Saturday, November 22, 2014

Billy Squier - The Big Beat

The previous time that we discussed Billy Squier was last August, when Squire's amazingly terrible video, "Rock Me Tonight" was featured on the blog.  "Rock Me Tonight" is sometimes viewed as the worst major video ever made, and one that may have contributed to the decline of Billy Squier's career and/or Western civilization as a whole.

While Squier continued recording through the mid-1990's, he did not have a top 40 single or album after "Rock Me Tonight," making it an interesting and somewhat sad anecdote.  And that would be the end of the Billy Squier story, except ...

Squier's trademark sound was punctuated by a driving beat, something that is particularly evident on his earlier work ("The Stroke," for instance).  Bolstered by the superb (and loud) Bobby Chouinard, this strong backbeat would differentiate Squier's songs from many of his contemporaries.  In fact, he led off his first solo album -- 1980's Tale of the Tape -- with a drum intro on "The Big Beat" (side 1, song 1).

Having a clean drum break proved to be irresistible to early rap acts, and the drum intro on "The Big Beat" was sampled as early as 1981.  Over time, the enthusiasm for the drum line has not waned, and it has been used by artists including:  Jay-Z ("99 Problems"), Run-D.M.C. ("Here We Go"), and Alicia Keys ("Girl on Fire').  As of this writing, "The Big Beat" has been sampled in nearly 200 songs, and is one of the 10 most popular samples of all time.  Other Squier songs, particularly "The Stroke" are also popular samples.

Unfortunately, this popularity has not translated to a resurgence in Squier's career, and in recent interviews he seems someone ambivalent about the sampling.  For readers who are interested, Squier's first two LPs -- Tale of the Tape and Don't Say No are particularly strong and well worth a listen.

I don't recall ever seeing the original video for "The Big Beat" on MTV back in the day, so it definitely qualifies are a rare (and cool) video.  I'm not totally sure about the yellow pants, though.  Also worth checking out:  roller skates! (1:20) and an obscure Eraserhead marquee (2:30, but blink and you'll miss it).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Devil's Night Out

Utilizing a sound that combines ska, hardcore punk, and heavy metal make the Mighty Mighty Bosstones a unique and interesting band.  The act's roots go back to the early 1980's punk scene in Boston, although the Bosstones didn't officially form until the mid-1980's.  Led by the plaid-wearing Dicky Barrett, the band built a local following and was signed by Taang! Records in 1989.

The group's first LP for Taang! was the 1989 Devil's Night Out LP, and we went with the title cut for the blog.  The song is reasonably representative of the group's early sound, which is to say a bit all over the place (but mostly in a good way).

As with many innovative acts, the Bostones built a solid following, but did not achieve huge commercial success, although their 1997 song, "The Impression That I Get" did pick up a bunch of airplay.  However, the Bosstones are viewed as one of the creators of  ska-core and their music laid the groundwork for bands such as No Doubt.

While interest in ska and ska punk waned since the late 1990's, the Bosstones have continued to record and play (with a few hiatuses) to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  Dicky Barrett has been the announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! since 2004.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

EPMD - Strictly Business

Although they never became a household name, EPMD was a hugely influential East Coast rap act.  The duo from Long Island, NY formed in 1986 and took their name from the two MCs -- Erick Sermon (Easy Erick, E Double, E) and Parrish Smith (Parrish Mic Doc, PMD).  Some sources state that the group started as EEPMD, and then shortened the name to make it easier to pronounce.

EPMD's first album, 1988's Strictly Business, was a breath of fresh air in the rap scene.  Instead of using dance or electronica as the basis for their music, EPMD relied heavily on old school funk, with a dose of rock and pop thrown in for good measure.  This, combined with their strong but laid back rhyming translated to a sound that was trailblazing,

While none of the singles from the album charted on the Billboard pop charts, the album reached #80 and went gold.  Over time, it has been recognized as a classic, and was even ranked #453 on Rolling Stones' list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.  Respect.

For the blog, we went with the title cut, which nicely represents EPMD's sound and solid use of grooves.  While Eric Clapton's cover of "I Shot the Sheriff" is the main sample, pieces of "Jungle Boogie" (Kool & the Gang) and "Auto Man" (Newcleus) are also used, as is an earlier EPMD song "It's My Thing."

EPMD remained successful within the rap scene until their 1993 breakup, and had a second successful stint in the late 1990's before a second breakup.  They appear to be together again as of this writing.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Michael Stanley Band - My Town

The is the Michael Stanley Band's second appearance on ERV as "He Can't Love You" was posted back in October of 2011.  (By the by, "He Can't Love You" is a great early video, and was played on MTV on day one.)

The group was formed by Michael Stanley Gee in 1974 (he changed his last name early in his career, as another musician with the surname Gee was already signed to his label).  While the band were local heroes in Cleveland and had decent success in the midwest, they never quite broke out at a national level.  This is a shame, as the group has a solid straight up rock sound and was known for their high energy shows.  In retrospect, they just never got the lucky break that helps launch many careers.

"My Town" is off the Michael Stanley Band's 1983 You Can't Fight Fashion LP, which was the band's last major label release.  The album reached #64 on the charts, while "My Town" hit #39.  The tune is a love song to Cleveland, which the video underscores.

The Michael Stanley Band remained together until 1986, but finally broke up as they were simply unable to continue economically.  They have reunited periodically, and Michael Stanley remains active in the music industry to the present day.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Frozen Ghost - Should I See

WIth a little bit of luck, Frozen Ghost could have made it big.  They had a new wave-influenced, radio-friendly sound, and their first single ("Should I See," below) picked up a bit of radio play.  However, they were unable to build on this initial success and faded from view.

Frozen Ghost (sometimes spelled Frōzen Ghōst) formed in Toronto in 1985, and were initially made up of Arnold Lanni (vocals, guitars, keyboards) and Wolf Hassel (bass).  Lanni and Hassel had previously been two-fifths of Sheriff, who had a #1 hit with "When I'm With You," (in 1989, 4 years after that band broke up).

In the aftermath of Sheriff, Frozen Ghost scored a recording contract with WEA and released their self-titled debut LP in 1987.  While the album only reached #107 on the charts, "Should I See" did a bit better and peaked at #69.  The band opened for Howard Jones and The Thompson Twins and released a follow up album, Nice Place to Visit in 1988.  It did not do well, and after 1991's Shake Your Spirit, the group broke up.

Arnold Lanni and Wolf Hassel have remained in the Canadian music industry to the present day;  Lanni has become a producer, while  Hassel has continued to play bass.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tarney-Spencer Band - No Time to Lose

It goes without saying that MTV had a seismic impact on the music business; by 1982 or so, MTV was one of the most influential factors in the industry.  However, the video music channel showed its importance virtually right from the start, even when it was not widely carried on cable systems.  Of course, the early impact was a bit hit or miss, but it did show the tremendous potential of the channel.

One early success story was the Tarney-Spencer Band's single, "No Time to Lose."  Australians Alan Tarney (guitars, vocals) and Trevor Spencer (drums) rose to prominence as members of Cliff Richard's backing group in the early 1970's, and went out on their own in 1975.  They released three LPs, the last one being 1979's Run For Your Life.  The album was a modest success, reaching #184 in the U.S., while the single "No Time To Lose" peaked at #84.  Soon afterwards, A&M dropped the band, and the duo broke up.

MTV picked up the "No Time To Lose" video (roller skates and all) in 1981, and a re-released version of the single reached #74 on the charts -- 2 years after the group broke up.  Unfortunately, Tarney and Spencer had moved on with their careers, and no attempt was made to reunite as far as I know.

Interestingly, both Alan Tarney and Trevor Spencer would go on to become producers, and remain in the industry to the present day.  Trevor Spencer moved back to Australia and is a Perth-based producer, while Alan Tarney remained in the U.K.  Tarney is best known for his work with a-Ha -- he co-produced the band's first three LPs, including Hunting High and Low (which included the huge hit, "Take On Me.")