difficult task.  After eight months and 500 demo tapes, the duo finally settled on Roland Gift and set about recording their first LP.

The first single off their self-titled first album was "Johnny Come Home," a cool piece of post-ska fusion.  While the song only reached #76 in the U.S., it broke the top 10 in the U.K., leading to significant success there.  Four years later, the band's second album, The Raw and the Cooked became a huge international success, reaching #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K.

There seems to be some controversy over whether the band officially broke up, but Fine Young Cannibals never released a third album, and have only occasionally worked together since The Raw and the Cooked.  This is a shame, as they created some of the best jazzy, soul/pop music of the decade.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tommy Shaw - Girls With Guns

There was always tension in Styx between the theatrical vision of Dennis DeYoung and the rock approach favored by Tommy Shaw, and these differences finally tore the band apart in 1983.  After the Kilroy Was Here tour, Shaw left the band and set out on a solo career.  Styx released a live LP, and then disbanded for the rest of the 1980's.  [We considered including a "Mr. Roboto" joke here, but thought better of it.]

Shaw immediately began work on his first solo album, and Girls With Guns was released in 1984.  The title cut reached #33 on the charts, while the album peaked at #50.  Unfortunately, Shaw's other albums did not fare as well, with only 1985's What If breaking the Billboard 200 album charts.  However, the formation of Damn Yankees (with Night Ranger's Jack Blades, Ted Nugent and drummer Michael Cartellone) led to two top 25 LPs and 2 top 40 singles in the early 1990's.

The video for "Girls With Guns" is a great example of a one shot video -- the entire clip was shot in one continuous take, with no edits.  Sorry for the occasional freezing of the video; it was the best quality version that we could find.

As a special treat, it turns out that the above video for "Girls With Guns" was not the original.  As Shaw explains in the clip below, a more standard video was shot, but discarded.  Even better, a short clip of the original video is included in the video below (this starts at 0:22)

Cool trivia fact:  While Shaw is an official one hit wonder as a solo artist, he wrote or co-wrote 7 top 40 songs with Styx and Damn Yankees.

The video for Styx "A.D. 1928 / Rockin' the Paradise" (the 10th video played on MTV) was posted on ERV in July 2015.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

X - Hungry Wolf

Although they were not the first LA punk band, X quickly became the standard-bearer for the California punk scene.  The band's literate, dangerous lyrics and unique punk meets rockabilly sound earned them rave reviews and a loyal following but never translated to mainstream success.  Perhaps that is part of their charm, through their lack of success says more about rock radio and the listening audience than it does about X.  It is easy to describe a band as ahead of their time and few truly were, but X fits the bill.

The group came together in the late 1970's and was made up of transplants from all over the U.S. -- John Doe (bass and vocals, born John Duchac from Baltimore), Exene Cervenka (vocals, born Christine Cervenkova from Tampa), Billy Zoom (guitars, born Ty Kindell from Illinois) and D.J. Bonebrake (drums, from California and using his real name -- Donald James Bonebrake).

X released two spectacular early 1980's independent albums (both of which made Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time) before signing a major label deal with Elektra.  Their Elektra debut, 1982's Under the Big Black Sun was just as strong, in your author's opinion.  The LP opened with "Hungry Wolf," and the video picked up some airplay on MTV back in the day.  In spite of this, the album peaked at #76, and the single did not chart.

After Under the Big Black Sun, X slowly shifted their sound, trying for greater commercial success.  These changes did not pan out and guitarist Billy Zoom left the band in 1986, supposedly frustrated by the lack of success.  Amazingly, X has remained together through the years, albeit with several extended breaks.  While the group has not recorded any new material since 1993, they continue to perform to the present day (with Billy Zoom, as of this writing).

Cool trivia fact:  Ray Manzarek (The Doors) produced X's first four albums.

Cool trivia fact #2:  John Doe and Exene were an item, and were married from 1980 - 85.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Living Colour - Cult of Personality

Living Colour (the band, not the cool TV show, In Living Color) has been on the list of acts to add to the blog for some time.  And while we considered going with a less well-known video such as "Open Letter to a Landlord," we finally settled on "Cult of Personality" because ... well, because it rocks.

Guitarist Vernon Reid was the driving force behind Living Colour and formed the group in 1986 with singer Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoun.  The New York group became regulars at CBGBs and soon caught the ear of Mick Jagger, who helped the band get signed (and later had them open for the Stones on the 1989-90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour).

While Living Colour initially gained some notoriety for their skin color, it soon became apparent that they were carving out a divergent musical path that combined hard rock, jazz and funk into a new sound.  The result was critically acclaimed, and amazingly found an audience.  The group's 1988 debut, Vivid, reached #6 on the charts and produced two top 40 songs -- "Cult of Personality" (#13) and "Glamour Boys (#31).  Living Colour also won the MTV VMA for Best New Artist in 1989 (which may have been the kiss of death; see the Michael Penn - No Myth entry for a list of MTV's Best New Artist winners).

Unfortunately, the band's follow up efforts became progressively less successful, and this, combined with disagreements around their musical direction caused Living Colour's 1995 break up.  The individual members remained in the industry and re-formed the group in 2000; they continue to record and perform to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  the song contains samples of several famous speakers, most notably Malcolm X in the intro.  (JFK and FDR are sampled later in the song).

Cool trivia fact #2:  Rolling Stone views Vivid as the 64th greatest album of the 1980's.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Arc Angel - Tragedy

Arc Angel (not to be confused with The Arc Angels, the 1990's blues rock band) was an early 1980's  AOR band.  Though they were talented, the group never quite found its audience and broke up after just one LP.

The band was comprised of Jeff Cannata and Michael Soldan, who had previously been in Jasper Wrath, a locally famous Connecticut progressive rock band.  After Jasper Wrath broke up in 1976, Cannata and Soldan continued to work together and eventually secured a recording contract as Arc Angel.  The record was put together using studio musicians; while the video appears to show a band, Arc Angel was in fact a Cannata and Soldan project.

Although Arc Angel was not a success, "Tragedy" from their 1983 eponymous debut album did pick up some radio play.  However, I don't recall ever seeing the video at the time.  While the music did not break any new ground, it was a well-produced slice of album rock and I think the band deserved more success than they found.

After Arc Angel, Jeff Cannata remained in the industry, and released records under the Cannata name.  Arc Angel (with Michael Soldan) also released a second album in 2002, called Tamorok.

Cool trivia fact:  the intro (backwards) lyrics are "Never Gonna Fade Away."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Big Country - Look Away

Long time reader Krista recommended this one, and it is a perfect fit for the blog.  (I have to say, having well-informed readers makes my job even easier ...)

Big Country was a one hit wonder in the U.S., with only "In a Big Country" (#17 in 1983) breaking the top 40.  However, in the U.K., the band had significant success with 15 top 40 songs between 1982 and 1993.  Even more surprising (to me, at least), "In a Big Country" was not their highest charting single in the U.K. (at #17, same as the U.S.).  Instead, "Look Away" was, as it reached #7 in 1986.  In the U.S., the song is not nearly as well known as it did not chart.

Although Big Country formed in mid-1981, it took a few months to solidify the classic line up of Stuart Adamson (guitars, vocals), Bruce Watson (guitars), Tony Butler (Bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums).  Interestingly, Tony Butler was not the first choice on bass, but Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen declined to join the group.  In 1982, the band signed with Mercury-Phonogram and released their first LP in 1983.

The band was known for their strong Scottish folk influences, driven by guitars that often had a bagpipe-like sound.  This stylized sound eventually hurt the band as critics argued that their songs sounded too much alike.  However, the band did produce a bunch of solid Celtic-rock songs (and that is not a sentence that one writes very often).

For the blog, we went with the previously mentioned "Look Away," from the 1986 LP The Seer.  The video uses period costumes, horses and dogs to capture the feel of the song, and does a nice job, in my opinion.

Big Country remained together and continued to record and perform until Stuart Adamson's suicide in 2001.  The band broke up at that point, but has re-formed twice in the intervening years, most recently with Mike Peters (former lead singer of The Alarm). [Note: Mike Peters left the group in November 2013 and was replaced by Simon Hough.]

The group's first charting single, "Fields of Fire (400 Miles)" was posted on ERV in January 2015.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Billy Joel - Sometimes a Fantasy

By 1980, Billy Joel was a big big star, but the lack of critical acclaim bothered him.  So, he did what any good artist would and poured these frustrations into his seventh solo album.  The resulting effort (Glass Houses) combined Joel's skillful pop melodies with a stronger rock sound and edgier lyrics.  It is my favorite Billy Joel album, and the last of four tremendous LPs (Turnstiles, The Stranger, 52nd Street and Glass Houses) that he made between 1976 and 1980.

The really impressive thing about Glass Houses (and the three other albums) is the strength of the material.  There is nary a bad song on any of these records, and they are quite stylistically diverse, to boot.  They are also impeccably produced by Phil Ramone, which, ironically, may have added fuel to the fire for some critics who viewed it as too polished for rock and roll.

As many readers will know, Joel was anything but an overnight success.  He started playing keyboards with The Echoes in 1965, then quit to join The Hassles in 1967.  In 1969, Joel formed Atilla with The Hassles drummer Jon Small, but the group disbanded after Joel had an affair with Small's wife (Joel would eventually go on to marry her).  Billy Joel's solo career started with the release of Cold Spring Harbor in 1971, and he gradually build a following until the huge success of The Stranger in 1977.

"Sometimes a Fantasy" was the last of five singles released from Glass Houses.  The song reached #36 on the charts, but given Joel's huge success at the time, it is almost a lost classic.  The video (which I don't recall ever seeing back in the day) is the only 'story' video shot from Glass Houses, as the other videos are simply Joel performing on a sound stage (remember, Glass Houses came out a year before MTV launched).  I am particularly partial to the "bad" Billy Joel (the one with the beard) in the video.

Billy Joel would go on to have continued success throughout the 1980's and early 1990's, albeit with mostly weaker material in your humble author's view.  His last rock studio album was 1993's River of Dreams, although he still performs to the present day.  And over time, the critics have warmed up to him -- Allmusic rates the four albums above as 4 stars (on a 5 point scale; actually, all but 52nd Street are 4 1/2 stars).

Friday, August 23, 2013

Echo & The Bunnymen - Lips Like Sugar

Although they had a string of hits in the U.K (including 13 top 40 singles)., Echo & the Bunnymen never charted in the U.S.  However, they were popular on college radio and did develop something of a cult following in the 1980's.

The band came out of the late 1970's Liverpool scene.  In fact, lead singer Ian McCulloch had previously been in Crucial Three with Julian Cope (who went on to form The Teardrop Explodes before his solo career) and Pete Wylie (Wah! Heat).  After Crucial Three broke up, McCulloch began working with guitarist Will Sergeant and bass player Les Pattinson and Echo & the Bunnymen was formed.  Some sources believe that the drum machine used by the band was named Echo, but this seems to be in dispute.  There is little doubt that the name was essentially random and meant to be ridiculous.

I have to admit that I was surprised that "Lips Like Sugar" never charted, as it has generated a fair bit of airplay through the years.  The song did chart in the U.K., where it reached #36, while the album was Echo's highest charting U.S. LP, where it reached #51.

McCullouch left the band in 1988, effectively ending Echo & the Bunnymen (although one album without him was released).  The group then re-formed in 1997 and remains together as of this writing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

De La Soul - Me Myself and I

When De La Soul's debut album came out in 1989, it created quite a stir in the music industry.  At a time when old school rap had started to feel stale, De La Soul's funky, jazzy and quirky take on hip hop was a breath of fresh air.  That album, 3 Feet High and Rising, was both critically and commercially successful and was hailed by many critics as a sign of things to come.

The lead single from the LP was "Me Myself and I" which would go on to become De La Soul's only top 40 hit (at #34), while the album would reach #24 and go platinum.  At the time, the group's positive message and broad use of samples seemed to be pushing hip hop in an upbeat, artistic direction; it was easy to believe that this was the beginning of a new era.  This sense of a movement was reinforced by the Native Tongues collective, which was a grouping of artists (led by De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Jungle Brothers) who shared a musical vision that was positive, laid-back and somewhat Afrocentric.

Unfortunately, things did not go according to plan for De La Soul.  First, The Turtles sued the band for not obtaining permission to use their song "You Showed Me" as a sample (in "Transmitting Live from Mars").  The Turtles eventually won the case, which had a huge impact on the rap industry, as samples now had to be cleared (and paid for) prior to work being released.  This delayed the group's second album, and made it more difficult to produce the layered songs that they favored.

In addition, the group had a difficult time artistically as their recordings varied in style but did not resonate as well with critics and listeners.  To my ear, it almost sounds as if they were trying to find their sound, something that became more difficult after the industry's shift to gangster rap in the early 1990's.  While the band continued to record, their audience seemed to shrink with every record.  To their credit, De La Soul has stayed together and continues to record to the present day.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Eurogliders - Heaven (Must Be There)

Eurogliders were an Australian band that had one minor international hit, although they had much greater success in their homeland.  The group formed in Perth in 1980 and were originally called Living Single.  By 1981 they had changed their name and secured a recording contract.  It is unclear why they chose the name Eurogliders as they were neither (to be fair, lead singer Grace Knight was born in the U.K., but had relocated to Australia by 1977).

The band's big hit was their 1984 single "Heaven (Must Be There)," off their second LP, This Island.  I'm not sure how much airplay the song had on radio, but the video was in rotation on MTV for a time.  In any event, "Heaven" peaked at #65 in the U.S., while the album stalled at #140.  In contrast, our Australian reader(s) may recall that the song reached #2 on the charts there (the album hit #4), one of seven top 40 hits in their homeland.

Eurogliders broke up in 1989.  Lead singer Grace Knight went on to have a successful career as a jazz singer and several of the other members remained in the music industry.  The band has sporadically re-formed since 2005.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ramones - Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?

Often viewed by critics as the first punk band, the Ramones are an incredibly important act in the history of rock and roll.  By stripping rock down to its basic elements, they created something new, brash and exciting, and breathed new life into the music industry.

The roots of the Ramones go back to early 1960's rock and roll, and the band's style (jeans, leather jackets) showed these influences.  This was probably one of the factors that made them so influential -- they were doing something new, but it was connected to rock's past.

The Ramones got their start in New York City, and they quickly became part of the punk/new wave scene at CBGB's that included Blondie, Talking Heads, and Television among others.  Their early sets (often featuring 10 songs in 20 minutes) soon gathered a following, and they were signed by Sire in 1975.   Their debut album came out the following year, and the band then began a relentless touring schedule for the next 20 or so years.

In spite of the band's importance, they had only modest commercial success, and in 1980 they decided to work with Phil Spector on their fifth album, End of the Century.  While the combination was a bit weird, it also made some sense, as the band's 1960's influences and desire for more commercial success fit well with Spector's strengths.  The resulting album was surprisingly good, though the recording sessions were tumultuous (at one point, Spector apparently pulled a gun on the band).

While End of the Century was the band's highest charting LP, it only reached #44, and none of the singles charted.  The band would go on to tour and release records up until their breakup in 1996.  Sadly, Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee would all pass away within eight years of the breakup.

Cool trivia facts:  "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" was the 103rd video played on MTV (on the first day).

The Ramones never had a top 40 hit; 1977's "Rockaway Beach" was their highest charting single at #66.

In 2002, Spin Magazine ranked the Ramones as the second greatest band ever, trailing only the Beatles.

The Ramones video for "Pet Sematary" was posted on the blog in October 2013 as part of our annual All Hallows Even celebration.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Jason and the Scorchers - Absolutely Sweet Marie

This is the second appearance on the blog for Jason and the Scorchers (JATS), as "White Lies" showed up on ERV in April 2012.  As we pointed out then, Jason and the Scorchers is one of the great unknown country rock bands of the 1980's.  The band produced a catalog of stellar cow punk (country rock), but never found their audience.  In my view, they were just a bit ahead of their time, and as has been mentioned several times on ERV, country rock bands had a particularly difficult time breaking through in the eighties.

For the second JATS video, we went with "Absolutely Sweet Marie" from the band's 1983 EP Fervor.  This was the record that really placed them on the map, and it was a critical darling to boot.  The New York Times rated it the EP of the year, the Village Voice placed it third on the critics poll, and Rolling Stone gave it a four star review. How's that for impressive?

The lead single was a re-worked cover of Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" this is truly marvelous.  As an aside, Dylan remains a wonderful artist to cover, as he wrote a truckload of great songs, many of which were not huge commercial successes.  The video did show up on MTV for a time, but the single did not chart, and the EP only reached #116 on the charts.

Jason and the Scorchers would go on to release three LPs during the 1980's before breaking up in 1990.  The band periodically re-formed several times since then, most recently in 2010-11 when they recorded a new album (Halcyon Times) and toured to support it.  It is not clear what the current status of the band is, as drummer/songwriter Perry Baggs died of complications from diabetes in 2012.

Here is the JATS version of "Absolutely Sweet Marie:"

And the Bob Dylan original ...