Sunday, June 30, 2013

Steve Earle - Copperhead Road

As a country roots rocker in the 1980's, Steve Earle had a challenging time fitting in, not unlike John Hiatt.  Earle was critically acclaimed and flirted with success on both the country and rock charts but ultimately never quite broke through.  However, he recorded a bunch of great music and gradually developed a modest but loyal following.

Earle's 1988 release Copperhead Road was represented a clear break from the more country-oriented sound that preceded it.  A combination of frustration over the Nashville music scene and his liberal politics may have driven the change.  In any event, the result was a unique and really solid country-rock album that reached #56 on the charts.  The single "Copperhead Road" is a classic roots rock storytelling song, and it received some radio airplay at the time.

The video does a fine job of telling the song's story about moonshine, Vietnam and drugs, with a decidedly anti-authoritarian slant.  (I particularly like the intro.) 

In the aftermath of Copperhead Road, Earle's career deteriorated, primarily due to drug use.  His 1990 CD, The Hard Way, is not viewed as one of his better efforts, and he then mostly disappeared from view for several years.  However, he returned to the industry (cleaner) in 1995 and has carved out a solid and interesting path since then.  For readers who are interested, 1986's Guitar Town and 1996's I Feel Alright are especially strong.  ERV also posted an earlier effort, "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" in January 2014.

Earle remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Soul II Soul - Jazzie's Groove

More a community of artists than a static band, Soul II Soul were nevertheless one of the more interesting and creative R&B acts of the late 1980's and early 1990's. Jazzie B (real name: Trevor Romeo) formed the group in London in 1988 with a lineup that included Nellee Hooper and Caron Wheeler among its ranks.  [Carol Wheeler appeared on ERV last December as a backup singer in the Elvis Costello and The Attractions song, "Everyday I Write the Book."]

Soul II Soul's sound was a modern take on traditional R&B and soul.  In particular, by combining samples with modern R&B, they made songs that were more interesting and creative than most R&B on the radio at the time.  The group's first album, Club Classics Vol. One (called Keep On Movin' in the U.S.) was a hit, reaching #14 in the U.S. and #1 in the U.K.  The singles "Keep On Movin'" (#11 in the U.S.) and "Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)" (#4) became big hits, and the group appeared to be headed for continued success.

Sadly, Wheeler left the band before the second LP was recorded, and further personnel turnover also had an impact on the group.  While they remained stars in the U.K., they did not have another top 40 hit in the U.S. Jazzie B eventually disbanded Soul II Soul in 1997, although they have reunited and performed in recent years.

For the blog, we skipped right over their two big hits listed above and settled on "Jazzie's Groove," a funky, mostly instrumental song that features samples from Gary Byrd's "Soul Travelin' Pt. I," Beau Dollar's "Who Knows," The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President" and Pleasure's "Celebrate the Good Things."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Scorpions - No One Like You

For the second "Jailhouse rock" video, we went with a clip that is very close to, and very far away from our first video.  "No One Like You" was shot one year after Marty Balin's "Hearts" video, in the same location (Alcatraz).  However, it is the diametric opposite in terms of style; "No One Like You" is a hard rock ballad, and the video seems more focused on capital punishment than love.

"No One Like You" was the first charting single (in the U.S.) by Scorpions (no 'the'), and it hit #65 on the charts  (and #1 on the Rock Tracks charts).  It was off the Blackout LP, which was the band's eighth album, and highlights just how long it took for the group to break through in the U.S.  Blackout reached #10 on the album charts and was the first of three consecutive top 10 albums for the band.

Scorpions were formed in Germany in the late 1960's by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, who has been the band's only constant member, although lead singer Klaus Meine has been with the group since 1970 (and is the lead singer on all of their albums).  Coincidentally, Schenker and Meine co-wrote "No One Like You."  With its anthemic chords and simpler solo, the song showed the template that Scorpions (and many others) would use in the 1980's.

The video is notable for three things:  1. stock footage of sharks (1:45), 2. Rudolf Schenker's imitation of the album cover (2:53, although the album art was a self portrait of artist Gottfried Helnwein) and 3. Klaus Meine's underwear (3:40 if you wish to avert your eyes).  Oh, and not to give anything away, but it turns out that the whole thing was just a nightmare.

Of course, Scorpions would follow up Blackout with their 1984 smash Love at First Sting, which featured "Rock You Like a Hurricane," one of two top 40 hits for the band (it hit #25, while "Winds of Change" reached #4 in 1991).

While there have been recent rumors about the band's breakup, they appear to be together as of this writing.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Marty Balin - Hearts

Marty Balin's "Hearts" is the first of two "jailhouse rock" videos.  The video is a wonderful smorgasbord of early 1980's cheesiness, complete with Alcatraz, a beautiful woman, and a rock star in his underwear.  Amazingly, all of these elements will appear in the next "jailhouse rock" video as well.

As many readers will know, Marty Balin (born Martyn Buchwald) was a founding member of Jefferson Airplane.  He was with the band from 1965 to 1971, and then rejoined Jefferson Starship in 1975.  During his Jefferson Starship days, Balin wrote and sang "Miracles" and sang  "With Your Love" and "Count on Me."

Balin left Jefferson Starship in 1978, and released his cleverly titled solo album, Balin in 1981.  The Balin LP reached #35 on the album charts and produced the only solo top 40 hits of Balin's career -- "Hearts" (#8) and  "Atlanta Lady" (#27).  No, I don't remember "Atlanta Lady" either.

"Hearts" is a well-produced, lite-rock ballad, with a fitting video.  There is also a lot of Balin -- in a bathing suit, in his underwear, curled up with his acoustic guitar, frolicking on the beach ... you get the idea.

Balin remains active in the industry and has released a bunch of material through the years, including solo projects, as well as albums with Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship and even one with the KBC Band (with  Paul Kantner and Jack Casady from Jefferson Airplane).

Saturday, June 15, 2013

T'Pau - Heart and Soul

Although they were stars in the U.K. (where they had 8 top 40 hits), T'Pau were a classic one hit wonder in the U.S., with only "Heart and Soul" breaking the top 40.  The band was formed in Shropshire, U.K. in 1986 and were led by singer Carol Decker.  The group was originally called Talking America but changed their name to T'Pau (a Star Trek character) almost randomly.  It seems that an old episode of the TV show was on in the background while they were debating names, and the word T'Pau stuck in their heads.

T'Pau's demo tapes soon scored them a recording contract with Virgin Records, and the band's debut LP, Bridge of Spies was released in 1987.  Interestingly, the initial release of "Heart and Soul" did not go well.  And then ... it was used in a Pepe Jeans commercial in the U.S. and U.K. and absolutely took off, reaching #4 on both sides of the Atlantic.

While they did not chart again in the U.S., our British readers may remember "China in Your Hand," a #1 song from later in 1987.

The band broke up in 1991, then re-formed in 1998 and continue to perform as of this writing.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Toto - Stranger in Town

David Paich, Steve Lukather and the Porcaro brothers (Jeff, Steve and Mike) were session musicians whose credits included Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Michael Jackson, Cheap Trick, Peter Frampton and The BeeGees.  In 1977, Paich and Jeff Porcaro started to talk about forming their own band, and in short order they put a group together.  Supposedly, they wrote Toto on their initial recordings to differentiate themselves from the other bands in the studio and the name eventually stuck.

While Toto's first album was successful, the next two LPs were commercial disappointments.  The band's fluid style migrated between pop and arena rock due to the competence and diverse styles of the members, but this was not a recipe for broad commercial success.  Toto responded with Toto IV, a crafted pop album that reached #4 and went triple platinum in 1982.

Unfortunately, the band's next album, 1984's Isolation, returned to the arena rock style and did not resonate with their audience (who were expecting more songs like "Rosanna" and "Africa").  Part of the change may have been influenced by a change in vocals, as lead singer Bobby Kimball left the band and was replaced by Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen.

Ironically, the one hit off Isolation was a song that could have fit in on Toto IV -- "Stranger in Town."  This is underscored by David Paich's vocals (he also sang lead on "Africa.")  The song was inspired by the 1961 British film Whistle Down the Wind, about a group of schoolchildren who discover an escaped convict and mistake him for ... well, watch the video; you'll see.  Helped by some airplay on MTV, the song reached #30 on the charts (one of 9 top 40 hits for the band).

Although the band's popularity faded after the late 1980's, they have more or less remained together to the present day, with some personnel changes (sadly, Jeff Porcaro died in 1992).

Cool trivia fact: "Stranger in Town" was directed by Steve Barron, who also directed Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean, A-Ha's "Take on Me" and Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing"  and many, many other 1980's videos.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tommy Tutone - 867-5309/Jenny

Tommy Tutone was a solid, straight-ahead rock band who came up with the killer single that most bands dream about.  That song, "867-5309/Jenny" shot to #4 on the charts and helped make Tommy Tutone 2 a #20 LP.  Interestingly, that was not Tommy Tutone's only top 40 hit (although they are often considered a one hit wonder) ... but more on that later.

The Northern California band was led by lead singer Tommy Heath and guitarist Jim Keller.  The group was originally called Tommy and the Tu-tones; this eventually was shortened to Tommy Tutone.  While there is some mythology around the song, it was simply a made-up story as there was no Jenny.  The song was co-written by Jim Keller (Tommy Tutone) and Alex Call (who also wrote "Perfect World" for Huey Lewis and the News and "Little Too Late" for Pat Benatar).

As alluded to before, Tommy Tutone had a minor hit in 1980 with "Angel Say No," which was my first choice for the blog.  However, it does not appear that a video was ever made for that song, so we put up an audio clip on the ERV Facebook page.  "Angel Say No," from Tommy Tutone's 1980 self-titled debut album, peaked at #38.

Unfortunately, the band's third album, 1983's National Emotion, barely broke the top 200 album charts and the group broke up.  Jim Keller remained in the industry, while Tommy Health apparently left the music business for a time.  They both have occasionally recorded and performed, and I believe that Tommy Heath has a version of Tommy Tutone together as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  The actress in "867-5390/Jenny" is Karen Morton, Playboy's Playmate of the month for July 1978.  For those who are interested, there is an interview with her on the Noblemania blog.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Police - Don't Stand So Close to Me

One of our favorite aspects of researching ERV is encountering a video so rare that even we haven't seen it.  The unreleased Guns N' Roses video for "It's So Easy" (previously featured on ERV) would be one such example.  And the first Police video (below) for "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is another.

The Police released five strong albums over a six year period, and are one of the few rock bands who did not release a bad album, in your author's opinion.  While I favor the first three LPs, even the weaker Police material is extremely strong.  The band successfully combined elements of punk, new wave, traditional rock, jazz and even reggae into their songs.  In addition, they became huge stars, and have sold some 50 million units.

"Don't Stand So Close to Me" was off the superb third Police album, 1980's Zenyatta Mondatta.  Recording between tours, the album was completed in roughly four weeks.  Subsequently, the band has criticized the album as being rushed, but many critics (including the folks at ERV) believe that it is one of the strongest rock records ever made.

The first (rare) video was recorded at the same time as the video for "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da."  The recording took place in late November 1980 in Grey Rock, Quebec.  Although the vid was shown on the BBC's Top of the Pops around the same time, it has since become almost totally forgotten.

The second video of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is the standard video, and it was recorded later.  I remember seeing this one on HBO's Video Jukebox, probably in 1981.  It features Sting in his Beat (English Beat to Americans) t-shirt.

As many readers will know, the Police never officially broke up, but they simply went their separate ways (for the most part) after their 1984 Synchronicity tour.  A 1986 attempt to re-record their greatest hits was aborted and only remakes of "Don't Stand So Close to Me" (released at the time) and "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" (rare but released later) were done.  They did re-form for a 2007 - 2008 reunion tour, but have not released any new material since 1983's Synchronicity.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Andy Taylor - Take it Easy

By 1985 Duran Duran were huge stars, but the years of recording and touring had taken their toll on the band.  The group decided to take a break to recharge, but the members' free time soon led to two side projects.  Andy and John Taylor went for a rock/dance sound with the Power Station (with Tony Thompson and Robert Palmer), while Simon Le Bon, Nick Rhodes and Roger Taylor formed Arcadia, which focused on more atmospheric pop.

The Power Station LP became a huge success, reaching #6 on the album charts and spawning three top 40 hits ("Some Like It Hot" (#6), "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" (#9) and "Communication" (#34).)  While Robert Palmer soon left the band to continue his solo career, the new sound interested Andy Taylor and he left Duran Duran in 1986 to pursue a solo career.

His first solo project involved working on the soundtrack of American Anthem, and he eventually contributed three songs to the film's soundtrack.  "Take It Easy" (no relation to the Eagles song) was released as a single and did well, reaching #24 on the charts.  Sadly, this would be Andy Taylor's only top 40 solo hit, as his 1987 album (Thunder) did not do terribly well.  Taylor then moved on to producing, although he continued to perform and record both as a solo artist and with Duran Duran (he officially rejoined the band from 2001 - 2006).

While American Anthem was not a huge hit, it did feature Mitch Gaylord (best known for leading the 1984 U.S. men's gymnastics team to a gold medal) and Janet Jones (best known for marrying Wayne Gretzky).  The video, blending Taylor's band with clips from the film, is a highly entertaining mid-1980's video.

Cool trivia fact:  The rhythm section for the song and video for "Take It Easy" featured Terry Bozzio on drums and Patrick O'Hearn on bass -- they both had been in Missing Persons and were now unemployed, as that band broke up in 1986.