Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ian Hunter - All of the Good Ones Are Taken

Ian Hunter's "All of the Good Ones Are Taken" is another video that fits in perfectly in the ERV neighborhood, and there are a bunch of cool factoids associated with the vid to boot.

We'll start with Ian Hunter, your basic under-appreciated musician.  Hunter started his career as the frontman for Mott the Hoople, a groundbreaking English glam rock band that never quite broke out.  Mott the Hoople are best known for their 1972 classic, "All the Young Dudes" (written for the band by David Bowie).  Hunter left Mott in late 1974 and embarked on a solo career that was critically acclaimed, but generally flew under the radar of the listening public.  In particular, Hunter's 1979 LP, You're Never Alone with a Schizophrenic is viewed by many as a rock classic (and totally goes on my list of greatest album titles).

"All of the Good Ones Are Taken" comes from the 1983 album of the same name -- note that the album contained two versions of the song (fast and slow)  The video is set to the fast version of the song (the slow version can be found here, for interested readers).  It is also worth pointing out that the sax solo is performed by Clarence Clemons, who does not appear in the video.

The video is pitch perfect in my humble opinion and is notable for the presence of Carol Miller (she is the blonde with the side ponytail).  Miller is a famous NY DJ (WPLJ, WNEW-FM and now Q104.3) and one of your author's favorite DJs ever.  The butler is played by Arthur "Captain" Haggerty, a famous animal trainer and actor.  And, of course, we have to call out the presence of roller skates (!) at 1:14.  All this adds up to a fun, rare video of a good and nearly forgotten song.

Cool trivia fact:  ERV reader Corkey pointed out the Martin Briley, whose song "Salt of My Tears" was posted on ERV in October 2011 can be seen (well, the back of his head can, at least) at 0:31.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Hilly Michaels, who appeared on ERV in February ("Calling All Girls"), played drums on  the All of the Good Ones Are Taken LP, and co-wrote one of the songs on the album, as well.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Jacksons - Can You Feel It

You have to hand it to the Jacksons -- when they went big, they really went big.  Case in point:  the 9+ minute video for "Can You Feel It" from 1981.  For an early (pre-MTV) video, this is about as big as it gets.    And while the video is dated (and just a bit over the top), it has become regarded as something of a classic in recent years.

1980's Triumph LP came during a weird period for the brothers.  While the band had remained reasonably successful in the late 1970s, Michael's 1979 solo album Off the Wall had rocketed him to super-stardom, leading to speculation that he would leave the band to focus on his solo career.  (This eventually happened, but not for several more years.)

At any rate, the video for "Can You Feel It" is particularly noteworthy for the Robert Abel's special effects.  Michael (who co-wrote the song with Jackie) came up with the concept, which portrays the Jacksons as god-like creatures who spread magical pixie dust ... really.  I particularly like that the special effects at times drown out the music.

"Can You Feel It" would go on to be a modest disappointment, peaking at #77 on the charts, while the Triumph album would do better, reaching #10 and going platinum.  Of course, in 1982 Michael Jackson would release Thriller, and go on to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time ... but you already knew that.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Michelle Shocked - Anchorage

It's hard to imagine a more extreme transition than from Accept to Michelle Shocked, and it underscores the diversity of eighties music.  [I'm not sure how many readers will actually listen to the two songs, but they are both good ... in very different ways.]

Michelle Shocked (given name:  Karen Michelle Johnston) is an indy folk artist who became a musician almost accidentally.  Her first album (The Texas Campfire Tapes) was a bootleg recording of her made on a Sony Walkman performing an impromptu set at 1986 Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas.  The recording (released without her permission) became a hit in the UK and led to a recording contract.

Her next album, 1988's Short Sharp Shocked reached #73 on the album charts, while "Anchorage" hit #66 on the singles chart, making her a bona fide indy folk star.  Shocked followed this up with a 40's style swing album (1989's Captain Swing) and a folk / old time country album (1992's Arkansas Traveler).  When she recorded a gospel album next, her exasperated label dropped her, and she has continued to record interesting music in a variety of genres (mostly folk based) since then.

"Anchorage" is a pretty, slightly sad song sung as if it were a letter.  While the lyrics are straightforward, there is a beauty to them -- and more than a hint of feminism and nostalgia.  As with many great songs, it is open-ended enough to allow many interpretations.  Both the song and the album would be on my list of best 1980's folk music.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Accept - Midnight Mover

Led by diminutive (5'6") camo-wearing vocalist Udo Dirkschneider and known for their hard and fast sound, the German band Accept put out several strong heavy metal albums in the early to mid 1980's.  While their aggressive, uptempo version of heavy metal laid the groundwork  for thrash, the band had difficulty in the U.S. market, as they were simply too heavy for American audiences of the time.

Accept formed in Solingen, Germany and slowly built a following in Europe during the late 1970's and early 1980's.  [For hard rock fans, I would recommend "Fast As a Shark" from the 1982 Restless and Wild LP and "Balls to the Wall" from the 1983 album of the same name.]

Following the modest success of Balls to the Wall, which hit #74 of the U.S. charts, the band decided to craft a more commercial album.  They hired producer Dieter Dierks (famous for his work with the Scorpions) and focused on writing more melodic hard rock.  The result was 1985's Metal Heart, a good but unsuccessful album that alienated some of the group's core fans and did not expand its audience.  Ironically, Metal Heart is now well-regarded by many Accept fans.

While the band continued on for a few years, Udo left Accept in 1987, effectively ending their period as a premier hard rock band.  The band has continued on and off in the intervening years (including a few periods with Udo) and generally continues to have modest success, especially in Europe.

Cool trivia fact:  "Midnight Mover" is generally regarded as the first video to use bullet time, which became popularized by The Matrix movies.  As with all thing Accept, the use here is completely unsubtle, but cool, although it may cause motion sickness and / or convulsions.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Robert Hazard - Escalator of Life

Robert Hazard (born Robert Rimato) was a mainstay of the Philadelphia music scene during the late 1970's and early 1980's.  With his band, the Heroes, he performed David Bowie-influenced new wave material that was modern and catchy, and generated a sizable local following.

In 1982, Kurt Loder (then writing for Rolling Stone) caught a performance and wrote a positive article for the magazine, which led to a recording contract with RCA.  The 1982 EP (simply called Robert Hazard) won critical acclaim and reached #102 on the album charts, while the single "Escalator of Life" peaked at #58, helped by the video (which was played on your favorite video music channel).

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there, with personnel changes in the band, weaker material and problems with the label.  When Hazard's 1984 LP (Wings of Fire) did not sell well, RCA dropped the band.  However, Hazard remained active in the industry, and gradually migrated to roots rock and country music over the years.  Sadly, he passed away (pancreatic cancer) in 2008.

Cool trivia fact:  As long time readers of ERV will know, Hazard wrote Cyndi Lauper's breakout hit "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."  (Click on the link for more info, including both the Lauper and Hazard versions of the song.)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bananarama - Venus

The song "Venus" has an interesting history dating back to 1969.  Many readers will know that the Bananarama version is a cover (hence the inclusion on ERV, even though it was not exactly rare).  The original version was recorded by a Dutch group called Shocking Blue in 1969, and became a #1 hit in the U.S.  This places Shocking Blue alongside Sinéad O'Connor as the rarest of one hit wonders, as their only top 40 hit was a #1 song.

The Bananarama version was off their 1986 album True Confessions, and their cover of "Venus" would also go on to become a #1 hit in the U.S., one of three top 40 hits for the band ("Cruel Summer" (#9) and "I Heard a Rumour" (#4) were the other two).  Amazingly, "Venus" did not hit #1 in the U.K., in spite of the band's success in their home market -- in the U.K. Bananarama had 25 top 40 singles, making them the most successful all female act ever.

Bananarama was formed in 1979 by Siobhan Fahey, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin.  The band was known for its lite pop songs and the lack of harmonizing (the three singers typically sang in unison).  Sadly, creative tensions led to Fahey's departure in 1988; she would go on to form Shakespears Sister.  Jacquie O'Sullivan replaced her in Bananarama from 1988 - 1991, but when she left, the band continued on with two lead singers (which is the status to the present day).

While Bananarama were not critical darlings, they did release a bunch of solid 1980's dance pop, including "Venus:"

Amazingly (love the internet), I was able to track down a video of the original version, by Shocking Blue (Note that the volume on this one is a little loud):

Cool trivia fact:  Siobhan Fahey was married to Dave Stewart of Eurythmics from 1987 - 1996.  (Man, that guy was everywhere during the 1980's.)

Bananarama's "Really Sayin' Something" (with a g and Fun Boy Three) was posted on ERV in October 2015.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Julian Lennon - Too Late for Goodbyes

So what is it like to be the first son of a rock legend?  Well ... for Julian Lennon (son of John), it means that a drawing you did as a child became the inspiration for "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."  And when you were sad during your parents divorce, a band mate of your dad's wrote "Hey Jude" for you.  Pretty heady stuff.

It also means that when you decide to become a musician, everything you do will be compared to your dad. Especially when your voice sounds like his and when your first album comes out a few short years after his death.

Welcome to the life of Julian Lennon.

In spite of this, Julian Lennon's first album, Valotte (named after the French château when Lennon had stayed) is a solid effort.  It also sold well -- the album reached #17 on the charts and went platinum, spawning 3 top 40 hits -- the title cut (#9), "Too Late for Goodbyes" (#5) and "Say You're Wrong (#21).

Unfortunately, Lennon was not able to duplicate this success.  He released three additional albums through 1991, with each LP performing worse than the previous one.  Lennon then left the industry for seven years, before releasing Photograph Smile in 1998.  When it did not sell particularly well, he again left the industry, and became involved in photography, several internet businesses and charitable work.  He has had a somewhat higher profile lately, and released another album in 2011, but has had little commercial success of late.

Cool trivia facts:  the videos for "Too Late for Goodbyes" and "Valotte" were directed by Sam Peckinpah, best-known for the 1969 western The Wild Bunch.

Special shout out to eagle-eyed viewer Corky, who pointed out that Martin Briley (featured on ERV in October 2011 for "Salt of My Tears") can be seen on the video at 0:08.  Briley was a successful studio musician and played guitar on the studio version of "Too Late for Goodbyes."

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Icehouse - Crazy

"Man of Colours" was Icehouse's fifth album; the band dates back to 1977, and began as a pub rock group from Sydney, Australia.  The group was originally called Flowers, but changed their name in 1981 (after signing with Chrysalis) to avoid legal issues, as there was a signed Scottish band with the same name.  Icehouse was chosen as it was the name of Flower's debut album in Australia, which in turn was named after a song, inspired by frontman Iva Davies' flat (apparently the building was cold and in a dodgy part of town).

Speaking of Iva Davies, it is worth pointing out that Icehouse really was his band, as he was the lead singer and songwriter for Icehouse.  (He also played keyboards and guitars on their studio recordings).  The other members of the band tended to turn over every few years (with a few exceptions).  [This explains why both videos below feature Iva so much.]

As with many Australian bands, they were much bigger in their home market than they were abroad.  Icehouse had 18 top 40 hits in their homeland between 1980 and 1990; in contrast they had 2 in the U.S. -- "Crazy" (which hit #14) and "Electric Blue" (Co-written by John Oats of Hall & Oats, which peaked at #7).  By the way, "Electric Blue" was their only #1 in Australia, although "Crazy" did hit #3.  While the band's success diminished after 1990, they have remained active to this date.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the band shot two videos for the song -- the first version was the Australian music video, directed by Mark Joffe:

The second version is the U.S./International version directed by John Jopson.  If that name is familiar, it is because Jopson directed a ton of videos in the 1980's, including songs by the Hooters, Poison, Choirboys, the Outfield and John Waite:

Friday, January 4, 2013

Squeeze - Another Nail in My Heart

By taking traditional pop songs and updating them with a post-punk approach, Squeeze became a pioneer in the emerging New Wave scene in Britain.  And as if that wasn't enough, they also created a bunch of memorable, well-crafted pop / new wave songs, with catchy melodies and clever lyrics.

The band was formed in 1974 and was named after the poorly-received Velvet Underground record.  [Squeeze, the VU record was released in 1973 without any of the original members of the band, and was panned by critics and fans alike.]  The main creative force behind Squeeze (the band) was the duo of Chris Difford (lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (music), who wrote virtually all of the songs, including "Another Nail in My Heart."

"Another Nail in My Heart" is off the 1980 LP Argybargy [Argybargy is British slang for an argument, by the by].  As with most of the early Squeeze singles, it did not break the top 100 in the U.S., although it did reach #17 in the U.K.  In what can only be described as a crime against music, none of the early Squeeze singles charted in the U.S. until 1981's "Tempted" (#49).  The band would go on to have 2 top 40 hits ("Hourglass," which hit #15 in 1987 and "853-5937," which peaked at #32 the following year).  A less polite person that I might suggest that the relative success of these later songs could be considered signs of The Universe having a sense of humor ... or irony.

In any event, the band broke up in 1982 (although Difford and Tilbrook continued to work together and even released an album in 1984).  Squeeze subsequently reformed in 1985 and continued working together until 1999, then broke up (again) before reforming (again) in 2007.  I believe they are together as of this writing.

The video of "Another Nail in My Heart" is a solid early video with the band performing (and hanging out at the pub) while keyboardist Jools Holland pushes a piano around London.  I particularly like the way that they shot the guitar solo (starting around 0:52), which is an absolutely superb piece of musicianship.

For folks who are interested in learning more about the band, their greatest hits record, Singles – 45's and Under is highly recommended.