Thursday, June 26, 2014

Whitesnake - Love Ain't No Stranger

"Love Ain't No Stranger" was the first Whitesnake song to make a dent in the U.S. market, reaching #34 on the Mainstream Rock charts.  However, this was soon overshadowed by "Slow An' Easy" (posted on ERV in August 2011), which reached #17 on the same charts.

Both songs were off the poorly titled 1984 LP Slide It In, which turned out to be Whitesnake's breakthrough album in the important U.S. market; the album reached #42 in the U.S. and eventually went double platinum.  As we have previously mentioned on ERV, it was around this time that lead singer David Coverdale began to focus more intently on commercial success, which resulted in significant turnover among the other members of the band.  This also led to an increased focus on videos.

The video for "Love Ain't No Stranger" intercuts the band playing with Coverdale watching girls on trucks at an army base.  No, it doesn't make much sense to me, either.  The video is quite rare though, and the song is a solid, somewhat forgotten power ballad.

Whitesnake would go on to have huge success on their eponymous next album in 1987,  and Coverdale continues to use the Whitesnake name to record and perform as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Whitesnake's first charting single on the U.S. pop charts (the Billboard 200), "Here I Go Again '87" went to #1.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Call - The Walls Came Down

"The Walls Came Down" was one of two charting songs by The Call, though the group never had a top 40 hit.  ["Let the Day Begin," which was featured on ERV back in August 2012 was The Call's other charting single.]  In spite of this lack of mainstream success, the band became a favorite of critics and musicians including Peter Gabriel, Jim Kerr, Bono, and Bruce Cockburn.

Led by Michael Been, The Call were known for their strong lyrics and updated roots rock sound.  The band released their first album in 1982, but it was 1983's Modern Romans that became their first hit.  Helped by MTV, "The Walls Came Down" reached #74 on the charts while the LP peaked at #84.

However, the band followed up Modern Romans with the more ethereal Scene Beyond Dreams in 1984 (which did not break the top 200), and then became embroiled in a legal dispute with Mercury Records that delayed the release of their next album (Reconciled) until 1986.  Needless to say, this damaged the group's momentum.

In spite of these issues, The Call continued to release strong albums through 1990, when Michael Been left to try his hand at a solo career.  The band later re-formed in 1997, but broke up again in 2000.  Been eventually became involved with his son's group (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) until his untimely death from a heart attack in 2010.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Martha Davis - Don't Tell Me The Time

In 1987, Martha Davis broke up the Motels in order to go solo.  Later that year,  she released the Policy LP, which unsurprisingly sounded a lot like a Motels record.  However the hard-fought success that the Motels had captured eluded Davis as a solo artist.

In retrospect, the album was likely hurt by the name change and perhaps by the evolving tastes in the music industry.  Davis' brand of melancholy-tinged new wave pop likely seemed out of place by 1987, especially as pop metal took over the charts (and MTV).  The album peaked at #127, while "Don't Tell Me the Time" only reached #80.

In the aftermath of Policy, Davis asked to be released from her contract (with Capitol Records) and did not release another solo album until ...So the Story Goes in 2004.

While the song didn't break any new ground, "Don't Tell Me the Time" is a solid Motels-ish pop song that could have been a hit with a bit of luck.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Scritti Politti - Perfect Way

Although they were a one hit wonder in the U.S., Scritti Politti were more successful in the U.K., where they had 5 top 40 hits (and 15 charting singles).  The band's origins date back to 1977, but the group (named after the Italian phrase for political writings) was essentially the musical vehicle for Welsh singer-songwriter Green Gartside (born as Paul Strohmeyer).

Scritti Politti's pop sound (with new wave and blue-eyed soul influences) contrasted nicely with Gartside's complex and interesting lyrics.  The result was music that can be enjoyed on several levels, and unsurprisingly made the band something of a critical darling.  This was no doubt enhanced by the well-crafted studio productions.

"Perfect Way" comes off Scritti's 1985 studio LP, Cupid & Psyche 85.  While this was the band's second album, it was their first major label recording, which allowed Gartside access to the money and equipment that he desired.  As a result, it was a lush sounding, lyrically dense pop record that did surprisingly well on the charts.

While Scritti did not dent the U.S. charts after "Perfect Way," the group did continue to have mainstream success in the U.K. through the end of the 1980's.  Green Gartside remains active in the industry, and continues to release the occasional album (he rarely performs, due to stagefright).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Toni Basil - Mickey

Toni Basil's "Mickey" may seem like an odd choice for a rare videos blog, but loyal readers will recall that we love our covers at ERV ... especially if most listeners don't realize that the song is a cover.  This fits "Mickey" to a T.  [For other songs of the same ilk, check out the Cover label to the right.]

While the path to success is rarely a straight line, Toni Basil's journey was particularly circuitous.  Born as Antonia Basilotta in Philadelphia, Toni grew up as the daughter of entertainers and began her professional career as a dancer.  She quickly became interested in choreography and was an assistant choreographer (and dancer) on the Shindig! TV show.  Basil also sang and acted throughout the 1960's and 1970's.

Later, Basil became interested in the new wave movement; in fact, she choreographed, and co-directed with David Byrne, "Once in a Lifetime" by Talking Heads in 1980.  Soon afterwards, she recorded and released her debut LP, Word of Mouth, which came out in 1981 (U.K.) and 1982 (U.S.).

"Mickey" slowly gained traction, helped by the striking music video.  Legend has it that Basil came up with the idea for the video first, and then looked for a song to act as the soundtrack.  The video is considered to be the first formally choreographed clip to appear on MTV and was an early example of the power of the new video music channel.  The song would go on to become a #1 hit in the U.S. (#2 in the U.K.), while the Word of Mouth album went gold and reached #22 in the U.S.  However, Basil never had another top 40 hit, making her a rare (#1) one hit wonder.

In the years since "Mickey," Basil has remained active in the industry, mostly as a choreographer.

"Mickey" was a cover the a song originally called "Kitty" by the U.K. band Racey.  The song was written by the songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, but was not originally released as a single.  It was on Racey's 1979 album Smash and Grab.

Cool trivia fact:  The cheerleaders in the video were part of a squad from Carson High School in LA.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Devo was heavily involved in the writing and recording of Word of Mouth.  At the time, Basil was involved with Devo member Gerald Casale and the group co-wrote several songs and acted as the studio band for the LP.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Brothers Johnson - Stomp!

"Stomp" is a real toe-tapper and a somewhat forgotten classic by the Brothers Johnson -- who really were brothers.  The song is also an excellent example of early 1980's dance/funk, sometimes called sophistifunk, for sophisticated funk.

The Brothers Johnson were centered around George and Louis Johnson and began as a backing band before signing with A&M Records in 1975.  The group immediately became successful, and had 4 consecutive platinum LPs between 1976 - 1980.  They also scored 4 top 40 hits (and had 11 top 40 singles in the R&B charts).

Part of their success was likely due to having the smarts or good fortune to work with Quincy Jones.  Mr. Jones produced the band's first four albums, co-wrote a few songs, and helped the group collaborate with songwriters such as Rod Temperton and Michael Jackson.  We should all be so lucky.

The video for "Stomp" is pretty standard pre-MTV stuff, and shows the brothers playing and driving in their car while people dance.  The song seems to be channeling old Kool & the Gang; I particularly dig the bass solo at 2:30.  "Stomp" ended up being the band's last big hit at #7, while the album Light Up the Night reached #5.  After a less successful album in 1981, the brothers split up, although they have reunited several times through the years.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Drivin' n' Cryin' - Honeysuckle Blue

Drivin' n' Cryin' is an eclectic alt southern rock band who became local heroes in Atlanta and environs, but never quite found their national audience.  The group was formed in Atlanta in the mid-1980's by Kevn Kinney (guitar, vocals) and Tim Nielsen (bass), who remain as the group's constant members.  And no, Kevn does not spell his name with an 'i'.

After becoming a big club act, Drivin' n' Cryin' signed with 688 Records in 1986; their first LP soon followed.  Island Records then picked them up which led to some rock and college radio airtime.  However, although they developed a loyal following, they never quite crossed over to mainstream rock audiences.  Not only was southern rock out of favor in the late 1980's, but the shifting scene (from hair metal to grunge) made the late 1980's and early 1990's particularly treacherous for rock acts.

"Honeysuckle Blue" is off the 1989 LP Mystery Road.  I don't recall ever seeing the video on MTV, although the song did pick up some radio play.  However, neither the song nor the album charted.

Drivin' n' Cryin' would continue to have modest success through the early 1990's, and remain together as of this writing as a working band.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hothouse Flowers - Don't Go

Hothouse Flowers' roots date back to 1985, when Liam Ó Maonlaí (lead vocals, keyboard) and Fiachna Ó Braonáin (guitar) began performing as street musicians in Dublin, under the name The Incomparable Benzini Brothers.  The group soon added Peter O'Toole (bass), Leo Barnes (sax), and Jerry Fehily (drums) and renamed themselves Hothouse Flowers.

After U2's Bono saw the band on Irish television, he became a supporter of the group and helped them land a recording contract with Polygram. In 1988, the band released their debut album (People), which became a #1 LP in Ireland (and #2 in the U.K.).  Unfortunately, Hothouse Flowers never broke out in the U.S. -- People peaked at #88 on the album charts, and the group's subsequent LPs did not break the top 100.  In addition, the act never landed a top 40 hit in the U.S. (though "Don't Go" did reach #11 in the U.K.)

Later albums continued to do well in Britain and Ireland, without causing much of a stir in the U.S.  After the band's 1993 album Songs From the Rain, Hothouse Flowers took a break (which lasted for several years) and the more recent releases have been less commercially successful.  Nevertheless, the band remains active to the present day.

"Don't Go" represents the band well, as an upbeat, somewhat folk-oriented pop song.  The song did receive a bit of airplay on college radio, so some U.S. listeners may remember it, but it never got a fair shake on this side of the Atlantic.