Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes - New Romeo

Some bands are just better live.  Case in point:  Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes.  While their live shows were the stuff of legend, this never seemed to translate to vinyl.  As a result, they were local heroes at the Jersey Shore, but never became household names.

Southside Johnny (John Lyon) began playing in bars in the early 1970's, and was part of the dynamic Asbury Park, NJ music scene, which also included Bruce Springsteen and musicians who eventually became the E Street Band.  By 1975, the Jukes lineup had more or less solidified, and included Steven Van Zandt.  A recording contract followed, as did a bunch of records, but Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes were never able to really establish themselves, hurt by the long shadow of Springsteen and a lack of standout original material.  In fact, many of the group's best-known songs were covers, which bring us to ...

"New Romeo" which was a modest hit for the band in 1984.  The song was off their In the Heat album and did generate a bit of radio play at the time, but was not a major success.  The album reached #164 on the charts, while the song peaked at #103.

It turns out that "New Romeo" was a cover of an Alex Call song.  Who is Alex Call? (glad that you asked).  Call was a founding member of the California country rock band Clover, who are best known as the backing band for Elvis Costello's spectacular debut album, My Aim is True.  Huey Lewis was also a member of the band for a time.  But Call is probably best known for co-writing "867-5309/Jenny" for Tommy Tutone, which was featured on ERV back in June.

The Southside Johnny video is not half bad, and features early appearances by actors Willem Dafoe and Vince Spano:

And the original Alex Call version of the song:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Aztec Camera - Oblivious

Aztec Camera is another in a long line of interesting pop bands who never broke through.  While they were generally well-regarded by critics, their acoustic pop sound may have been seen as out of step with the musical trends of the time.  This resulted in very little success in the U.S., where none of their singles charted on the main charts, and none of their albums broke the top 100.  Fortunately, they did better in their native Britain, where they had 15 charting songs, including six that broke the top 40.

The band was led by Scottish singer-songwriter Roddy Frame; in fact, for all practical purposes he was Aztec Camera.  He began recording indy demos at the age of 16, and caught the ear of legendary BBC DJ John Peel, which led to radio play and a recording contract.

"Oblivious" comes off the group's first album, 1983's High Land, Hard Rain.  This album is now generally regarded as the group's best effort, made all the more amazing by the fact that Roddy Frame was all of 19 when it was released.  It is a great example of their work -- a well-crafted pop song with catchy hooks and clever lyrics.

It appears that Aztec Camera made two videos for the song, so we will include both here.

By the by, Aztec Camera did a very cool cover of Van Halen's "Jump" (yes, really) that is up on the ERV Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness - I'm An Adult Now

Many years ago, when I was in college, I had a really cool friend -- Catherine Alice, though she went by Ali.  Ali's two favorite expressions were: "Bodacious ta-tas" (originally from the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, I think) and "Cheese-eating high school boy" from The Pursuit of Happiness song, "I'm An Adult Now."  It is slightly amazing that hearing this song recently (while working on the blog) reminded my of Ali and her expressions, 25 years later.

At any rate, The Pursuit of Happiness (TPOH) was a Canadian independent band fronted by Moe Berg.  Although Berg was from Edmonton, the group formed in 1985, when he moved to Toronto.  TPOH released a few independent singles (including "I'm An Adult Now") before signing with Chrysalis Records.  Their first LP, Love Junk was produced by Todd Rundgren (who appeared on ERV back in March), and was released in 1988.

TPOH crafted some clever college rock material, but they never broke through in the U.S.  Love Junk peaked at #93 on the album charts, and "I'm An Adult Now" did not chart, although it did generate a little bit of airplay on MTV and college radio.

While The Pursuit of Happiness never officially broke up, they more or less stopped recording after 1996, though they did record two new tracks for a 2005 greatest hits collection.  Moe Berg remains in the music industry as of this writing, working primarily as a producer.

Note that we have two videos for the song -- the 1986 original independent video:

And the 1988 version:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scandal - Love's Got A Line On You

Formed in 1981 by guitarist Zach Smith, Scandal had a charismatic female lead singer, a knack for writing radio-friendly pop/rock songs and a focus on videos.  This could have translated to huge success, but personnel problems plagued the band, limiting their success.

Scandal was best-know for their lead singer, Patty Smyth.  Attractive and stylish, Smyth was the perfect front woman for the band.  According to legend, Columbia signed the group based on the homemade video shot for ... "Love's Got A Line On You" (more on that later).  The debut EP would go on to become the biggest selling EP in Columbia Records' history.

The band's second LP, The Warrior, also did well, but Smyth left Scandal soon afterwards and the group broke up.

For the blog, we went with the aforementioned  "Love's Got A Line On You," from the debut EP.  The song reached #59 on the charts, making it (at the time) Scandal's highest charting single.  The video really shows off the band's MTV-friendly image.

And of course, thanks to the wonders of the internet, we have the original video (supposedly shot for $20) that helped the band get signed:

Cool trivia facts:  Scandal is a virtual treasure chest of cool facts.  Lets start with the original video above (the inexpensive one).  Does the rhythm guitarist look familiar?  If you guessed that it was Jon Bon Jovi, well, it is.  Two years before his MTV breakout "Runaway," he was kicking around the New York recording scene and worked with the band.  Supposedly, the drummer is none other than Clem Burke (best known for his work with Blondie, although he also played with The Romantics during much of the 1990's).

Scandal is also a one hit wonder (this really surprised me).  While "The Warrior" was a #7 hit, they did not have another top 40 single.  "Goodbye To You" hit #65, "Love's Got A Line On You" reached #59 and both "Hands Tied" and "Beat of a Heart" peaked at ... #41.

Some readers may recall that Patty Smyth (who was pregnant at the time) was asked to join Van Halen; she turned it down and the gig went to Sammy Hagar.  By the way, Patty Smyth's "Never Enough" video (which was a cover) was posted on ERV in April 2014.

Lastly (and sadly), the original members of the band have not fared well in recent years.  The band's original bassist, drummer and keyboardist have all passed away.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Sheila E. - A Love Bizarre

Although she is sometimes though of as a Prince protégé, Sheila E. (Escovedo) was actually an accomplished musician before she played with His Purpleness.  Several family members were professional musicians, most notably her uncle (and I believe her father), who were in Azteca.  In fact, she initially met Prince at one of her concerts in 1978 before re-connecting with him in the mid-1980's.

Sheila E. began working with Prince during the Purple Rain sessions (1984), and it quickly turned into a full collaboration.  Her 1984 LP, The Glamorous Life was primarily comprised of songs written by Prince, including the title track (which was originally intended for Apollonia 6).

While the single "The Glamorous Life" remains Sheila E.'s best known song (and highest charting at #7), we opted for "A Love Bizarre," from her 1985 album, Romance 1600.  The song was also written by Prince and performed as a duet between The Unpronounceable Symbol and Sheila E.  It also did well (#11), underscoring the Midas touch that Prince had during the 1980's.

Sheila E. eventually joined Price's band for a few years (87-89) before going off on her own.  While she has recorded a few solo albums, she has mostly worked as a musician in the intervening years (including a few stints with Prince).

Cool trivia fact that may only interest me:  "A Love Bizarre" is the second song featured on ERV from the Krush Groove soundtrack.  The Beastie Boys "She's On It" was on the blog back in May 2012.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Sheila E. is not a two hit wonder.  In addition to "A Love Bizarre" and "The Glamorous Life," she also broke the top 40 with "The Belle of St. Mark."  Nope, I don't remember that one either.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Melissa Etheridge - Like The Way I Do

Melissa Etheridge is the second native Kansas artist to appear on ERV, as long time readers may remember Clocks from August 2011.  Unlike Clocks, Etheridge built quite the following, capped by her 1993 CD, Yes I Am, which has sold more than six million units.

For the blog, we went with "Like The Way I Do," from her 1988 self titled debut album.  The record actually generated a fair amount of buzz, and ended up peaking at #22 on the charts, while "Like The Way I Do" did not initially chart (the song hit #42 upon its re-release in 1995).  Interestingly, I don't remember seeing the video on MTV back in the day (readers should feel free to leave a comment if they recall seeing it).

While the video is a pretty standard performance piece, Etheridge's music was somewhat off the beaten track for 1988.  At the time, highly polished pop and hair metal dominated the charts, and Etheridge's folky roots rock reminded  critics of Springsteen or Mellencamp.  It didn't hurt that her raspy voice seemed tailor-made for the songs either.  While Etheridge's hairstyle seems dated (in the video), I think that the songs from her debut album have held up remarkably well.

As most folks will know, Etheridge remains active in the music industry to the present day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Motörhead - Ace of Spades

As subtle as artillery, Motörhead's punk-infused hard rock was way ahead of its time.  But while the band laid the groundwork for thrash and speed metal, they never really broke through commercially in the U.S.  Even today, when many critics sing the praises of the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash (deservedly so), Motörhead seems (sadly) to be a bit of a forgotten band.

Formed by  Lemmy (Ian Kilmister) in 1975 (!) after he was kicked out of Hawkwind, the new band (named after the last song that Lemmy wrote for Hawkwind) had a tough start.  In fact, by 1977, the trio including guitarist "Fast" Eddie Clarke and drummer "Philthy Animal" (Phil Taylor) were flat broke.  The band decided to do a farewell show before breaking up, which led to a one album contract with Chiswick Records.  The following year, they managed to sign a one single deal with Bronze Records, which was extended several times as the band's popularity grew in the U.K.

"Ace of Spades," from the 1980 album of the same name would go on to become the band's signature song.  The video is a simple performance piece and it fits well with the group's dark, rocking sound.  Motörhead is definitely a "let the music do the talking" sort of group, and it totally comes off in the video.  I also think that their sound has held up remarkably well (this is a 30 year old song!).

Lemmy continued to record and perform with Motörhead until his death in Deceber 2015.  However, "Fast" Eddie Clarke left the group in 1982 to form Fastway, though he has played with Lemmy several times during the past few years. "Philthy Animal" (Phil Taylor) left Motörhead in 1984, rejoined the group in 1987 and left for good in 1992.

Motörhead recorded a cool, acoustic version of "Ace of Spades" for a Kronenbourg beer commercial in 2010; this version (well worth a listen) is below.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper - Elvis Is Everywhere

Every now and then, MTV would highlight something bizarre -- as in straight out of Dr. Demento bizarre.  (Weird Al immediately comes to mind).  One of these unlikely success stories was the psychobilly craziness of Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.

Mojo Nixon (born as Neill McMillan) and Skid Roper (born as Richard Banke) began working together in San Diego in the early 1980's.  Nixon was the hyperactive hillbilly, while Roper provided the accompaniment (mostly the washboard, I believe).  Although the duo had "novelty band" written all over them, Nixon's manic monologues and the band's rockabilly/cowpunk/psychobilly sound generated some airplay on college radio.

For some strange reason, MTV got behind "Elvis Is Everywhere" from the band's third album Bo-Day-Shus!!!  Even better, the video music channel used Nixon as a part time VJ and ran a few short clips between videos ... well, just because.  The results led to some short-lived success, as the album charted (#189) and the song received some airplay.  [We're particularly partial to the claim that Commodore Elvis needs boats.]

Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper continued releasing albums through the 1980's before breaking up in 1989.  Nixon continued working, but was hampered when his label went bankrupt.  However, he remained in the industry as a musician and personality (though there have been several retirements) to the present day.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Blow Monkeys - Digging Your Scene

The Blow Monkeys were part of the U.K. blued-eyed soul scene of the mid 1980's.  The band formed in 1981 and were led by singer/songwriter Dr. Robert (Bruce Robert Howard).  While the group had ten singles and four albums on the U.K. charts between 1986 and 1990, they are essentially a one hit wonder in the U.S. -- although they did contribute a cover of "You Don't Own Me" to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.

For the blog, we opted to go with their one charting single, 1986's "Digging Your Scene" from the Animal Magic LP.  The smooth retro soul sound contrasts nicely with the lyrics, which are pretty blatantly about AIDS.  Interestingly, Dr. Robert (the songwriter) was straight but really enjoyed the gay/club scene in Britain.  Given all of the negative attention on AIDS at the time, he decided to write a song expressing his support for the community.  "Digging Your Scene" would go on to reach #14 in the U.S., while the album went to #35.

While the Blow Monkeys were unable to maintain their success in the U.S., they remained popular in the U.K. and became increasingly political over time.  Their 1987 anti-Thatcher song "Celebrate (The Day After You)" was banned by the BBC for it's perceived political bias, although it did reach #52 on the charts there.  The band broke up in 1990, but reunited in 2007 and has continued to perform as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Although The Blow Monkeys' name sounds slightly obscene, it is actually Australian slang for someone playing the Didgeridoo.  It turns out that front man Dr. Robert spent his teen years in Australia before returning to the U.K. and I suppose that he liked the expression.