Sunday, March 30, 2014

Altered Images - Happy Birthday

Altered Images were shooting stars in their native Britain, but barely made a dent in the U.S. market.  The Scottish new wave act released 3 top 30 LPs in the U.K. between 1981 - 83 and scored 9 charting singles, including 6 top 40 hits.  However, in the U.S., I don't believe that they had a charting song or album -- the closest thing the band had to a hit was 1982's "I Could Be Happy," which reached #45 on the Dance charts.

The group formed in 1979 and was led by frontwoman Clare Grogan, who also acted (more on that later).  The band was helped by two influential U.K. artists --   Siouxsie and the Banshees (who received a demo tape and liked it enough to have the band open for them on a few dates) and John Peel (the famous Radio One DJ) who had them on his show a couple of times, which led to an Epic Records recording contract.

"Happy Birthday" obviously caught someone's attention on MTV, as the video did manage to pick up some airplay on the channel.  Interestingly, the song is somewhat atypical of the band's music, as most of the songs on the group's debut album (also called Happy Birthday) are a bit darker.  Still, it comes off as a decent new wave/pop song, and one of the better rock birthday songs recorded.

Although Altered Images remained successful, multiple lineup changes seemed to wear on Grogan, and the band broke up in 1983.  Grogan would go on to have a successful career in acting, appearing mostly in British TV shows (notably Red Dwarf and EastEnders).  Some readers may also recall that she had a starring role in the 1981 Scottish coming-of-age film Gregory's Girl, a film that gets ERV's stamp of approval.

Cool trivia fact:  Altered Images are named after the Dutch design firm that did the artwork for the Buzzcocks 1978 "Promises" / "Lipstick" 45 (Single, for our younger readers).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Georgia Satellites - Battleship Chains

This is the Satellites second appearance on ERV, as the band's one big hit "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" was featured in July 2012.  "Battleship Chains" was the second single off the group's debut LP and it became a minor hit, reaching #86 on the charts.  The song was written by Terry Anderson, who was not a member of the group.  Interestingly, Anderson also wrote "I Love You Period" which hit #26 in 1992, becoming Dan Baird's only solo top 40 hit (Baird was the lead singer and guitarist for the Satellites).  Unlike most of the Satellites' songs, "Battleship" featured guitarist Rick Richards on lead vocals instead of Baird.

In contrast to "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," "Battleship Chains" is further up the rock spectrum, more Stones than Skynyrd.  In fact, that is one of the impressive aspects of the band -- they produced self-consciously retro music that was also fresh, and encompassed musical influences as diverse as the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin.  While their music was viewed as something of a curiosity in the 1980's, it has aged better than many of their contemporaries.

The black and white video starts with a scratchy record into and then intersperses shots of pawn shops and pools halls with the band.  It is damn near pitch perfect, in our humble opinion.  This is a band that should be listened to at a BBQ joint with some ribs and cold beer.  Sadly, this cutting against the grain approach made it hard for the band to maintain a high level of commercial success, and they broke up in 1990, after two follow up LPs failed to gain traction (See the "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" post for more info on the band's history.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Utopia - Feet Don't Fail Me Now

The story of Utopia is intertwined with Todd Rundgren, but the band evolved over time to become more than just an outlet for Rundgren's more adventurous music.  Fresh off his pop successes, Rundgren formed Utopia (originally called Todd Rundgren's Utopia) in 1973 to perform progressive rock.  By 1977, the band membership stabilized with Rundgren (guitar), Kasim Sulton (bass), Roger Powell (keyboards) and Willie Wilcox (drums), and this lineup would remain until the group disbanded.

The consistent lineup helped Utopia to become a real group, and by the early 1980's they had a sound that was somewhat distinct from Rungdren's, helped by the fact that other members wrote and sang material.  Unfortunately the group had label problem, which likely limited their commercial success.  It also didn't help that they were viewed as a progressive rock band at a time when that segment was seen as out of date.

In spite of these issues, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" was a minor hit for the band, charting at #82, while the self-titled album peaked at #84.  The song and album were undoubtedly helped by the video, which went into heavy rotation on MTV for a while, due to its avant garde (at the time) vision of the band members as insects.

Unfortunately, Utopia was not able to really break through, and Rundgren broke up the band in 1986, though there have been periodic reunions since then.

Note that Todd Rundgren made an appearance on ERV for his underrated 1982 solo single, "Hideaway."

Cool trivia fact:  The song title refers to the "feets don't fail me now" catch phrase that dates back to the early 20th century vaudeville and chitlin' circuit performances, but its exact origins are unknown.

Cool trivia fact #2: Utopia is an official one hit wonder, as only 1980's "Set Me Free" (#27) broke the top 40 on the singles charts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lenny Kravitz - Let Love Rule

I think of Lenny Kravitz as a 1990's artist, but like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, his first album came out in 1989.  Unlike Nine Inch Nails, Kravitz' music has a definite retro vibe; he has basically made a living with updated late 1960's/early 1970's rock and funk.  As a result, critics have panned his music as derivative.  While there is an element of truth to this, it is also unfair -- Kravitz' music has classic rock influences, but there are also modern touches, something that led to significant commercial success in the 1990's.

"Let Love Rule" was from Kravitz debut album of the same name, and it became his first charting single, at #89.  The album peaked at #61 and remains (as of this writing), Kravitz' only non-top 40 album of his entire career.  Interestingly, Kravitz has only had 4 top 40 singles, and "Are You Gonna Go My Way" was not one of them (it somehow failed to break the top 100 in the U.S.).

The video for "Let Love Rule" was directed by Lenny Kravitz' then-wife, Lisa Bonet (they divorced in 1993).  The home movie feel and use of kids was highly effective in my view and presented Kravitz as a modern hippie -- something that he didn't really shake until the success of 1993's "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

While "Let Love Rule" was a modest hit in the U.S., it really launched Kravitz in Europe, and he remains the rare artist who is probably more successful outside of his home country.

Cool trivia fact:  The video for "Let Love Rule" was nominated for MTV's best new artist award, but he didn't win -- Michael Penn did for "No Myth," which was featured on ERV in November 2012.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Honeymoon Suite - New Girl Now

"New Girl Now" is another forgotten gem, and the full video contains one of the coolest, eighties-ish intros ever put on tape.  The first 38 seconds starts with some guys doing graffiti, when a Delorean pulls up (presumably without the flux capacitor).  A blown kiss that turns into candy hearts follows (I just loved that bit), and we cut to the band on stage.

Honeymoon Suite formed in Niagara Falls, Canada in 1981, and went through several lineup changes in the early years, before settling on Johnnie Dee (vocals), Derry Grehan (guitar), Gary Lalonde (bass), Ray Coburn (keyboards) and Dave Betts (drums).

As we mentioned in the "Feel It Again" video (posted last May), "New Girl Now" launched the group's career when they won a battle of the bands on Toronto's Q107 radio station.  The self-titled debut album followed in 1984, and "New Girl Now" picked up some airplay.  The song eventually reached #57 on the charts, while the album climbed to #62.

Although the band never really broke through in the U.S., they had four charting singles, and one top 40 hit (the previously mentioned "Feel It Again.")  They had more success in their native Canada, and were a successful live act; they were the opening band on several big 1980's tours including Billy Idol, Heart and Journey.

The band remains active (with some personnel changes) as of this writing.

A special shout out to Sam on this one. (I hope that you have not seen the full intro with the Delorean).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pat Benatar - All Fired Up

Long time ERV readers may recall that Pat Benatar's cover of The Rascals "You Better Run" was the second video posted on ERV, back in August 2011.  (Uncoincidentally, it was also the second video ever played on MTV, after The Buggles.)  In contrast, "All Fired Up" may well have been the last Pat Benatar video played on MTV during the 1980's; it was unarguably her last (of 15) top 40 hits, not counting "You Better Run," which peaked at #42 in 1980.

"All Fired Up" is off the Wide Awake in Dreamland album, which was Benatar's seventh studio LP.  It was also her last album recorded in the 1980's (and last top 30 LP).  Although it is not as strong as her first few records, it is a solid effort, though perhaps a bit formulaic.  Having said that, Benatar's strong vocals make nearly everything sound good.

The video features the long haired version of Benatar, along with guitarist/husband Neil Giraldo and drummer Myron Grombacher (who was fantastic live).  It is a performance piece, with some behind-the-scenes footage.

As savvy readers will have surmised by the labels, "All Fired Up" is also a cover.  The song was written by by Kerryn Tolhurst and recorded in 1987 by his band, Rattling Sabres.  The song was the group's biggest hit, and reached #97 on the charts in their native Australia.  Through the minor miracle that is the internet, the video is below.

Benatar's "Promises in the Dark" was also posted on ERV in March 2018.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Hüsker Dü - Makes No Sense At All

Hüsker Dü was one of the most interesting and influential bands of the 1980's.  No less a source than Allmusic believe that they and R.E.M. changed the direction of rock and roll.  At a bare minimum, Hüsker Dü has to be considered one of the acts that laid the groundwork for the alternative music scene.

The group formed in Minneapolis in 1979 and were originally a quartet called Buddy and the Returnables (seriously).  Eventually Grant Hart (drums/vocals), Bob Mould (guitar/vocals), and Greg Norton (bass) booted keyboardist Charlie Pine out of the band and transitioned to a hardcore punk act.

While the band's first few indy records were strong, over time Hüsker Dü began recording material that sounded like melodic punk songs -- punk pop, if you will.  This was groundbreaking and innovative stuff.  Unfortunately, although the band built a strong cult following, they never became a mainstream success.

"Makes No Sense At All" is a great example of the punk pop sound, and comes off the superb 1985 Flip Your Wig LP.  This was the last record on the SST label, as the group had just signed to major label Warner Bros. (who apparently wanted to release Flip Your Wig, but the band declined).  The video includes "Makes No Sense At All" and "Love Is All Around" (the theme from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) which was the B side.  The result is somewhat odd, but still impressive.

Hüsker Dü would go on to release two additional records on Warner Bros. before breaking up in 1987, due to the creative tension between Bob Mould and Grant Hart (the two songwriters for the band).  Mould and Hart remained in the industry, while bassist Greg Norton has sporadically played in the intervening years (he has spent most of his time in the restaurant business).

Cool trivia fact:  Neither "Makes No Sense At All" nor Flip Your Wig charted in the U.S.

Note that Bob Mould's "See A Little Light" was previously featured on ERV.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Novo Combo - Tattoo

Sometimes characterized as an American version of The Police (albeit a much, much, much, much less successful version), Novo Combo released two solid new wave/pop albums in the early 1980's and even generated a bit of airplay on MTV.  However, the band was unable to break through, which of course makes them perfectly suited for ERV.

Novo Combo formed in New York and was composed of several music industry veterans, including Michael Shrieve (drums), who played on the first 8 Santana albums.  Stephen Dees (bass) played with Hall & Oats, while guitarist/singer Pete Hewlett and lead guitarist Jack Griffith rounded out the original lineup.  (Carlos Rios replaced Griffith on the second Novo Combo album.)

"Tattoo" was off the band's self-titled 1981 debut LP.  The album did hit the charts, at #167, and "Tattoo" reached #42 on the Mainstream Rock charts.  However, the group's second effort, 1982's Animation Generation did not do as well, and the band broke up soon afterwards.

The video is a classic early MTV performance piece, and I vaguely remember seeing it.  I particularly enjoyed the super-serious drummer, smoke effects, and Steinberger headless bass (so 1980's).

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock - It Takes Two

A prototypical one hit wonder, Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock burst onto the music scene with their infectious (and possibly overplayed) "It Takes Two" in 1988 and then faded into the background nearly as quickly.

Rob Base (Rob Ginyard) and DJ EZ Rock (Skip Bryce) came out of Harlem and had immediate success with their first album, also titled It Takes Two.  The LP went to #31 on the charts, while the single of the same name reached #36.  "It Takes Two" liberally samples the 1972 song "Think (About It)" from Lyn Collins, assisted by James Brown (who co-wrote and produced the song).  The intro music is from "Space Dust" by The Galactic Force Band.

In the aftermath of It Takes Two, Base and DJ EZ Rock split up; Base released the 1989 follow up, The Incredible Base as a solo album.  It did not do as well, and failed to produce a hit single.  The duo then worked together on a 1994 album, Break of Dawn, but it did not generate any traction.

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock remained in the industry and continued to sporadically perform until EZ Rock's untimely death on April 27, 2014.

As an added bonus, here is the Lyn Collins song "Think (About It)."  The break at 1:23 is the sample.