Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Loverboy - Notorious

Loverboy was one of the biggest arena rock acts of the early to mid 1980's.  During their heyday, they had four consecutive double platinum (or better) records in the U.S., plus nine top 40 singles.  The band's combination of layered guitars and synthesizers, and a "four on the floor" bass drum (typically coming down every beat rather than every other beat) created a driving rock sound that sounded vaguely dance influenced.  While they could be inconsistent, their best work was anthemic and likable.

The band formed in Calgary in 1979, and was comprised of musicians who were veterans of other bands, making them something of a local all star band.  Legend has it that their initial demo recordings were rejected by every major label in the U.S.; they eventually signed with Columbia Records of Canada.  The resulting album almost immediately became a huge hit in Canada, and crossed over to become a major success in the U.S., as well.

Led by singer Mike Reno (he of the headband and tight red leather pants) and guitarist Paul Dean, the band's name came about somewhat randomly.  The band was originally named Cover Girl, after seeing a magazine ad for the cosmetics; over time the name changed to Cover Boy and then Loverboy.

"Notorious" is a later and lesser-known song (hence its inclusion on ERV), and it was the band's last U.S. top 40 hit at #38.  It was the lead single off their 1987 Wildside album, the last album before the band broke up due to creative differences in 1988.  They since re-formed in 1991 and I believe are together as of this writing (with the exception of original bassist Scott Smith, who died in a boating accident in 2000).

Oh, and the video is about as lightweight as it gets, with girls, a Ferrari and some savoir faire thrown around in a seemingly random pattern.  But I still like it.

Cool trivia fact:  "Notorious" was co-written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora (along with Mike Reno, Paul Dean and professional songwriter Todd Cerney).

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Vixen - Edge of a Broken Heart

By 1988, hard rock had virtually taken over the U.S. charts and the record labels responded by putting out a ton of product.  This included a bunch of pop metal that was modeled after Bon Jovi or Def Leppard and was more or less designed to be commercially successful.

Vixen fits into this guilty pleasure segment, which isn't to say that they weren't a solid band ... just that they had a crafted sound.  The all-female band was formed in the early 1980's in Minnesota, but moved to LA by the middle part of the decade.  They were signed by EMI in 1988, and their eponymous debut LP came out the same year.  One sign of EMI's involvement was that the band wrote exactly one of the eleven songs on their album (to be fair, they co-wrote four others with external songwriters).

"Edge of a Broken Heart" was co-written by Richard Marx (yes, that Richard Marx, who also appears in the video at 2:42) and Fee Waybill (cool rock name alert!) from The Tubes, who was featured on ERV way back in August of 2011 for the under-rated classic "Talk to You Later." (Seriously worth a listen; turn the sound up as the video's volume is too low.)  The song generated a ton of airplay on MTV and reached #26 on the charts, while the album peaked at #41.  Vixen's second album did not do as well and the band broke up in 1991, although they have re-united periodically in the ensuing years.

Cool trivia fact: Jon Butcher wrote "American Dreams" for Vixen's debut album.  Butcher's "Don't Say Goodnight" was the third video featured on ERV, back in August 2011 and gets our highest recommendation.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Vixen is not a one hit wonder, as their Heart-influenced single "Cryin'" hit #26 on the charts.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Difford & Tilbrook - Love's Crashing Waves

As many readers will know, Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook were the main creative force behind the under-rated new wave/pop band Squeeze.  (By the by, Squeeze was featured on ERV last January with "Another Nail in My Heart.")  Squeeze released five solid LPs between 1978 and 1982, broke up, re-formed in 1985 and stayed together until 1999, broke up again, and re-formed again in 2007.

Interestingly, Difford and Tilbrook continued to work together after the first Squeeze break up and actually released an album in 1984, which they creatively called Difford & Tilbrook.  The album did not do that well, only reaching #55 on the Billboard charts, which perhaps explains why there wasn't a second Difford and Tilbrook  album.  Additionally, I do not believe that the "Love's Crashing Waves" single even charted in the U.S. (it did reach #57 in the U.K.).

While the material is still strong, the album's production is definitely blue-eyed soul, influenced by Hall & Oats (as several critics have pointed out).  Along the same lines, the duo changed their clothes and Glenn Tilbrook even grew his hair (in retrospect, probably not the best idea; you can judge for yourself in the video below).  The new image and sound did not resonate with listeners, and after a successful reunion show in 1985 Squeeze re-formed and stayed together (with some personnel changes) for the next 14 years.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Carl Carlton - She's a Bad Mama Jama (She's Built, She's Stacked)

Carl Carlton has been a working musician since the mid-1960's, and had two top 40 hits in his career.  The second big hit was 1981's "She's a Bad Mama Jama (She's Built, She's Stacked)" from his shirtless self-titled album (yes, really).  The song reached #22 on the charts, and helped propel the album to the #34 slot, making it the highest charting album (but not single) of Carlton's career.

The video features Mr. Carlton in a Michael Jackson-esque white tux and four swimsuit beauties (Misses Pieces, Gemini, Virgo and Aries if you must ask).  Carlton serenades the women and there is a little bit of dancing involved ... and that's pretty much it.

In any event, "She's a Bad Mama Jama" is a seriously good pop/funk song, written by Leon Haywood.  Haywood's name might not ring a bell, but you know his one hit -- 1975's "I Want'a Do Something Freaky To You."  Younger readers may recognize the melody as "Nuthin' But A G Thang," which samples (essentially covers) the song.

Carlton's first big hit was a cover of "Everlasting Love," which peaked at #6 in 1974.  As an aside, "Everlasting Love" is a great and interesting song that is one of two songs to have broken the top 40 in the 1960's, 70's, 80's and 90's.  (The other song to do this is "The Way You Do the Things You Do".)

Carl Carlton remains active to the present day, but has not had another major hit.  In recent years, he has rotated to more gospel-related music.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vain - Beat the Bullet

Long time reader Sam requested Vain (multiple times) and he is right -- "Beat the Bullet" is a solid late 1980's choice for the blog.  So this one goes out to Sam, with my compliments.

Vain came out of the San Francisco hard rock scene of the mid 1980's and was led by singer Davy Vain.  The band formed in 1986 and played regularly in San Francisco and Los Angeles before signing a contract with Island Records in 1988.  Vain's debut album, 1989's No Respect was a solid initial effort and reached #154 on the album charts.  Although the single, "Beat the Bullet" did generate some airplay on MTV, it did not chart.

The group returned to the studio to work on their second LP, titled All These Strangers, but were dropped by their label when Island Records was acquired by PolyGram.  Vain then joined forces with ex-Guns N' Roses drummer Steven Adler to form Road Crew and recorded an album that generated some recording label interest.  Unfortunately, Adler's drug problems soon put an end to the project.  The band then returned to the Vain moniker and has continued to record and perform to the present day.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Talking Heads - Once In a Lifetime

The 63rd video aired on MTV, "Once In a Lifetime" is now often viewed as one of the most significant songs and videos of the 1980's.  The song was named to the NPR 100 (the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century) while the video has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Talking Heads was made up of three friends from the Rhode Island School of Design (David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth) who were subsequently joined by Jerry Harrison (who had played in Jonathan Richman's band The Modern Lovers).  The band came out of the vibrant punk/new wave scene at New York's CBGBs, along with the Ramones, Blondie, and Television, among others.

Allmusic characterizes Talking Heads as art-school punks, which is a great description.  The band incorporated punk, new wave and world music influences into something that resembled artistic pop music.  The formula did not always work, but at their best, Talking Heads made some of the most artistic and interesting music of their era.

"Once In a Lifetime" was the lead single off the band's fourth record, 1980's Remain in Light.  While the album sold well and reached #19 on the charts, "Once In a Lifetime" did not break the top 100, peaking at #103.  (It did better in the U.K., where it reached #14.)  Remain in Light was also the third LP where Talking Heads collaborated with Brian Eno, who co-wrote, produced and engineered the album.

The video was one of the craziest, most creative things shown on early MTV.  Choreographed by Toni Basil (of "Mickey" fame), it consists of David's Byrne's crazed marionette-like spasms, which are combined with additional footage in the background.  Somehow, the whole thing comes together, and the result is a musical and visual masterpiece.

Cool trivia fact:  Rolling Stone rated Remain in Light as the 4th best album of the 1980's.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Bruce Hornsby and the Range - Mandolin Rain

Bruce Hornsby and the Range released their well-crafted debut album in 1986.  The Way It Is quickly gained traction, rising to #3 in the U.S. and generating three top 20 hits -- the title cut (a #1 single), "Mandolin Rain" (#4) and "Every Little Kiss" (#14).  Hornsby then went on to win the Grammy for Best New Artist in 1987, and was never heard from again.  OK, the last part is not true, but Horsby's debut album was the commercial high point of his career.  [And for a list of Best New Artist Grammy winners since 1975, check out the BoDeans' "Only Love" post from last June.]

In fact, Hornsby recorded two additional album with The Range (both of which reached the top 20) and had three additional top 40 hits before dropping the band to go out on his own.  In the intervening years, he has worked as a studio musician, recorded a bunch of albums (his more recent work has more of a jazz-influenced sound) and played with the Grateful Dead.

While Hornsby's videos were played in the 1980's, his low key approach (which is apparent in "Mandolin Rain" below) did not fit in well with MTV target market.   Afterwards, his move to a more jazz and bluegrass influenced sound took him out of the mainstream.  However, he remains a talented artist who had six top 40 songs from 1986 - 1990.

Cool trivia fact:  Bruce Hornsby co-wrote two top 10 hits for other artists -- Don Henley's "The End of the Innocence" (#8 in 1989) and Huey Lewis' "Jacob's Ladder" (#1 in 1987).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Mink DeVille - I Must Be Dreaming

In 1985, Mink Deville released Sporting Life, the band's six (and final) LP.  The album contained one of the better unknown ballads from the 1980's - "I Must Be Dreaming," which seemed like a great fit for ERV.

Mink Deville's origins go way back to 1974 when Willie Deville (born as Billy Borsay) formed the band in San Francisco.  Named somewhat randomly after the group's idea of a cool car (a fur-lined Cadillac), Mink Deville first gained notoriety as the house band at CBGB's from 1975 - 1977.  Amazingly, their unique pop/soul style somehow fit in with the new wave and punk groups at the time.

Signed to Capital in 1976, Mink Deville recorded several eclectic albums in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and never quite found their audience.  In fact, few of their albums and singles even charted in the U.S. though they did have some success internationally.  In addition, as members of the band left, Willie Deville replaced them with studio musicians, so by the third album Mink Deville and Willie Deville were virtually indistinguishable.  The Sporting Life was the last album where the Mink Deville name was used, after that it was Willie Deville for all concerts and albums.

Willie Deville would go on to release eight more studio albums, mostly with a soul flavor (in fact, his pop/soul songs with Latin rhythms would come to be called Spanish-Americana music).

Deville sadly died of cancer in New York in 2009.

Cool trivia fact: The pop metal band Giuffria recorded a cover of "I Must Be Dreaming" in 1986, which charted at #52.