Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fay Ray - Modern Lovers

Originally from Bangor, Wales, Fay Ray were a new wave act who made one really solid album before things went south.  The band was named after one of photographer William Wegman's Weimaraner dogs and was fronted by Sheila McCartney.  Other members of the band were John Lovering (guitar), Owen Hughes (drums), Tony Travis (bass), and Jeff Taylor (sax).

Fay Ray were sometimes lazily compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees, another British new wave band with a female lead singer.  However, they sounded quite different from Siouxsie, with a strong pop sense folded into their new wave sound.  This could have made them quite successful, had things broken their way a bit more.

The band released their debut album, Contact You, in 1982, but it did not chart.  They did make a couple of videos, and even picked up a bit of airplay on MTV.  However, Elektra/Warner dropped the band after the recording of their second LP, and refused to release the master tapes (!).  Fay Ray broke up soon afterwards, although they have re-formed in the early 2000's and are still occasionally active as of this writing.

"Modern Lovers" was off Contact You, and is a great driving new wave song with a cheap and colorful video to boot.  File this one under rare and really good.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yes - Love Will Find A Way

There is little doubt that the 1980's were tough times for progressive rock acts.  In retrospect, rock audiences likely viewed the sound as dated; it certainly was out of synch with the major musical trends of the decade.

Yes bucked the trend, but at a cost; they more or less abandoned their art rock roots and turned into an arena rock band.  This is especially evident on the hugely successful 1983 album 90125 which scarcely sounds like a Yes record.

This change in style and personnel created a difficult working environment and Big Generator (the follow up to 90125) took 4 years to record.  The result is an album that is stylistically similar to 90125, even though producer Trevor Horn left early in the project.

"Love Will Find A Way" was the first single off Big Generator, and was written by Trevor Rabin.  Interestingly, Rabin wrote the song for Stevie Nicks, but when drummer Alan White heard it he convinced Rabin to keep it for Yes.  The result was a #30 hit, the penultimate Yes top 40 single ("Rhythm of Love" at #40 was the last one).

The musically differences that plagued Yes continued after Big Generator, as the group's next album (1991's Union) also took 4 years to record.  Since then the group has continued to record and tour in different permutations, and many members of the band have also participated in other musical projects.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Tourists - Don't Say I Told You So

The Tourists formed in 1975 and were originally a three member band called The Catch.  By 1977, they had become a five piece act and renamed themselves as The Tourists.  Although the group would release three top 75 LPs in the U.K and have four top 40 hits between 1977 and 1980, they would never quite break through.

Part of the issue was the band's sound, as they were viewed by fans and critics alike as a 1960's-influenced  power pop band.  Additionally, there were significant artistic differences among the band's members that would lead to the act's demise after only a few short years.

In the U.S., The Tourists barely made a dent in the market -- although their 1979 cover of "I Only Want to Be with You" did chart at #83.

"Don't Say I Told You So" was off the group's 1980 album, Luminous Basement, and was the third (and last) album that the band recorded.  The song reached #40 on the U.K. singles chart (the last charting single by the band), while the album peaked at #75.  The album was clearly influenced by the emerging new wave scene, but the band's pop image was likely one reason for the breakup.


And in the interest of burying the lead, it should be pointed out that The Tourists were particularly noteworthy as the group that Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox were in before they formed Eurythmics.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Owen Paul - My Favourite Waste of Time

Rare video (especially in the U.S.) - check
Cover of a song by a great, underrated songwriter - check
Solid pop song with a great hook - check

And with that, let's check out Owen Paul's cover of "My Favourite Waste of Time."  Paul ended up as a U.K. one hit wonder; while this song went to #3 on the charts, he did not have another charting single.  Sadly, both Paul and this song are mostly unknown outside of the U.K.

Owen Paul (born Owen Paul McGee in Glasgow, Scotland) reportedly decided to go into the music business after hearing the Sex Pistols.  How that path led him to well-crafted power pop is anybody's guess.  At any rate, he released several singles after "My Favourite Waste of Time," none of which charted and eventually became a producer in the later part of the decade.  In 1989, he produced the Taboo album for the Japanese rock group Buck-Tick.  During the marketing efforts for the album, he got into a dispute with the record label, and left the industry for 15 years.

Since 2002, Paul has returned to recording and performing, mostly in the U.K. and Europe.

As was alluded to above, "My Favourite Waste of Time" is a cover of a Marshall Crenshaw song.  Crenshaw is a seriously underrated songwriter who should have become more successful in my opinion.  This song was a demo recording that was used as the B side of Crenshaw's one hit, 1982's "Someday Someway."

In recent years, "My Favourite Waste of Time" has been covered by Freedy Johnston, Bette Midler, and Ronnie Spector.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Billy Squire - Rock Me Tonight

Eighties Rare Videos is filled with rare and semi-rare videos of great bands that never quite made it.  But we also like a great story, and the tale of how Billy Squier supposedly ruined his career with a terrible video is just too good for us to pass up.

Billy Squier, the pride of Wellesley, Massachusetts, had a long road to rock stardom.  He began performing in bands in 1969, and finally signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist in 1980.  His breakthrough came on his second LP, 1981's Don't Say No, which went triple platinum and peaked at #5 on the U.S. album charts.

By 1984, Squier was a well-established rock star, with two top 5 LPs and 3 top 40 hits ... which makes the "Rock Me Tonight" video all the more inexplicable.  To be honest, I just thought of it as a terrible music video, but in recent years, it has become legendary in scope (and has been requested more than once by our readers).  The story really took off after after it was featured in the 2011 Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks book, I Want My MTV.  During their research for the book, they found that the video was generally viewed as the worst major video ever made, and that it essentially ruined Billy Squier's career.  In fact, they devote an entire chapter of their book to "Rock Me Tonight."

In reality, the video was not played much on MTV, as the station realized what Squier's management and label didn't (namely, that it was effeminate and suckie).  Ironically, the song ended up being the highest charting single of Squier's career at #15, and the album also did well at #11.  While Squire had four more charting singles and two top 75 albums in the 1980's, his period of major commercial success was over.  In my view, the video didn't help but probably was not the major cause for Squier's fall in popularity (in general, rock stars have a limited shelf life).

However, "Rock Me Tonight" is a genuinely terrible (and unintentionally hilarious) video:

Billy Squire continued recording albums through the mid-1990's and remains occasionally active as a performer as of this writing.  Note that Squier's "The Big Beat," which has been sampled nearly 200 times by hip hop artists, was featured on ERV in November, 2014.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Jesse Johnson - I Want My Girl

Best-known as the guitarist for Morris Day and the Time, Johnson signed a solo deal with A&M Records when the group broke up in 1984.  His first album, Jesse Johnson's Revue came out the following year, and  reached #43 on the album charts.

Johnson's material was typical of the Minneapolis pop/funk sound of the day; a less charitable author might call it Prince light.  Still, it is very listenable music, though it does not break any new ground.

For the blog, we went with "I Want My Girl," a slow jam classic.  The song only reached #76 on the pop charts, but did top out at #7 on the R&B charts.  Johnson released two more charting albums in the 1980's, and had 4 top 100 singles led by 1986's "Crazay," with Sly Stone, which hit #53.

As his solo career faded , Johnson became involved in movie soundtracks and album production -- his credits include records by Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson.  Although Johnson has taken several hiatuses (is that a word) from the music industry, he appears to be active as of this writing.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Siouxsie and the Banshees - Peek-A-Boo

"Peek-A-Boo" was Siouxsie and the Banshees first charting U.S. single, although it was the band's 15th top 40 song in their native Britain.  Led by their dramatic frontwoman Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Ballion), the band came out of the Bromley Contingent -- a group of hardcore Sex Pistol fans.  However, instead of becoming a straight up punk band, Siouxsie and the Banshees found their own sound, which fused punk with art house and postmodern elements.

The band's unique sound and appearance quickly found an audience in the U.K.  In fact, "Peek-A-Boo" was off the group's ninth studio album (Peepshow); all of the previous eight LPs broke the top 15 on the U.K. album charts.

The song also showed Siouxsie and the Banshees' continued sonic experimentation.  The idea for "Peek-A-Boo" began during the band's previous album, when they began writing a song based on playing John Cale's "Gun" backwards.  A year later, the song, with its layered instruments and cutting lyrics was ready, and became the lead single off Peepshow.

Ironically, the success of "Peek-A-Boo" came back to haunt the band, as the song was found to infringe on the 1938 standard "Jeepers Creepers." In response, Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer (who wrote "Jeepers Creepers" ) would go on to receive songwriting credit for "Peek-A-Boo."

Siouxsie and the Banshees would remain together until 1996, although the members (including Siouxsie Sioux) remains active in the industry as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  Siouxsie and the Banshees is an official one hit wonder, as only 1991's "Kiss Them for Me" (#23) broke the top 40 in the U.S.