Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Great White - Rock Me

Part of the appeal of rock and roll is that it is an escape from the real world, but every once in a while, the real world crashes the party.  Few bands know this better than Great White, as their story includes one of the most tragic chapters in rock history.

Of course, we are referring to the February 2003 fire at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island.  As most folks will recall, pyrotechnics lit by the band's touring manager ignited soundproofing foam and led to a fire that killed 100 people and injured another 200.  It was the fourth deadliest fire in U.S. history.  Among the dead was Great White's guitarist, Ty Longley, and WHJY DJ Mike "The Doctor" Gonsalves (who was MCing the show).

In the aftermath of the show, Great White toured to support the Station Family Fund, before the band split into two factions.  Lead singer Jack Russell continued to tour, using the name Jack Russell's Great White, while several other original members played shows using the Great White name.

All of this was a far cry from the band's successes during the late 1980's / early 1990's.  Their brand of blues-rock led to three straight top 25 albums, and two top 40 hits.  Great White's biggest hit was their cover of Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," but they had a second hit with "The Angel Song." (Nope, not sure I remember that one either.)

For the blog, we went with their breakout hit, 1987's "Rock Me" from the Once Bitten ... LP.  While the song peaked at #60 on the charts, it introduced the band to a wider audience, helped by the video below.  By the way, the woman in the video is Tracy Martinson, who appeared in a bunch of Great White videos, but left the industry years ago.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart

The Joy Division story is among the more tragic rock and roll tales, and is only compounded by the band's innovative and visionary sound.  Joy Division formed in 1977 in Manchester (UK) and were originally called Warsaw.  They changed their name in 1978 to differentiate themselves from Warsaw Pakt, an on-the-rise UK punk band.  The Joy Division name came from the 1955 novel The House of Dolls -- it was the prostitution section of a Nazi concentration camp.

While they came out of the vibrant UK punk scene, the band quickly migrated to a different sound that was moody, dark and atmospheric; the band was one of the originators of goth.  Their innovative approach earned them the respect of several industry insiders and critics, including the influential John Peel of the BBC.  Although their first LP only reached #71 on the UK charts, they were a band on the rise.

Unfortunately, their growing success and touring schedule was placing a strain on lead singer Ian Curtis.  In particular, Curtis' epileptic seizures became difficult to control and his marriage was failing.  In May 1980, just before the band was to leave for their first American tour, Curtis committed suicide.  He was 23.

"Love Will Tear Us Apart" was written as an ironic response to "Love Will Keep Us Together," a 1975 hit for Captain & Tennille.  In retrospect, the lyrics seem autobiographical, as the song was written during a difficult time in Curtis' life.  The video was shot by the band themselves, during the recording of the song.

As many readers will know, the remaining members of Joy Division stayed together and renamed themselves New Order.  They would go on to have significant success, and were featured on ERV last December for "Bizarre Love Triangle."



Cool trivia facts: NME rated "Love Will Tear Us Apart" as the greatest single of the past 60 years in 2012.

Rolling Stone ranked the Closer LP as the 56th best album of the 1980's.

The song has charted 3 separate times in the UK -- in 1980 (#13), 1983 (#19) and 1995 (#19).  It never charted in the U.S.

The title of this song is inscribed on Ian Curtis' tombstone.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Jermaine Stewart - We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off

It's funny how capricious the charts can be.  While ERV is filled with one hit wonders, there are also some lesser-known bands who landed more than one top 40 hit -- as well as some great acts who never broke the top 40.  Apparently, the music gods have a sense of humor -- how else can you explain the fact that Roxy Music and the Psychedelic Furs are one hit wonders, while Chilliwack and Stacey Q aren't (they have 2 top 40 hits each).

At any rate, this brings us (in a roundabout way) to Jermaine Stewart.  Stewart got hist start as a Soul Train dancer before joining Shalamar as a backup dancer.  Touring with Shalamar led to a meeting with Culture Club's bass player, Mikey Craig, who helped Stewart put together a demo tape that helped him secure a recording contract.

The anthemic pop / funk smash, "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" was off Stewart's second album, 1986's Frantic Romantic.  The song was written by master songwriters Narada Michael Walden and Preston Glass.  Walden wrote or co-wrote (among other hits): "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" (both with the songwriting team of Boy Meets Girl and both for Whitney Houston), along with songs for Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.

"We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off" hit #5 on the charts, while the Frantic Romantic LP reached #34.  As savvy readers might have guessed from the introduction, Stewart had a second top 40 hit with "Say It Again" (#27) in 1987, as well as two songs that peaked just outside of the top 40 ("The Word Is Out," #41 and "Jody," #42).

Sadly, Jermaine Stewart died of an AIDS-related illness in 1997.  He was 39 years old.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lindsey Buckingham - Go Insane

"Go Insane" came out during a difficult time in Lindsey Buckingham's life.  He has recently broken up with his long time girlfriend Carol Ann Harris and his band (Fleetwood Mac) was in the middle of a 5 year break.  Perhaps as a result, the album was viewed as somewhat inconsistent by critics, but the better material on it is still quite good, bolstered by Buckingham's studio prowess.

Buckingham's career began in the early 1970's with his folk duo Buckingham Nicks (with then girlfriend Stevie Nicks), but he rose to fame as the guitarist and in-band producer for Fleetwood Mac.  While his first LP with Fleetwood Mac was a resounding success, the second one (Rumours) was a blockbuster.  Rumours remains the sixth best selling album in the U.S. ever -- it was a epic commercial and critical success.

Unfortunately, the commercial success of Fleetwood Mac did not alleviate the band's problems.  In fact, it may have added to the issues.  In addition to rampant drug use and breakups, Buckingham felt creatively constrained by the standard pop format, and started exploring more interesting sounds.  For Fleetwood Mac, this led to the Tusk LP, and it meant that Buckingham's solo work in the early 1980's was creative and interesting.  As is often the case, though, this also led to less commercial success.  The Go Insane album peaked at #45, while the single of the same name reached #23.

Buckingham would return to Fleetwood Mac for their 1987 album, Tango in the Night, before leaving the band.  He then returned in 1997 and has been with the band since then.



Cool trivia fact:  One of the guitarists who replaced Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac was Billy Burnette, whose song "In Just a Heartbeat" was featured on ERV in February 2012.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Jefferson Starship - Find Your Way Back

The history of Jefferson Airplane / Jefferson Starship / Starship is a long, meandering stroll down rock and roll lane.  As many readers will know, the band started as Jefferson Airplane in San Francisco in 1965, and was an early psychedelic rock band.  In addition, Jefferson Airplane is notable as one of the first rock bands to feature a female lead singer -- the charismatic Grace Slick.  By the by, Jefferson Airplane was the model for the Dutch band Shocking Blue, who recorded the original version of "Venus" (featured along with the Bananarama cover last January).

In the early 1970's Jefferson Airplane effectively broke into two bands -- Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship.  Jefferson Starship evolved to become a successful arena rock band in the 1970's and early 1980's, before personnel changes (and a dispute over the name) led to the band becoming Starship in the mid 1980's.  ERV readers should not worry, though, there is no way that a Starship song will ever show up on the blog (with apologies to any fans of "We Built this City" and "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now").

"Find Your Way Back" was from the 1981 Modern Times album.  It was the second album to feature lead signer Mickey Thomas, who joined the band after Marty Balin and Grace Slick quit.  Slick actually rejoined the band late in the recording session for Modern Times and was not in the original promotional materials (this is why the picture of the band at the end of the video does not include her).

The video is loaded with early 1980's goodness, including some sci-fi effects, one really skinny tie (mostly tucked in), and a cool double neck guitar.  I really do enjoy the song and video, in spite of (or perhaps because of) these elements.  Lastly, the song did turn out to be a decent FM hit -- the single hit #29 on the charts, while the Modern Times LP reached #26.



Note that Jefferson Starship's weird video for "No Way Out" was featured on ERV during our All Hallows Even celebration in 2015.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Cowboy Junkies - Sweet Jane

Cowboy Junkies are a Canadian alt folk band who have been together since the mid 1980's.  The band consists of three siblings (Margo, Michael and Peter Timmins) along with bassist Alan Anton.  While they are something of an underground band in the U.S., they had a string of hits in Canada and remain together to this day.

Their cover of The Velvet Underground's classic, "Sweet Jane" was their biggest hit in the U.S., but it did not crack the top 100 on the Billboard charts.  In fact, they never had a charting hit in the U.S., although they have scored 9 top 40 hits in their native country.  "Sweet Jane" did hit the U.S. Modern Rock charts in 1989, reaching #5 and the video generated some views on MTV at that time.

"Sweet Jane" was from the 1988 album The Trinity Session, which was recorded in Toronto's Church of the Holy Trinity in one night, using one microphone.



Regular readers of ERV will recall that we featured The Velvet Underground's Lou Reed last September ("Dirty Blvd.").  There is a bit on VU there and I would recommend it -- The Velvet Underground were brilliant and ahead of their time.  They are one of those bands whose impact was materially greater than their record sales.  "Sweet Jane" was originally from the VU album Loaded, from 1970, and is now widely regarded as a masterpiece.



Cool trivia fact:  the Timmins other sibling, Cali, was an actress on Ryan's Hope from 1983 - 89.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Cure - In Between Days

Led by the unique (and intentionally unkempt)  Robert Smith, The Cure produced some of the more interesting and creative pop songs of the 1980's and 1990's.  Indeed, while a casual observer might view The Cure as a goth band, the reality is much more complex.

The Cure formed in England in 1976, and emerged during the English post punk/new wave scene of the late 1970's and early 1980's.  Although their early music mostly fits into the goth genre, there was always a strong pop and alternative sensibility present.  By the time the band released their 1985 album, The Head on the Door, they had clearly transitioned to a more pop oriented sound that was somewhat unique.  This led to huge success in the U.K. and Europe, and modest success in the U.S.  For instance, The Cure has had 22 top 40 hits in the U.K., but only 3 in the U.S. ("Just Like Heaven, "Lovesong" and "Friday I'm In Love.")

"In Between Days" is a good example of their work, as it features a strong uptempo melody with introspective lyrics.  The song hit #15 in the U.K., but peaked at #99 in the U.S. -- although it did gain some traction on college radio.  The Head on the Door was a top 10 album in Britain, but only reached #60 in the U.S., though it was the first Cure LP to go gold in America.

Of course, The Cure would go on to have continued success globally and the band remains active in the industry as of this writing.

video

Cool trivia fact:  early incarnations of the band were called Malice and Easy Cure before becoming The Cure in 1978.

Note that "Pictures of You" appeared on ERV in September 2014.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Saraya - Love Has Taken Its Toll

Saraya were a New Jersey based hard rock band, named after their female lead singer (Sandi Saraya).  [As an aside, ERV previously featured a song from  different female-led hard rock band -- Femme Fatale's "Falling In and Out of Love" last May.]  The band formed in 1987, and originally was called Alsace Lorraine.  After some lineup changes, Saraya scored a recording contract, and their self-titled debut came out in 1989.

Unlike many other bands of this era, Saraya had a strong voice, and the music was influenced more by old school rock (Heart, Pat Benatar, etc.) than hair metal.  The album hit #79 on the charts, with both "Love Has Taken Its Toll" (#64) and "Back to the Bullet" (#63) charting, but not breaking the top 40.  While Saraya never quite found its audience, I was a fan, and think that the first album, in particular, is very solid.

The band released a second album, 1991's When the Blackbird Sings (which did not do as well) before breaking up in the early 1990's.



Cool trivia fact:  Sandi Saraya was married (at one time) to Brian Wheat, the bass player for Tesla.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kool & The Gang - Get Down On It

Although they started as a jazz band in 1964(!), Kool & The Gang are best-known as a funk and R&B outfit from the 1970's and 1980's.  The group was led by siblings Robert "Kool" Bell and Ronald Bell  and released their first album in 1969.  In an industry where few acts have any longevity, Kool & the Gang remained successful for the better part of two decades, helped by their willingness to evolve as musical tastes changed.

The band actually had two successful stretches -- a funk period from 1973 to 1975 or so best illustrated by "Jungle Boogie," which hit #4 in 1973, and a smooth R&B period from 1979 through the mid 1980's.  The R&B sound was helped by the new leader singer James "J.T." Taylor, who joined the band in 1979 (and parted amicably in 1988 to focus on his solo career).

"Get Down On It" was a solid hit for the band, and peaked at #10.  It was the 5th of 15 top 40 hits that the band would have between 1979 and 1986.  They also had 4 top 40 hits during their earlier funk period, with a multi-year dry spell in between.  While the song was a hit, the video remains rare, partly due to the blurred images and partly due to the fact that early MTV was not friendly to R&B acts -- hence, its inclusion on ERV.



While there have been some personnel changes, Kool & the Gang remain active in the music industry to this day.