Thursday, July 31, 2014

Duran Duran - Girls on Film

Duran Duran were one of the first acts to truly embrace the emerging music video revolution, and their proficiency with the media helped them become superstars by the early 1980's.

The band formed in Birmingham, England in 1978, and fashioned themselves as a post-punk art band whose influences included Roxy Music and David Bowie.  The group was named after a character from the 1968 Jane Fonda film, Barbarella.  Signed to EMI, Duran Duran's self-titled debut LP was released in 1981, and they found immediate success in the U.K. (and a bit in U.S. clubs).

It was around this time that the "Girls on Film" video benefitted from almost unbelievable good luck.  Directed by future video superstars Godley and Creme, the original video was designed for late night TV shows and dance clubs, and featured a fair amount of nudity.  It was subsequently banned by the BBC, which generated a ton of publicity for the band.  An edited version of the video found its way to MTV and received some airplay, although neither the song nor the album really broke through on their initial release.

However, the success of the video seemed to solidify the band's visual focus, and led to the tremendous success of future Duran Duran albums and videos, starting with 1982's Rio.  A 1983 reissued version of the debut LP broke the top 10 in the U.S in 1983, one of 3 top 10 LPs that the band had between 1982 and 1983.

As many readers will know, Duran Duran has never officially broken up, although they have had several extended periods of inactivity and a few lineup changes through the years.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Loudness - Crazy Nights

Loudness (ラウドネス) are likely to be the only Japanese group to appear on ERV, and are one of a handful of Japanese acts that had the potential to make an impact on the U.S. charts.  The group got its start in 1981 and quickly established themselves as the premier heavy metal band in Japan.

By 1984, Loudness had released four albums, and had a following in their home market.  To my ear, their early work sounds similar to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and I think that it holds up reasonably well.  Their growing success caught the attention of the Twisted Sister management team and led to an international recording contract with Atco Records in 1985.

The act's first American record was 1985's Thunder in the East.  The album was recorded in the U.S., with English lyrics and some significant style changes, designed to appeal to the American market -- essentially, they went with a more pop metal sound, similar to Mötley Crüe, instead of sticking with their earlier, heavier music.

The results were ok, but not great.  Thunder in the East did hit #74 on the U.S. album charts, led by "Crazy Nights," which did not chart.  However, it was not the big breakout that the label had hoped for, and several subsequent records did not fare any better.  Atco dropped the band in 1991, and Loudness refocused on the Japanese market.  Though there have been several lineup changes, the band remains active to the present day.continues to record and tour to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  The "M - Z - A" chant in the chorus has no particular meaning -- it was used as a placeholder during the initial recording, and the band could not come up with anything better, so they keep it in the final version.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jon Astley - Jane's Getting Serious

We frequently discuss one hit wonders at ERV, but it is easy to forget just how hard it is for an artist to have even one song break the top 40.  This was especially true in the 1980's, given the amount and diversity of music.  In any event, this is a roundabout way of pointing out that Jon Astley did not have any top 40 hits, although he did write and record the very catchy song below.

Jon Astley (no relation to Rick) began his career as a producer, and was particularly well-known for his work with The Who (he was, for a time, Pete Townshend's brother-in-law).  Later, Astley built a second career as an expert in re-mastering material for the conversion to CDs.

In between these pursuits, Astley also released two solo albums and managed to have two charting singles (the other one was 1988's "Put This Love to the Test" and no, I don't remember it either).  "Jane's Getting Serious" is a catchy pop song, with a choppy percussion-driven sound.  The song peaked at #77, while the album Everyone Loves the Pilot (Except the Crew) reached #135.

By the by, "Jane" was also used in a series of Heinz Ketchup Commercials, including one featuring an early role for future Friend Matt LeBlanc, so you may have heard the song there.

The video seems to take place on a deserted island and is highlighted by three dancing gorillas.  Perhaps the chaps from Haircut 100 are singing on the same island, who knows?  At any rate, it is a solid video of a mostly forgotten pop gem.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chris Isaak - Don't Make Me Dream About You

Although Chris Isaak has only landed one top 40 single ("Wicked Game"), he has built a solid career on an updated Roy Orbison-influenced sound.  This is no small feat, as rockabilly artists in general haven't exactly been burning up the charts over the past few decades.

Isaak released his first album in 1985, but his breakthrough came on his third album, 1989's Heart Shaped World.  That album peaked at #7 on the charts and went triple platinum, led by the previously mentioned "Wicked Game."  Interestingly, that song was not an immediate hit, but gained momentum following its inclusion in David Lynch's 1990 movie, Wild At Heart.  Additionally, the heavily played video (featuring a topless Helena Christensen) probably didn't hurt.

After Heart Shaped World, Isaak saw his mainstream success fade, but has retained a loyal following.  He continues to perform and record (and dabble in acting) to the present day.

For the blog, we skipped the overplayed "Wicked Game" and opted for the less well known "Don't Make Me Dream About You."  The black and white video is stylistically similar to "Wicked Game" and seems well suited for Isaak's music.  The song is a bit more uptempo and is, I believe, a good representation of the Isaak rockabilly sound.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tony Carey - I Won't Be Home Tonight

"I Won't Be Home Tonight" is a great example of one of those wonderful videos that often showed up on MTV in the Early Years.  (Actually, I don't recall seeing the video on MTV, but I do remember the song.)  The vid features women, cars, a jeep, and even has a shot of Tower Records (ahh, record stores ...)  It is not totally clear if the video has a plot, however, and the fact that the clip appears to have been shot on a shoestring budget only adds to its charm.

The song is by Tony Carey, and is off his 1982 album of the same name.  Carey got his big break when he was invited to play keyboards in Rainbow, and later he tried to jump start a solo career.  I was surprised to learn that the single actually charted, reaching  #79 on the charts -- it turns out that Carey had four charting singles in 1983 and 1984, including two top 40 hits ("The First Day of Summer" and "A Fine Fine Day").    Savvy readers may also recall that he co-founded Planet P Project as an outlet for his more unusual work; the video for "Why Me?" was featured on ERV in August 2012.

Carey's fortunes waned in the mid-1980's, although he remains active in the industry to the present day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Timex Social Club - Rumors

Originally called the Timex Crew, Timex Social Club switched names after a lineup change and ended up as a classic one hit wonder.  The group originally formed at Berkeley High School (in Berkeley, California) in 1982. Timex Social Club's sound combined elements of R&B, jazz, hip hop and dance into something that would come to be know as new jack swing in the early 1990's, and if things had broken slightly differently for the group, they could have been major players in that scene.  However, squabbles and lineup changes prevented this from happening.

The group only released one major label LP, 1986's Vicious Rumors, which hit #29 on the R&B albums chart but did not break onto the main albums chart.  However, the single "Rumors" became a hit, reaching #8 on the singles chart.  While the follow up singles ( "Thinkin' About Ya" and "Mixed-Up World") both broke the top 20 on the R&B charts, they did not enjoy crossover success and the group broke up.

Producer Jay King, who had a major influence on the group's sound would go on to form Club Nouveau (literally:  New Club) and would land 2 more top 40 hits, including the 1987 cover of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" which would go to #1.

Timex Social Club has re-formed in recent years and continues to perform as of this writing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

U2 - I Will Follow

Before U2 became one of the biggest bands in the world, they were just an earnest, post punk act from Ireland.  Note that in 1980, college rock not even in the lexicon -- in fact, U2 was one of the bands that helped to create this segment in the early 1980's.

U2 formed in Dublin in 1976, and consists of Bono (given name: Paul Hewson) on vocals, The Edge (given name: David Evans) on guitar, Adam Clayton on bass, and Larry Mullen, Jr. on drums.  Signed to Island Records, the band released their debut LP, Boy in 1980, and "I WIll Follow" was the first single.

While "I Will Follow" quickly became a staple at parties and on college radio, the song did not do terribly well in the charts.  It originally did not chart (in 1980), although a 1984 live version (from the Under a Blood Red Sky LP) reached #84.  On the other hand, Boy definitely attracted some attention and reached #63 on the album charts.

Similarly, the video for "I Will Follow" is relatively rare.  By the time MTV launched in 1981, U2's October album was out, and the fledgling music video channel focused on "Gloria,"  leaving "I Will Follow" as a forgotten classic.

Cool trivia fact:  The lyrical inspiration for "I Will Follow" came from the death of Bono's mother (she died when he was 14).

Cool trivia fact #2:  "I WIll Follow" is the only song that U2 has played on every tour.

Lastly, U2 fans and other interested parties may want to check out the video for the rare and controversial song "A Celebration," which was posted on ERV in May, 2015.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Jane's Addiction - Mountain Song

"Mountain Song" is a truly great, groove-driven hard rock song that was unlike virtually everything on the radio in 1988.  For readers who only know Jane's Addiction from 1990's "Been Caught Stealing," this song is evidence that the band could rock out with the best of them.

The song came off the band's major label debut, 1988's Nothing's Shocking.  [Note that "Jane Says" from the same LP was featured on ERV in January 2014.]  The album created a stir in the music industry, but did not become a huge commercial success.  In retrospect, album sales were hurt by the lack of exposure on MTV, and by the diverse alternative feel that the record had -- remember that 1988 was the peak of hair metal.

On the exposure front, the (edited) video below was shot in 1988 at Scream (an alternative rock club in LA), and is an awesome Jane's Addiction timepiece.  The vid was banned by MTV for years, due to the nudity and general weirdness (I believe that MTV dropped the ban in 1990).

Sadly, "Mountain Song" did not chart, while the Nothing's Shocking LP only reached #103 on the album charts.

For more on Jane's Addiction (including the story behind Jane), check out the "Jane Says" entry.