Thursday, January 30, 2014

Timbuk3 - The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades

Timbuk3 consisted of Pat and Barbara MacDonald, a married couple who met at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970's and formed Timbuk3 in 1984.  The name was a play on words on the Malian city of Timbuktu and underscores the band's eccentric sense of humor.

The group was signed by I.R.S. Records and released their debut album, Greetings from Timbuk3, in 1986.  It became a surprise hit, reaching #50 on the album charts, led by the single "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades"  That song reached #19 on the charts, making Timbuk3 an official one hit wonder.

While the song initially appears to be an upbeat pop tune, the lyrics are heavy with irony (the sunglasses are likely due to an impending nuclear blast) and meant to be symbolic of the Reagan/Yuppie era in the U.S.  It seems likely that many listeners missed this back in the day.  Pigeonholed as a novelty act, the group's pop/folk music did not get a fair shake, and that is really a shame.  Allmusic points out that audiences (and critics) loved Beck in the 1990's; Timbuk3 was attempting to carve out a similar path a decade earlier, but were unsuccessful after their one big hit.

The MacDonalds divorced in 1995, effectively ending Timbuk3.  However, Pat and Barbara K. (for Kooyman, her maiden name) remain active in the industry to the present day.  To their credit, they have refused to license the song for commercials (they have had offers from AT&T, Ford, the U.S. Army, and Bausch & Lomb (Ray-Ban sunglasses).

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Steve Earle & The Dukes - I Ain't Ever Satisfied

"I Ain't Ever Satisfied" is off Steve Earle's second MCA record, Exit 0, and it highlights an artist in transition.  While the album is still a country/rock record, songs such as "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" show such a strong roots rock sensibility that it is not surprising to find that Earle migrated to a more straight up rock style for his next album, 1988's Copperhead Road.  [By the by, "Copperhead Road" (the song) was featured on ERV last June.]

For better and worse, Steve Earle has lived the rock and roll lifestyle.  He was born in Virginia but grew up in Texas and began playing guitar at 11.  Earle left home at 16, eventually moving to Nashville.  Years of work led to several recording contracts before he signed with MCA and released Guitar Town in 1986.  Guitar Town was a breakout record, and Earle was seen as a fresh new country artist and a roots rocker. While Exit 0 and Copperhead Road did well, creative and political tensions with the Nashville music scene, drug use, and multiple marriages (7 as of this writing) derailed Earle's career by the early 1990's.

Recorded with his touring band, the Dukes, "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" clearly shows the talent of Earle.  The video, loosely following the Robert Johnson Crossroads story, seems pitch perfect and is enhanced by a Waylon Jennings cameo at 3:31.  The lyrics are also worth calling out, as they are tremendous.  Allmusic goes so far as to state that this is something of a theme song for Steve Earle; at a minimum, it does provide some insight into the man.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Soft Cell - Tainted Love

Soft Cell were a one hit wonder in the U.S., but the group's music was interesting and influential.  In fact, "Tainted Love" played an important role in early 1980's synth pop, highlighting the soulful, human aspect of a musical style that was sometimes viewed as cold and artificial.  As was the case with so many acts, Soft Cell were much more successful in their home market.  The group had 12 top 40 hits in the UK, including a run of five consecutive top 5 singles, starting with "Tainted Love."

The band consisted of singer Marc Almond and synthesizist (is that a word?) Dave Ball.  The duo met at Leeds Polytechnic (now Leeds Metropolitan University) in 1978.  Soft Cell initially worked scoring music for theater, and soon came to the attention of Stevo (Steve Pearce) a DJ who launched Some Bizzare Records and become a major player in the emerging electronic scene in Britain.  Stevo would become Soft Cell's manager and help them sign a major label deal.

"Tainted Love" comes off the first Soft Cell LP, 1981's Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.  The song became a monster hit, reaching #1 in many countries, including the UK, while reaching #8 in the U.S.  "Tainted Love" took an unusually long time to peak on the U.S. charts and spent a then-record 43 weeks in the Hot 100.

The original version of the song was recorded in 1965 by Gloria Jones and it was not a hit -- in fact, it failed to chart in either the U.S. or UK.  However, a British club DJ (Richard Searling) came across a copy in 1973 and began playing it, which led to a period of success as a club single.  Jones then re-recorded the song in 1976, but the new version failed to chart, as well.  [As an aside for any hardcore musicologists out there, Jones is best known as the girlfriend of Marc Bolan (T. Rex).  Jones and Bolan had a son (Rolan Bolan) together and Jones was driving the Mini when it crashed, killing Bolan in September 1977.]

Soft Cell released three additional albums after Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret before breaking up in 1984.  Both Almond and Ball have remained in the industry, and there have been periodic reunions in recent years.

The original video for "Tainted Love" features togas and a cricket player.  I don't recall seeing the video much on MTV back in the day, though.

Soft Cell also released a remixed version of the song (with a corresponding video) in 1991, which is below:

Lastly, here is the original version of the song by Gloria Jones:

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Gap Band - Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)

"Burn Rubber on Me (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)" is the Gap Band's second appearance on ERV ("Party Train" was posted back in May 2012).  While this song is less well-known, it is yet another classic Gap Band tune, with a funky bass line and a catchy melody.  "Burn Rubber on Me" was off the poorly titled Gap Band III (it was actually the group's fifth LP), which many critics consider to be their strongest album.

The Gap band was made up of the Wilson brothers (Charlie, Ronnie and Robert) and was named after the streets of their neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma (Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street).  While they only had two top 40 hits on the pop charts ("Early in the Morning" and "You Dropped a Bomb on Me"), they were mainstays on the R&B charts, where they had 24 top 40 hits.

Although "Burn Rubber on Me" only reached #84 on the pop charts, it was the Gap Band's first #1 hit on the R&B charts.  Gap Band III reached #16 on the main charts (also #1 on the R&B album charts), firmly establishing the group as funk stars.

The video is a simple performance piece full of pure funky cowboy wonderfulness.

As we mentioned earlier, the Gap Band remained popular through the 1980's, and continued performing until Robert Wilson passed away (heart attack) in 2010.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jane's Addiction - Jane Says

Alternative rockers Jane's Addiction were a truly unique band when they emerged from the LA scene in the mid 1980's.  While their music was shaped by many bands and genres, supposedly their two most significant influences were Led Zeppelin ... and The Cure.  Add some provocative art school imagery and a healthy dose of drugs and the band became a sensation in the LA club scene.  The buzz around Jane's Addiction led to a bidding war, which Warner Bros. won with a then record advance of $250,000 (or so).

The group was named after Jane Bainter, who really did have a drug problem and was a housemate of lead singer Perry Farrell (along with a dozen or so other folks).  The classic lineup added Dave Navarro (guitar), Stephen Perkins (drums) and Chris Chaney (bass).

"Jane Says" was written about the same Jane (Bainter), and incorporated elements of her life, including her boyfriend/drug dealer Sergio.  An earlier version of the song was released on Jane's Addiction's self titled independent record, but the song was re-recorded for the group's major label debut, 1988's Nothing's Shocking.  The re-recorded version added the steel drugs that are a key element of the song's now classic sound.

While "Jane Says" received some college radio airplay, it did not chart on the main charts (it did hit #6 on the Modern Rock Charts).  Nothing's Shocking did not break the top 100 on the album charts, hurt by the lack of videos and mainstream radio airplay.  Jane's Addition did not make a video of "Jane Says" in 1988, and the video they made for "Mountain Song" was banned from MTV due to nudity.  The video below is from Jane's Addition's 1997 compilation album, Kettle Whistle.

Jane's Addiction would go on to release another strong album in 1990, Ritual de lo Habitual, and would co-found the first Lollapalooza festival before the band broke up in 1991.  Farrell and Perkins would go on to form Porno for Pyros while Navarro would join the Red Hot Chili Peppers for a time.  Jane's Addiction has re-formed several times in recent years, even releasing an album in 2011.

Cool trivia fact:  While the Kettle Whistle live version of "Jane Says" features Eric Avery on bass, the video is with Flea (of the Red Hot Chili Peppers).  The audio for the song was recorded in 1991 with Avery, while the video was recorded in 1997 on the Relapse tour (with Flea).

Cool trivia fact #2:  Jane's Addiction never had a top 40 hit, and only had one single that charted at all, 2003's "Just Because," which peaked at #73.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Simple Minds - All The Things She Said

While I had thought of Simple Minds as a big time success story, it turns out that they had only a brief period of success in the U.S.  American audiences will likely remember the band's big hit, "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which hit #1 in 1985.  That song was the first of 4 top 40 hits in the U.S between 1985 and 1986.  And with the exception of 1991's "See The Lights," the group did not have another top 40 song in America.

In contrast, Simple Minds were stars in their native Britain, where they had 24 top 40 singles between 1982 and 1998.  They also had three #1 and two #2 albums during this period, as opposed to one top 50 album in the U.S. (1985's Once Upon a Time).

Simple Minds were formed in Glasgow, Scotland in the late 1970's.  The band's name came from the lyrics to David Bowie's 1972 hit, "The Jean Jeanie" ("He's so simple minded he can't drive his module.")  Originally an art rock band modeled after Roxy Music, they evolved into more of an artistic pop/rock band over time; "All The Things She Said" is reasonably representative of the band during the 1980's.

The video features the two key members of the band, singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill.  In fact, both of them remain with the group to the present day.  The female co-lead singer is Robin Clark, a professional backup singer.  Interestingly, Clark is married to Carlos Alomar, who played with David Bowie from 1975 to 2003.

"All The Things She Said" was the last of the four top 40 hits mentioned above -- the song reached #28, while the Once Upon a Time album hit #10.

Cool trivia fact:  The band was not eager to record "Don't You (Forget About Me)," which was brought to them by their label.  The song had already been turned down by The Fixx, Bryan Ferry, and Billy Idol, and Simple Minds also initially turned the song down before reconsidering.  However, they remained ambivalent towards it, as evidenced by the band leaving it off the Once Upon a Time album.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Lead singer Jim Kerr was married to Chrissie Hynde (of the Pretenders) from 1984 - 1990.  He subsequently was married to actress Patsy Kensit from 1992 - 1996.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dave Edmunds - Slipping Away

Dave Edmunds was a key part of the late 1970's and early 1980's British rockabilly scene, and his work (with Nick Lowe) in Rockpile particularly stands out.  However, both before and after Rockpile, Edmunds played and recorded his version of 1960's influenced rock and roll.

Edmunds was born in Cardiff, Wales and played in a series of bands before launching a solo career in 1970(!)  That year, his cover of "I Hear You Knocking" became a #1 hit in the UK (#4 in the U.S.).  Edmunds also became a notable producer, which led to a working relationship with Nick Lowe.  While legal issues prevented the use of the Rockpile name (Edmunds and Lowe were signed to two different labels), most of their work from 1976 through 1981 was as Rockpile (with Billy Bremner on guitar and Terry Williams on drums).  Ironically, the one 'official' Rockpile LP came at the end of this period.

"Slipping Away" is off Edmunds' 1983 Information LP, which was released after Rockpile broke up.  The song would go on to become a top 40 hit for him (barely), reaching #39 on the charts, while album rose to #51.  I suspect that some of this success was due to the video, which received a bit of airplay on MTV back in the day.

Edmunds remains active in the music industry to the present day, although his work has been less frequent since the early 1990's.

Cool trivia fact:  "Slipping Away" was written and produced by Jeff Lynne (of ELO fame).

Saturday, January 4, 2014

McAuley Schenker Group - Gimme Your Love

Any discussion of the McAuley Schenker Group has to begin with the Mad Axeman himself, Michael Schenker.  The guitar protégé started performing with his older brother Rudolf in the Scorpions at 15 before joining the British hard rock band UFO in 1973 as an 18 year old.  His work in UFO established Schenker as a premier guitarist but his behavior became increasingly erratic, primarily due to alcohol issues, and he left the band in 1978.

After a brief stint with the Scorpions in 1978-79, Schenker decided to form his own band, appropriately named the Michael Schenker Group (MSG).  While MSG showed flashes of strong material, the group's album were also notoriously inconsistent, plagued by the continued alcohol abuse of Schenker (which also led to significant turnover within the band).

In 1986, Schenker recruited Irish vocalist Robin McAuley and was so impressed by the songwriting that he re-named the band the McAuley Schenker Group.  This version of MSG would go on to release three studio albums, one EP and one live album before McAuley left the band (to get married and temporarily retire from the industry) in 1993.

The McAuley Schenker Group's sound was more commercial than most of Schenker's other work.  This was not accidental; the group moved to Los Angeles and tried to cross over during the heavy metal heyday of the mid to late 1980's.  Unfortunately, significant commercial success eledued them.

For the blog, we went with "Gimme Your Love" from the first McAuley Schenker Group album, 1987's Perfect Timing.  The song did not break to top 100 (though it did hit #40 on the Mainstream Rock Charts), while the album peaked at #92.

Schenker remains active in the industry to the present day, and has been involved in occasional reunions with UFO.  McAuley also remains in the industry, and was the lead vocalist for Survivor from 2006 - 2011.  He has also performed with Schenker, notably on his 2012 tour.

Cool trivia fact:  At different points in his career, Michael Schenker was asked to audition for the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Ozzy Osbourne.  Obviously, none of the auditions worked out.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Van Stephenson - Modern Day Delilah

Van Stephenson had an interesting career as a singer/songwriter, spanning the treacherous waters between country and rock in the 1980's and 1990's.  He began his career as a country songwriter, and wrote songs for Crystal Gayle and Kenny Rogers, among others.  He also released a solo album in 1981 called China Girl, which did not chart.

In 1984 he released the Righteous Anger LP, a more straightforward pop/rock album, which included his one top 40 hit, "Modern Day Delilah," (#22).  The album reached #54 and a second single, "What the Big Girls Do" nearly broke the top 40 at #45.  Unfortunately, Stephenson's next album, 1986's Suspicious Heart, did not chart.

As his solo career waned, Stephenson continued his songwriting (often for the country group Restless Heart) before forming the country act Blackhawk with Henry Paul and Dave Robbins in 1992.  Blackhawk would go on to have significant success, with four top 25 Country records and 14 top 40 Country singles.

Tragically, Stephenson was diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and passed away in 2001 from the disease.  He was 47.