Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jeff Healey - Confidence Man

John Hiatt has already appeared twice on ERV -- once for "Slow Turning" and a second time for Bonnie Raitt's cover of his song, "Thing Called Love."  Astute readers may now be wondering what this has to do with Jeff Healey ... and we'll get to that in a moment.

Canadian Jeff Healey saw significant success with his first album, 1988's See the Light.  The LP reached #22 on the charts, helped by "Angel Eyes", which hit #5.  [In typical ERV style, we are going with "Confidence Man," the first single off the album, which did not chart.]  Healey was also a unique guitarist in two regards -- first, he was blind, and second, he played the guitar laying flat on his lap (almost like a steel guitar).

The John Hiatt / Jeff Healey link is this:  Hiatt wrote both "Confidence Man" and "Angel Eyes."  It is somewhat ironic that Hiatt (who never has had a top 100 hit in the U.S.) wrote the songs that helped to launch two separate artists' careers.

In any event, Healey's commercial success peaked with his first album.  While he remained successful (particularly in Canada), he did not have another top 40 hit in the U.S., making him an official one hit wonder.  Later in his career, he transitioned to jazz, and even played trumpet and trombone on his albums.  Sadly, Healey died of cancer in 2008.

Coll trivia fact:  The Jeff Healey Band was the house band in the 1989 film Road House (staring Patrick Swayze).

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Todd Rundgren - Hideaway

Todd Rundgren is a fascinating artist who has crafted a long and diverse career both in front of and behind the microphone.  Rundgren's career began with Nazz in the late 1960's, but really took off with his 1972 double album Something/Anything.  That LP was a huge success, featuring two top 20 hits in "I Saw the Light" and "Hello It's Me."  However, instead of continuing to write pop songs, Rundgren moved into progressive rock and became more involved in production and engineering.

For much of the 1970's and 1980's, Rundgren recorded music, both as a solo artist and with his band, Utopia.  He also worked behind the scenes with artists including Badfinger, The Band, Patti Smith, Meat Loaf, Grand Funk Railroad, the New York Dolls, and XTC, among others.  His work is notable for his craftsmanship, strong technical expertise and varied styles.  As a result, he is favorably viewed by critics and his fellow musicians but he did not achieve significant mainstream success as a performer (although he does have a loyal following as something of a cult artist).

"Hideaway" is from Rundgren's 1982 album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect.  The album marked something of a low point in his career, as he viewed the release as a legal obligation to his label, Bearsville Records.  As a result, the songs are a bit more pop sounding and less complicated -- there have been rumors that he just wanted to finish the album quickly.  However, his talent still shines through.  The best-known song from this album is "Bang the Drum All Day," which has become something of a pop classic.  Instead of going with that, we opted for "Hideaway," a relatively unknown pop gem with a cool video to go with it.  "Hideaway" never charted (the LP peaked at #66) and received only a modicum of airplay, but is well worth a listen.

Rundgren remains active in the music industry to this day.  Additionally, Rundgren's band Utopia was posted on ERV in March 2014 for "Feet Don't Fail Me Now."

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Men at Work - Overkill

Most ERV readers will remember (or have heard of) Men at Work -- the Australian band that seemingly came out of nowhere to become international recording stars in 1982.  The combination of catchy songs and Beatles-esque videos drove their debut album (Business As Usual) to the top of the charts all over the world.    In fact, as of this writing, they are the only Australian artists to have a simultaneous #1 album and single in the U.S.

Of course, we are not going to feature anything off of this massively successful album.  Instead, we are highlighting "Overkill" from their 1983 Cargo album.  While Cargo was not as big a success as Business as Usual (what was?) it did reach #3 on the U.S. charts, and "Overkill" also peaked at #3.  Additionally, "It's a Mistake" reached #6, giving the band 4 top 10 singles in 2 years.  Sadly, they would never have another top 40 album or single, as the follow up to Cargo, 1985's Two Hearts, did not do as well, and the band broke up soon afterwards.

Several of the member of the band remained in the industry, most notably lead singer Colin Hay, who has had some success in recent years with a more folk driven sound.  In addition, Hay and original member Greg Ham (keyboards, saxophone, flute) performed at reunion concerts prior to Ham's death in 2012.

The original video:

By the way, is it just me, or is this a surprisingly reflective and sad song for a band who just sold a gazillion copies of their debut album?

The outstanding acoustic version of the song (by Colin Hay) was featured on the TV show Scrubs, and appeared on Hay's cleverly titled 2003 solo album, Man @ Work.  It is a great reinterpretation of the song, and well-worth a listen:

Cool trivia fact:  Men at Work is yet another band that may have been jinxed by the "best new artist" curse, as they won the 1983 Grammy for Best New Artist.  For more on this, check out previous posts on the BoDeans and Michael Penn.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Iggy Pop - Real Wild Child (Wild One)

Often called the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop is a true musical innovator who helped change the course of rock.  Unfortunately, this influence did not lead to a ton of commercial success, making him akin to Lou Reed, who was featured on ERV last September.

Iggy Pop is best-known for being the frontman of the Stooges, who are often viewed as the proto-punk band.  While they were not hugely successful, their stripped down, high velocity songs and energetic live performances (which included the innovation of stage diving) were years ahead of their time.  The Stooges first album was released in 1969 and the band broke up in 1974.  At that time, substance abuse derailed Pop's career, a problem that would haunt him for years.

While Pop recorded some music during the 1970's and early 1980's, it was inconsistent, almost as if he did not know what direction to turn towards after the Stooges.  Additionally, his addiction problems undoubtedly impacted his work (and led to several breaks from the industry).

His 1986 album Blah Blah Blah, co-produced by old friend David Bowie, saw something of a return to form, and the album was a modest commercial success -- reaching #90 on the charts.  Although his cover of  Johnny O'Keefe's "Wild One" did not break the Hot 100, it did chart on the Mainstream Rock Charts.  [As an aside, I'll bet that there are a bunch of folks that heard the song and did not realize that it was a cover.]  The success helped re-launch Pop's career, and he has continued to perform (and act a little) to this day.

His version of "Real Wild Child (Wild One):"

And, of course, the original "Wild One" by Australian Johnny O'Keefe from 1958:

Cool trivia fact:  The O'Keefe song was the first rock song to hit the Australian national charts, and the song's release date, July 5, 1958 is often considered the birthday of rock and roll in Australia.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Boy Meets Girl - Waiting For a Star to Fall

Long time readers will know that we like to feature lots of different types of music on ERV, including well-crafted pop songs.  While "Waiting For a Star to Fall" would be more at home on VH1 than MTV, it is an excellent example of 1980's lite rock and has a cool backstory to boot.

Boy Meets Girl was the songwriting team of George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam.  The married (at the time) couple met at a wedding, and became a personal and professional couple.  While they released an album in 1985, they were best-known as the songwriters behind the Whitney Houston hits "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)."

"Waiting For a Star to Fall" was inspired by an actual shooting star that Rubicam had seen at a Whitney Houston concert.  The song was originally offered to Houston, but her team passed, as they were moving in a more R&B direction.  The song was then offered to Belinda Carlisle, who made a demo recording, but decided not to release the song.

As a result, when Boy Meets Girl released their second album, 1988's Reel Life, they were able to include the song.   "Waiting ..." would go on to become the duos' signature song and biggest hit, reaching #5 on the charts, while the Reel Life album peaked at #50.

Sadly, the couple then went through a rough patch -- their third album, 1990's New Dream was not released by their label, and they divorced in the early 2000's.  However, their professional collaboration continues to this day, I believe.

Cool trivia fact:  The blonde girl in the video is the couple's daughter

Cool trivia fact #2:  Boy Meets Girl is not a one hit wonder, as "Oh Girl," from their self-titled 1985 debut, hit #39 on the charts.

As an added bonus, here is Belinda Carlisle's demo recording of the same song:

Friday, March 15, 2013

BulletBoys - Smooth Up In Ya

BulletBoys are your basic late 1980's pop metal band, and I'll admit that I have a soft spot for them, even if they did come off as a mimeographed Van Halen.  The band formed in LA (of course) in 1987, and were led by Marq Torien, who had previously been a member of Ratt and King Kobra.

The band's self-titled debt and early videos tried to duplicate the Van Halen formula, right down to Torien doing his best David Lee Roth impression.  It didn't hurt that their first three albums were produced by Ted Templeman, who also produced Van Halen's first 6 albums.

Drafting off the huge popularity of pop metal and Van Halen, BulletBoys found their audience, and the debut record hit #34 on the album charts, while "Smooth Up In Ya" (#71) and a cover of the O'Jays "For the Love of Money" (#78) both broke the top 100.  The band's second LP charted, but changing tastes and weaker material consigned them to working band status, were they continue to this day.

Coll trivia fact:  BulletBoys did a surprisingly solid version of Tom Wait's "Hang On St. Christopher," on their 1991 album, Freakshow.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vanity 6 - Nasty Girl

Long time reader and commenter Sam requested Vanity 6, and we figured: why not?  I mean who doesn't like your basic story about sex and drugs and rock & roll, with ties to Prince and The Time.

The Vanity 6 story begins in the early 1980's with Prince.  By this point Prince is a star on the rise (note that ERV has previously featured "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy," which are great examples of his early work).  He is also a prolific songwriter, and starts working on side projects to manufacture additional creative outlets.

The first project is The Time, featuring vocalist Morris Day.  While The Time was an actual band, Prince (using the pseudonym Jamie Starr) wrote the songs and recorded all of the parts (except for the vocals).  This gave Prince a different band, but one where he had total creative control.

Around the same time, Prince decides to create a female band (called The Hookers) to perform hyper-sexual songs while wearing lingerie.  (Early 1980's Prince was way into sex and about as subtle as artillery about it.)  The original band (with three of Prince's lady friends) progressed to the point of making demos when Prince met Vanity (given name: Denise Matthews) a Canadian model and B movie actress.  Prince was smitten, he and Denise became an item and Denise eventually was renamed Vanity.  Prince then made Vanity the lead singer of his female trio and named them Vanity 6 (after the number of breasts in the band ... seriously).  The backup singers from The Hookers (Brenda Bennett and Susan Moonsie) remained in the band.

Vanity 6 goes into the studio (with his Purpleness, of course) and emerges with their 1982 self-titled debut album.  The LP hits #45 on the charts, while "Nasty Girl" becomes a dance hit but does not break the top 100.  Vanity 6 (with The Time backing them up) tour with Prince and the Revolution during their 1983 1999 tour, but Vanity eventually breaks up with Prince and develops a major drug problem.  She then leaves Prince and the group to go out on her own.

Prince re-creates the band as Apollonia 6 for Purple Rain, using the same backup singers, and new music that was originally intended for Vanity 6.  Eventually, Prince and Apollonia break up, and it seems that Prince's interest in designing a girl group also fades over time.  Vanity ends up as an addict, nearly dies, and becomes a religious Christian.  She has gone back to her given name and left the industry.

So there you go -- the Crib Notes version of Vanity 6.  The video is a bit NSFW, and we went with the extended version because it is rarer, but it also has some additional NSFW dialog at the end.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Phil Collins - I Missed Again

Phil Collins has to be one of unlikeliest rock stars ever.  As many readers will know, Collins started as the drummer in Genesis, then became the lead singer when Peter Gabriel left (and the band couldn't find anyone better to sing).  Over time, Genesis transformed from a progressive rock band to a pop band and became enormously successful.

While the band's commercial success continued to grow, Phil Collin's personal life was deteriorating; he actually took a leave of absence from Genesis to work on his marriage.  Unfortunately, things did not work out and his (first) wife filled for divorce in 1979.  Collins then did what many artists would do under similar circumstances: he poured himself into his work.  The result was a bunch of new songs, some of which appeared on Genesis' 1980 album Duke (most notably,  "Misunderstanding").  Eventually, his record label got word of the material, and offered Collins a solo contract.

Work on the Face Value album began in 1979 and took two years.  While the material was primarily based on  the failure of his marriage, Collins softened the approach over time, and the result was a tremendously successful album.  The Face Value LP hit #7 on the charts, and went on to sell 5 million units in the U.S.  Interestingly, both "In the Air Tonight" and "I Missed Again" peaked at #19 on the U.S. charts.

Collins would go on to have more top 40 hits in the U.S. than any other artist during the 1980's.  He also is one of only three artists to have sold more than 100 million units both as a solo artist and as a member of a band.  The other two?  Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.  On the personal front, things have not been quite as smooth; Collins was divorced from his third wife in 2008.  Sadly, Phil Collins announced his retirement from music in 2011.

A special shout out to ERV reader Sean, who requested this one a while back.

Below is original video, with Collins playing all of the instruments, air style.

As a special extra, we also have an audio of the demo track of the song, with the original lyrics.  Note that the original title of the song was "I Miss You, Babe."  It is also worth pointing out how much more downbeat the original demo was.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

'Til Tuesday - Coming Up Close

While 'Til Tuesday started out as a new wave band, they quickly evolved into folk-rock artists, shaped by the strong songwriting of bassist/lead singer Aimee Mann.  As many readers will know, the band is best known for their 1985 hit "Voices Carry," and is often (incorrectly) though of as a one hit wonder.  In fact, they had two top 40 hits (1986's "What About Love" being the second) and three additional top 100 songs, including "Coming Up Close."

'Til Tuesday formed in Boston in 1982, and started to really gain traction when they won the WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble in 1983. [WBCN was the major rock station in Boston, and the Rock & Roll Rumble was essentially a battle of the bands.]  This led to a recording contract with Epic and the band's debut album, 1985's Voices Carry, became a top 20 album, while the eponymous single broke the top 10.

From there, the band's success steadily waned, primarily due to their musical shift to a more folk-driven sound.  Interestingly, critics were generally supportive of the new direction, something that has followed Aimee Mann throughout her career.  The band's second LP, 1986's Welcome Home peaked at #49 and their 1988 album, Everything's Different Now topped out at #124.  The band broke up soon afterwards, although Aimee Mann has remained active as an independent musician, releasing critically acclaimed albums that sell well, but do not break the top 30.

"Coming Up Close" is a gently sad song that foreshadows the future direction of Mann and 'Til Tuesday.  The video is a simple performance piece that allows the listener to focus on the music, something that I suspect was intentional.  And with all due respect to "Voices Carry," I believe that "Coming Up Close" is the strongest song that 'Til Tuesday recorded.

Cool trivia fact:  As long time readers and music aficionados will know, Aimee Mann is married to Michael Penn ("No Myth"), who was featured on ERV in November 2012.  The "No Myth" post also discusses the dreaded Best New Artist curse (not to be confused with the Dread Pirate Roberts).

Cool trivia fact #2:  At the 1983 WBCN Rock & Roll Rumble, Digney Fignus (featured on ERV in August, 2011 and well worth checking out) was a semi-finalist.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Eddy Grant - Romancing the Stone

"Romancing the Stone" wasn't Eddy Grant's biggest U.S. hit, but we love to feature rare videos at ERV, and there is a method to our madness.  Anyhow, that's out story and we're sticking to it.  Grant, who was born in Guyana (perhaps the only artist on ERV from that country) has had a long and interesting career performing music that combined traditional Caribbean music (calypso, reggae and soca, in particular) with R&B, funk and rock.  The result eventually became called ringbang and is closely associated with Grant.

Of course, in addition to his diverse music, Eddy Grant also floated in and out of the charts, particularly in Britain (his family moved to London when he was a child).  He had 7 top 40 hits in the U.K. as a solo artist, plus 6 more as the main songwriter of The Equals, who were successful in the U.K. in the late 1960's and early 1970's.  Grant is also known for his political lyrics, especially on the topic of apartheid.

American audiences will mostly know Grant for his 1982 hit "Electric Avenue," which went to #2 on the charts.  "Romancing the Stone" (written for the movie of the same title) was also a top 40 hit in the U.S., as it reached #26 in 1984.  Unfortunately, there seems to have been a dispute with the movie's producers, as the song was not included in the movie (except for the guitar solo) and did not appear on the soundtrack.

As an interesting aside, I would recommend Romancing the Stone (the movie).  It is a funny action adventure movie that does not take itself too seriously, and is well cast (Kathleen Turner in her prime, for instance).  The backstory to the movie is quite sad, as screenwriter Diane Thomas worked as a waitress for years while developing the script.  Her big break came when she pitched the story to a customer (Michael Douglas), which led to major success.  Sadly, she was killed in a car accident the following year, and never wrote another screenplay.

Eddy Grant made two videos for the song, as a result of the dispute with the producers.  The first video features clips from the movie (and supernatural guitars, as Grant's guitar can apparently transform from a machete and change the weather if a suitcase is thrown at him):

The second video is just Eddy and a corpse (I think).  Not sure where this idea came from, but probably not the best.