Monday, September 30, 2013

INXS and Jimmy Barnes - Good Times

As fall rolls in (in the Northern hemisphere), our thoughts turn towards the upcoming All Hallows Even.  And yes, before you ask, ERV will have a special collection of Halloween videos (just as we do every year), starting in about two weeks.  Consider this an offering from the chef -- a tasty morsel prior to the full meal of Halloweeny videos.

"Good Times" was off the soundtrack of the 1987 teen vampire film The Lost Boys which starred Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, Jami Gertz and the Coreys (Haim and Feldman).  I may be biased, but the movie is not half bad, and the soundtrack is actually pretty strong (and used extensively in the movie itself).  Helped by MTV, "Good Times" would peak at #47, while The Lost Boys soundtrack would reach #15 on the album charts.

Americans (well, non-Australians) may also wonder why Jimmy Barnes got to sing with INXS.  It turns out that Barnes was the lead singer of the Australian rock band Cold Chisel before becoming a solo artist.  Cold Chisel enjoyed huge success in their home market (6 top 10 LPs, including 3 #1s) but never broke through internationally.  The group disbanded in 1983, and Barnes would go on to have a successful solo career in Australia, with 7 #1 LPs (and 3 #2s).

Making the song even more interesting (and more Australian, to boot), it is a cover of a 1968 Easybeats song.  The Easybeats were the most successful Australian rock band of the 1960's and the first Australian rock act to have an international hit with "Friday on My Mind."

The INXS and Jimmy Barnes version:

The original Easybeats song:

Note that INXS was previously featured on ERV with "Don't Change" back in December 2011.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Robin Lane & The Chartbusters - When Things Go Wrong

The 11th video ever played on MTV, "When Things Go Wrong" is another great, nearly forgotten classic by Robin Lane & The Chartbusters.  Lane was a native Californian who began her career as a folk artist in the late 1960's.  By the mid-1970's, she had moved to Massachusetts and became involved in the vibrant punk and new wave scene.  After hanging out at the legendary Rathskeller club (nicknamed The Rat) in Boston, she decided to put a group together.

The resulting band released an independent three song EP in 1979, which sold more than 10,000 copies.  Later that year, Jerry Wexler (one of the most well-regarded A&R executives in the industry) signed them to Warner Bros. and the band's major label LP came out in 1980.  Unfortunately, poorly produced records and a lack of marketing doomed the group.  "When Things Go Wrong" managed to reach #87 on the singles chart, but the band did not have another charting single or album as far as I can tell.  By 1983 the Chartbusters had broken up, although Lane remained in the industry.

In 2001, there was a Robin Lane & The Chartbusters reunion, which led to a new album in 2003.  More recently, Lane has been involved with the Turners Falls Women's Resource Center, where she uses music therapy to help abuse survivors. [As an aside, this gets my vote for coolest post rock star job ever.]

Cool trivia fact:  Robin Lane was married to Andy Summers (guitarist of The Police) from 1968-70.

Addendum:  Thanks to reader Shellie, who mentioned a TV show in Boston, called Chronicle, that featured Robin Lane over the summer.  The show is up on YouTube (here), for folks who are interested (It gets a recommendation from ERV).

Monday, September 23, 2013

XTC - Mayor of Simpleton

This is XTC's second appearance on the blog, as "Senses Working Overtime" showed up way back in September 2011.  As we mentioned in that post, XTC produced some outstanding 1960's influenced pop, but somehow managed to avoid becoming big stars.  Their lack of major success seems to have been the result of two factors:  (1) Their inability to tour (guitarist/singer Andy Partridge's stage fright is the stuff of legends), and (2) The lack of trendiness in their music.  Ironically, while they often seemed out of step back in the day, their music has aged remarkably well, in ERV's opinion.

"Mayor of Simpleton" was from the band's 1989 Oranges and Lemons album, and at #72, it was their highest charting U.S. single.  In fact, XTC's only other charting song in the U.S. was "Generals and Majors," which reached #104 in 1980.  "Mayor of Simpleton" was undoubtedly helped by the catchy video(s) below, which led to some airplay on MTV, particularly during the 120 Minutes segment.

Due to the wonders of the internet, we also know that there were two version of the video -- a U.S. version:

And a U.K. version:

XTC continued making music through 1992, when a dispute with their label led the band to stop recording for six years.  Once they were released from their contract, XTC resumed releasing music on a smaller scale until they disbanded in 2005.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Paul Simon - Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes

In 1986, Paul Simon's career was at an interesting juncture.  On the one hand, he was one of the foremost singer/songwriters of the 1970's, with three top 5 LPs (plus another three top 5 albums as half of Simon and Garfunkel).  Oh, and he had recorded 26 top 40 singles, too.

On the other hand, his 1983 album, Hearts and Bones had not broken the top 30, and a case could be made that his most interesting work (and biggest successes) were behind him.  Simon had other ideas, however, and recorded the unexpected and brilliant Graceland album.

Some readers may have a hard time appreciating just how out of left field this album was.  World music was in its infancy, and South African music was essentially unknown in the rest of the world.  In addition, music was very stratified in the 1980's.  The idea of combining western pop with mbaqanga and turning it into an album ... this was insanity.  And genius, as it turned out.  The resulting album was a masterpiece that managed to sound fresh and familiar at the same time.

The album rejuvenated Simon's career, and went 5x platinum in the U.S., where it peaked at #3.  It had similar success globally.  Graceland also appeared on seemingly every best of list -- Rolling Stone considers it the 5th best album of the 1980's.

For the blog, we went with "Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes," our favorite cut from the LP.  The song features Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a black South African men's choral group singing the intro (in Zulu of course).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Saga - Wind Him Up

Way back in the dark days of August 2011 (when we started ERV), the first thing that we did was to compile a list of 35 or so potential videos for the blog, most of which have already appeared.  One name on the list was Saga.  So after sitting in the bullpen for more than two years, the Canadian progressive rock band finally gets its turn.  [As an aside, the bullpen list now has 216 names, and continues to grow.]

Saga formed in Oakville, Ontario (near Toronto) in 1977 and were originally called Pockets.  They released their first record in 1978 and gradually built an audience in their homeland.  The group's third LP, Silent Knight (1980) even charted in Canada (#42), although they remained relatively unknown in the U.S.

This all changed in 1981 when they released the Worlds Apart album.  Two videos from the record went into heavy rotation on your favorite video music channel and Saga became an early MTV success story.  The Worlds Apart LP reached #29 in the U.S. (#22 in Canada), while "Wind Him Up" (#64) and "On the Loose" (#26) both charted.  Saga even won the Juno Award for Most Promising Group of the Year in 1982 (regular ERV readers will now shake their heads knowingly ... another example of the cursed nature of a best new anything award).

Unfortunately, the band's commercial success did not last, but Saga has remained a working band and continues to regularly release albums and tour.  They remain particularly popular in Germany, Scandinavia and Puerto Rico.  As of this writing, Saga has released 21 studio albums and remains active in the industry.

For the blog, we went with "Wind Him Up," an early story video.  While the video was clearly shot on a budget, the band's dramatic flair and storytelling were ahead of their time, and helped generate traction on MTV.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fine Young Cannibals - Johnny Come Home

Named after a 1960 movie, Fine Young Cannibals were a British pop/soul band formed from half of The Beat (The English Beat to Americans), who were previously featured on ERV for "Save It For Later."

The Beat broke up in 1983, surprising guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele, who were notified by their accountant that vocalists Ranking Roger and Dave Wakelin had left the band to form General Public.  Once Cox and Steele decided to continue making music, the first order of business was to find a singer, which proved to be a difficult task.  After eight months and 500 demo tapes, the duo finally settled on Roland Gift and set about recording their first LP.

The first single off their self-titled first album was "Johnny Come Home," a cool piece of post-ska fusion.  While the song only reached #76 in the U.S., it broke the top 10 in the U.K., leading to significant success there.  Four years later, the band's second album, The Raw and the Cooked became a huge international success, reaching #1 in both the U.S. and the U.K.

There seems to be some controversy over whether the band officially broke up, but Fine Young Cannibals never released a third album, and have only occasionally worked together since The Raw and the Cooked.  This is a shame, as they created some of the best jazzy, soul/pop music of the decade.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tommy Shaw - Girls With Guns

There was always tension in Styx between the theatrical vision of Dennis DeYoung and the rock approach favored by Tommy Shaw, and these differences finally tore the band apart in 1983.  After the Kilroy Was Here tour, Shaw left the band and set out on a solo career.  Styx released a live LP, and then disbanded for the rest of the 1980's.  [We considered including a "Mr. Roboto" joke here, but thought better of it.]

Shaw immediately began work on his first solo album, and Girls With Guns was released in 1984.  The title cut reached #33 on the charts, while the album peaked at #50.  Unfortunately, Shaw's other albums did not fare as well, with only 1985's What If breaking the Billboard 200 album charts.  However, the formation of Damn Yankees (with Night Ranger's Jack Blades, Ted Nugent and drummer Michael Cartellone) led to two top 25 LPs and 2 top 40 singles in the early 1990's.

The video for "Girls With Guns" is a great example of a one shot video -- the entire clip was shot in one continuous take, with no edits.  Sorry for the occasional freezing of the video; it was the best quality version that we could find.

As a special treat, it turns out that the above video for "Girls With Guns" was not the original.  As Shaw explains in the clip below, a more standard video was shot, but discarded.  Even better, a short clip of the original video is included in the video below (this starts at 0:22)

Cool trivia fact:  While Shaw is an official one hit wonder as a solo artist, he wrote or co-wrote 7 top 40 songs with Styx and Damn Yankees.

The video for Styx "A.D. 1928 / Rockin' the Paradise" (the 10th video played on MTV) was posted on ERV in July 2015.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

X - Hungry Wolf

Although they were not the first LA punk band, X quickly became the standard-bearer for the California punk scene.  The band's literate, dangerous lyrics and unique punk meets rockabilly sound earned them rave reviews and a loyal following but never translated to mainstream success.  Perhaps that is part of their charm, through their lack of success says more about rock radio and the listening audience than it does about X.  It is easy to describe a band as ahead of their time and few truly were, but X fits the bill.

The group came together in the late 1970's and was made up of transplants from all over the U.S. -- John Doe (bass and vocals, born John Duchac from Baltimore), Exene Cervenka (vocals, born Christine Cervenkova from Tampa), Billy Zoom (guitars, born Ty Kindell from Illinois) and D.J. Bonebrake (drums, from California and using his real name -- Donald James Bonebrake).

X released two spectacular early 1980's independent albums (both of which made Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time) before signing a major label deal with Elektra.  Their Elektra debut, 1982's Under the Big Black Sun was just as strong, in your author's opinion.  The LP opened with "Hungry Wolf," and the video picked up some airplay on MTV back in the day.  In spite of this, the album peaked at #76, and the single did not chart.

After Under the Big Black Sun, X slowly shifted their sound, trying for greater commercial success.  These changes did not pan out and guitarist Billy Zoom left the band in 1986, supposedly frustrated by the lack of success.  Amazingly, X has remained together through the years, albeit with several extended breaks.  While the group has not recorded any new material since 1993, they continue to perform to the present day (with Billy Zoom, as of this writing).

Cool trivia fact:  Ray Manzarek (The Doors) produced X's first four albums.

Cool trivia fact #2:  John Doe and Exene were an item, and were married from 1980 - 85.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Living Colour - Cult of Personality

Living Colour (the band, not the cool TV show, In Living Color) has been on the list of acts to add to the blog for some time.  And while we considered going with a less well-known video such as "Open Letter to a Landlord," we finally settled on "Cult of Personality" because ... well, because it rocks.

Guitarist Vernon Reid was the driving force behind Living Colour and formed the group in 1986 with singer Corey Glover, bassist Muzz Skillings and drummer Will Calhoun.  The New York group became regulars at CBGBs and soon caught the ear of Mick Jagger, who helped the band get signed (and later had them open for the Stones on the 1989-90 Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour).

While Living Colour initially gained some notoriety for their skin color, it soon became apparent that they were carving out a divergent musical path that combined hard rock, jazz and funk into a new sound.  The result was critically acclaimed, and amazingly found an audience.  The group's 1988 debut, Vivid, reached #6 on the charts and produced two top 40 songs -- "Cult of Personality" (#13) and "Glamour Boys (#31).  Living Colour also won the MTV VMA for Best New Artist in 1989 (which may have been the kiss of death; see the Michael Penn - No Myth entry for a list of MTV's Best New Artist winners).

Unfortunately, the band's follow up efforts became progressively less successful, and this, combined with disagreements around their musical direction caused Living Colour's 1995 break up.  The individual members remained in the industry and re-formed the group in 2000; they continue to record and perform to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  the song contains samples of several famous speakers, most notably Malcolm X in the intro.  (JFK and FDR are sampled later in the song).

Cool trivia fact #2:  Rolling Stone views Vivid as the 64th greatest album of the 1980's.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Arc Angel - Tragedy

Arc Angel (not to be confused with The Arc Angels, the 1990's blues rock band) was an early 1980's  AOR band.  Though they were talented, the group never quite found its audience and broke up after just one LP.

The band was comprised of Jeff Cannata and Michael Soldan, who had previously been in Jasper Wrath, a locally famous Connecticut progressive rock band.  After Jasper Wrath broke up in 1976, Cannata and Soldan continued to work together and eventually secured a recording contract as Arc Angel.  The record was put together using studio musicians; while the video appears to show a band, Arc Angel was in fact a Cannata and Soldan project.

Although Arc Angel was not a success, "Tragedy" from their 1983 eponymous debut album did pick up some radio play.  However, I don't recall ever seeing the video at the time.  While the music did not break any new ground, it was a well-produced slice of album rock and I think the band deserved more success than they found.

After Arc Angel, Jeff Cannata remained in the industry, and released records under the Cannata name.  Arc Angel (with Michael Soldan) also released a second album in 2002, called Tamorok.

Cool trivia fact:  the intro (backwards) lyrics are "Never Gonna Fade Away."