Saturday, October 26, 2013

Greg Kihn Band - Jeapardy

The Greg Kihn Band was a solid working group that had some meaningful success in the early 1980's with three top 40 albums and three top 40 singles.  While Kihn was originally from Baltimore, he moved to San Francisco in the early 1970's to work in the music industry.  By 1976 Kihn had a band and a recording contract.

Success came slowly for the band, who played constantly as they built a following.  Their first real breakthrough was 1981's "The Breakup Song (They Don't Write 'Em)," which reached #15 on the singles chart.  However, they are probably best-known for "Jeopardy" from their 1983 Kihnspiracy LP (yes, Kihn has a thing for puns as album titles).

The wild, surreal video quickly gained traction on MTV and helped propel the song to the #2 slot on the charts (behind Michael Jackson's "Beat It").  While the song isn't spooky, the video, complete with skeletons, zombies and a giant, tentacled monster seemed like a great fit for our All Hallows Eve videos.

Although Kihn has not had a charting single since 1986, he remains active in the music industry.  He was also a DJ on KFOX in San Jose, California for 16 years (he and the station parted ways in 2012).

The Greg Kihn Band's rarer (and excellent) "Reunited" was posted on ERV in April 2014.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ramones - Pet Sematary

Written for the Stephen King movie of the same (intentionally misspelled) name, "Pet Sematary" would go on to become one of the Ramones bigger radio hits.  The song would reach #4 on the Modern Rock charts, while the Brain Drain album peaked at #122.  In spite of this success, neither the song nor the album were well-regarded by critics, who viewed the song as more hard rock than punk.  [Readers who are so inclined should contrast "Pet Sematary" with "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker," which was also used in the Pet Sematary movie.]

While this criticism is valid, "Pet Sematary" still manages to combine a Stephen King horror flick with the Ramones, making it a fantastic Halloween video.  In fact, it was a match made in horror heaven, as King is a big fan of the Ramones.

The video combines scenes from the movie with the band playing in a ... well, cemetery.  While there a bunch of actors, fog machines, and graves also present, there really isn't much more to the video (although I did appreciate the fact that the band is buried in the end).

By the by, the Ramones were featured on ERV last August with "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" which is well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Specials - Ghost Town

Kicking off this year's All Hallows Even festivities is "Ghost Town" by The Specials.  The Specials were a truly innovative band, and one of the first 2 Tone ska bands in the U.K.  Founded in 1977, they combined an updated ska sound with an aggressive punk attitude.  Add in political lyrics, and you have the makings of an important and interesting band.

The group had 7 top 10 hits in the U.K. between 1979 and 1981, without much success in the U.S.  "Ghost Town," a non-album single released in 1981, spent three weeks as the #1 song in the U.K.  Inspired by the economic problems and urban decay of Britain in the early 1980's, the song touched a nerve in the U.K., but remains somewhat unknown in the U.S.

The video, featuring the band driving around in a Vauxhall Cresta through empty London streets is simple but effective, and is a great way to start off the Halloween season.

Many critics view "Ghost Town" as The Specials greatest achievement.  Unfortunately, the band partially disintegrated soon after the song was released, with the three primary singers (Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding) leaving to form Fun Boy Three.  While The Specials carried on (as The Special AKA) for one album, it was not as successful, and Jerry Dammers (the band's primary songwriter) disbanded the group in 1984.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Krokus - Midnite Maniac

One of the few rock acts to emerge from Switzerland, Krokus built a successful career with their straight-up version of hard rock.  The band formed in Solothurn in the mid-1970's and gradually developed a local following.  An AC/DC concert in the late 1970's apparently made a huge impression on the band, and Krokus' music steadily became more anthemic in the 1980's -- a move which coincidentally led to greater international success.

The band's big breakthrough in the U.S. was their 1983 Headhunter LP, which featured "Screaming in the Night."  The Road Warrior influenced video went into heavy rotation on MTV, helping the album rise to #25 on the charts.  Krokus would go on to release several more moderately successful albums in the mid-1980's before their popularity waned at the end of the decade.

For the blog, we went with "Midnite Maniac" from the band's 1984 album The Blitz.  The song is a pop metal gem, while the video contrasts the band's unique style on stage with a retro story line.  By the way, is it me, or does the video seems to be heavily influenced by Def Leppard's "Photograph"?  You be the judge of that.

"Midnite Maniac" would become the band's first charting single in the U.S. (#71), although a 1986 cover of Alice Cooper's "School's Out" would become Krokus' highest charting single at #67.

Cool trivia fact:  Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance co-wrote "Boys Night Out" for The Blitz album (with lead singer Marc Storace and guitarist Fernando von Arb).  The Adams/Vallance connection to Krokus was Bruce Fairbairn, who produced The Blitz.  Eagle-eyed readers may also recall that Fairbairn got his start with Prism who were featured on ERV in May 2012.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Tracey Ullman - They Don't Know

Tracey Ullman has enjoyed a long and diverse career as a singer, actress and comedienne, helped by her gentle and observant comic touch.  Although we are more focused on her 1980's music for the blog, her TV shows The Tracy Ullman Show (which spawned The Simpsons) and Tracey Takes On ... are definitely recommended.

While Ullman is best-known for her sketch comedy, she got her start in West End (London) musical theater, and her growing visibility there led to a recording contract.  Ullman's first album, 1983's You Broke My Heart in 17 Places is a quirky, nostalgic take on 1960's pop that became a surprise success in both the U.S. (#34, with 2 top 100 singles) and the U.K. (#14, with three top 10 songs).

For the blog, we went with Ullman's biggest hit, "They Don't Know," a cover of a 1979 Kirsty MacColl song.  The video is pure Ullman, with bowling reminiscent of The Big Lebowski, a cameo from Sir Paul McCartney and grocery cart dancing.  The comic touches are really outstanding, as well.

Unfortunately, Ullman was unable to maintain her success and refocused on comedy and acting when the follow up LP did not do as well ... but I think things turned out all right for her.

The Kirsty MacColl original version of the song received a bunch of airplay in the U.K., but did not do as well on the charts, hurt by a distributors strike.  By the by, MacColl was an  English singer / songwriter who flirted with major success, but never quite broke through.  In the U.K., she had 7 top 40 singles 4 top 50 albums.  She also performed with The Pogues and sang backup for a bunch of artists including: Robert Plant, The Smiths, Alison Moyet, Simple Minds, Talking Heads and Big Country.  Sadly, MacColl died in a tragic boating accident in 2000.

The Ullman video:

The Kirsty MacColl original:

Note that the Pogues song "Fairytale of New York," which features Kirsty MacColl, was posted on ERV in December 2014.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Change of Heart

Since their 1976 founding, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been considered one of the preeminent bands in rock and roll.  Their updated, Byrds-influenced brand of music led the group to fame, fortune and critical acclaim.  While the songs and attitude are straightforward, they are impeccably executed, leading many to view Petty as one of the foremost singer/songwriters of his generation.  How's that for a rave introduction?

My all-time favorite Tom Petty song is "Change of Heart" from the 1982 Long After Dark album.  While the song was a solid success (reaching #21 on the charts), the video was overshadowed by "You Got Lucky" with all of its post-apocalyptic goodness.  This is a shame, because "Change of Heart" is one of a handful of videos directed by the legendary Cameron Crowe.  Crowe is a fascinating figure; the crib notes version is: Rolling Stone writer in his teens, then wrote Fast Times at Ridgemont High and wrote/directed Almost Famous -- two films that get ERV's highest recommendation.  [He's done a bunch of other solid work, but those two really stand out to us.]

The "Change of Heart" video is a well-crafted performance piece, featuring a live audio track and keyboardist Benmont Tench (previously featured on ERV as the songwriter of one of two salacious Feargal Sharkey songs).  Straight up rock and roll doesn't get any better than this.

Note that the excellent (and underrated) Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers duet with Stevie Nicks, "Insider" was posted on ERV In February 2015. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Public Enemy - Don't Believe the Hype

Powerful, political and controversial, Public Enemy (PE) helped to re-define rap, transforming it to a 'new school' sound.  However, unlike the gangsta rap acts, PE's lyrics were sophisticated and political, complimenting the strong backing sounds.

Public Enemy came out of Long Island, NY and was led by Chuck D (Carlton Douglas Ridenhour), complimented by sidekick/class clown Flavor Flav (William Drayton) and DJ Terminator X  (Norman Rogers).  The group's entourage included bodyguards who helped the group present a strong, militant image.

While PE's debut LP, 1987's Yo! Bum Rush the Show generated some buzz within the hip hop community, it was their second album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) that really broke the band.  The aggressive funk/rock backing music seemed to be perfectly paired with Chuck D's words (and Flavor Flav's jokes).  The album would become critically acclaimed and commercially successful, helping to usher in the golden age of new school hip hop.

For the blog, we went with "Don't Believe the Hype" off the group's second album.  I don't believe that the song charted, while the album reached #42.  Of course, PE would go on to have tremendous success in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  While they have taken several breaks over the years, I believe that they are still together as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  PE is an official one hit wonder, as only 1994's "Give It Up" (#33) broke the top 40.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Long Ryders - Looking for Lewis and Clark

"Looking for Lewis and Clark" is another reader suggestion and a mighty fine one at that.  The song is by the Long Ryders, a really interesting LA-based band who deserved a lot more success than the pittance they received.

Guitarist/singer Sid Griffin founded the band in the early 1980's.  Named after the 1980 Walter Hill western film of the same name (but with a more traditional spelling), the group quickly gathered a following.  They released their first EP in 1983, and the band's rocked up country sound and political lyrics endeared them to critics and fans alike.  We think of the Long Ryders as sounding like a more rocking version of 1980's R.E.M.; readers who enjoy that music would be well served to check out the band's catalog.

While The Long Ryders were loosely associated with the Paisley Underground scene, many critics (correctly, in our view) consider them more of a roots rock or country rock band.  [As an aside, the term Paisley Underground refers to an LA-based style of roots rock that had strong 1960's (Byrds) and psychedelic influences.  Artists associated with the scene include The Dream Syndicate, The Bangles, Rain Parade, and The Three O'Clock.]

"Looking for Lewis and Clark" was the lead single off the group's major label debut, 1985's State of Our Union.  The song charted in the U.K. (#59) but did not hit the U.S. charts.  It did generate a bit of college radio play, but I do not recall ever seeing the video on MTV.

After a few more years of struggling to break through, the Long Ryders broke up at the end of 1987.  Sid Griffin moved to London a few years later and founded The Coal Porters, a bluegrass act.

We particularly love the call-outs of  Tim Hardin and Gram Parsons in the song.

The Long Ryders' cover of "I Want You Bad" was posted on ERV in March, 2016.