Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Country - Fields of Fire (400 Miles)

This is Big Country's second appearance on ERV, as "Look Away" was posted on the blog last August.  While U.S. readers will remember the band for their eponymous single (the group's only top 40 U.S. song), "Fields of Fire" was the first of 15 top 40 singles in their native U.K.

Similar to "Look Away," "Fields of Fire" is a grand anthemic rock song, punctuated by the bagpipe-like guitar sound that was Big Country's trademark.  It is also my favorite Big Country song.  The video, with the train, bagpipe player and toys generally works quite well (although the WWI scene seems a bit forced to me).  The song peaked at #10 in the U.K. and #52 in the U.S., and helped launch the band's debut LP, The Crossing (which would hit #3 in the U.K. and #18 in the U.S.)

From an American perspective, the band faded from view after The Crossing, although they remained popular in the U.K. for the remainder of the decade.  As was mentioned in the previous Big Country post, the group remained together until lead singer Stuart Adamson's suicide in 2001.  They have re-formed in recent years, although ex-Alarm singer Mike Peters departed the band in November 2013.  It appears that the current lead singer is Simon Hough and the group remains active as of this writing.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

David Lee Roth - Goin' Crazy!

For my money, David Lee Roth's 1985 departure from Van Halen was a real musical tragedy.  Led by Diamond Dave's showmanship and Eddie Van Halen's guitar licks, Van Halen had become superstars by the mid-1980's.  Both factions seemed to suffer after the breakup, and it is hard not to wonder what they would have produced together.  In fact, the parties involved also seem to have (eventually) realized this as there have been several reunions since 1996.

But in 1985, these reunions were very far away.  Inspired by the success of his Crazy From the Heat EP, Roth put together a group to rival Van Halen.  Guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette were all outstanding musicians, but the songwriting and chemistry just did not seem to click as much as they had in Van Halen.

On the other hand, Roth's campy and slightly insane worldview remained front and center -- and was well-suited for MTV.  As an example, the video for "Goin' Crazy!" has a nearly three minute intro (skip to 2:36 if you would just like to see the song).

"Goin' Crazy!" reached #66 on the charts, while the Eat 'Em and Smile LP hit #4 and went double platinum.  While 1988's Skyscraper was a hit, Roth's fortunes then faded; by the early 1990's he was no longer a major star.  Van Halen saw a similar trend, and the group has reunited with Roth several times since 1996.  The most recent incarnation of Van Halen has included DLR since 2006 or so, and even released an album (A DIfferent Kind of Truth) in 2012.  They appear to be together as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  "Goin' Crazy!" was originally intended to also be the theme of Roth's movie of the same name, but the project was shut down.

Note that Van Halen's cover of "Pretty Woman" was posted on ERV in January 2012.

[January 2019 update]  So it turns out that DLR made a Spanish version of "Goin' Crazy" called ..."Loco del Calor." See it for yourself, below:

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Prince - Uptown

"Uptown" is the answer to a great trivia question -- it was the first single released off Prince's classic Dirty Mind album.  The song was named after the bohemian uptown neighborhood of Prince's hometown (Minneapolis) and touches on themes of tolerance and bigotry, which would be recurring concepts for Prince.

Long time readers will recall that we have previously posted videos of "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy" on ERV, as these videos may also be less well-known to our readers.  Due to the fact that Prince was not an overnight success, his early material did not get the exposure that it deserved, in our humble opinion.  As an example, "Uptown" certainly qualifies as a rare video and I don't recall ever seeing it on MTV back in the day.

The "Uptown" video appears to have been shot at the same time as "Dirty Mind," using the same set and audience.  This was a common occurrence in the days before MTV, when videos were used as promotional tools.  From a sound perspective, "Uptown" is more of a straight up dance number, in contrast to the electric funk of "Dirty Mind."  Again, this is typical Prince, as his ability to write songs in different musical styles really differentiates him from most other artists.

Released in September, 1980, "Uptown" was not a huge hit, but did chart, reaching #101 on the singles charts.  This was also sadly typical of Prince in this period, as he only had one top 40 single (1979's "I Wanna Be Your Lover") prior to the 1999 album.  Of course, that LP changed everything, and catapulted Prince into superstardom for the remainder of the decade (and beyond).

Ladies and gentlemen, for your audio and video pleasure ... His Purpleness.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Roger Hodgson - Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)

Any discussion of Roger Hodgson has to begin with his time in Supertramp, as he co-fronted the band (with Rick Davies) from its 1969 founding until 1983.  Over time, he began to feel less comfortable in the band (a sadly common occurrence) and this seems to have been exacerbated by his move to Northern California in 1981 (the remainder of Supertramp was based in LA).  As a result, Hodgson left Supertramp in 1983 to spend more time with his family.

However, Hodgson continued to write and record (with the aid of a home studio) and in 1984 he released his first solo album -- In the Eye of the Storm.  While the album garnered favorable reviews, it did not perform well, reaching #46 on the album charts, while "Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)" only hit #48 on the singles charts.  It is likely that the fading popularity of art rock and the lack of name recognition combined to hurt sales.

Three years later, Hodgson's second solo LP was released (Hai Hai), but it performed even worse than its predecessor.  Compounding the issue, Hodgson fell and broke both wrists, which prevented him from touring.  He then seems to have semi-retired from the industry for a time, although he has performed more in recent years (he did release a third solo album in 2000, as well).

In spite of the lack of commercial success, "Had a Dream" sounds like a classic Supertramp song to my ear (in a very good way).  The upbeat song and progressive, quirky lyrics lend themselves to the video, including the juxtapositioning of marching bands and military parades.  We view the song and video as something of a forgotten classic.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chris Rea - The Road to Hell (Part 2)

Though Chris Rea was a major star in Europe in the 1980's and 1990's, he was more of a cult figure in the U.S.  Stylistically, his music was a modern English (no relation to the band) interpretation of the blues; while Rea and ZZ Top (below) shared some of the same influences, they interpreted the material differently.  Rea's smooth, laid-back feel often reminds me of Dire Straits, but Rea's songs seemed a bit darker compared to Mark Knopfler.

Chris Rea was born in Middlesbrough, England, and started his music career in 1973, when he joined the local band Magdalene (he replaced David Coverdale, who would go on to find success in Deep Purple and Whitesnake).  After kicking around the industry for several years, Rea released his first solo LP in 1978, and gradually built up a following in Europe, before breaking through in the U.K. in the mid-1980's.  Between 1985 - 1998, Rea had 8 top 15 albums in the U.K., and 11 top 40 singles.

"The Road to Hell (Part 2)" (and yes, there is a part 1) was a song with a long instrumental intro, and the label pushed to break the track into two parts.  It is off the 1988 album of the same name, and is generally viewed quite favorably by critics.  The song was conceived while Rea was stuck in traffic on the M25 (the major ring road around London).  "The Road to Hell" reached #10 in the U.K., but did not chart in the U.S., while the album of the same name was a #1 album in the U.K. (#107 in the U.S.)

Rea remains active to the present day, and his albums continue to perform better in the U.K. and Europe compared to the U.S.

Cool trivia fact:  Rea is a U.S. one hit wonder, as only his 1978 single "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" (#12) broke the top 40.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

ZZ Top - Stages

ZZ Top may have been the most surprising success story of the 1980's.  True, the blues-rock trio had landed five albums in the top 25 from 1973 - 1981, and even had two top 40 hits ("Tush" and "I Thank You.")  Still, the success of 1983's Eliminator, which launched the band into superstardom, was stunning.  In retrospect, this success was largely driven by two factors ... but more on that in a minute.

The group formed in Houston in 1969 (!) and has remained intact to this day, with guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons, bassist/co-singer Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard (ironically the only member of the group without the trademark Rip Van Winkle facial hair).  From the start, the band's sound incorporated elements of the blues into modern rock songs.

On Eliminator, the group updated their sound even further, adding synthesizers and drum machines to their blues-rock sound.  Though this sounds like a recipe for disaster, the results were spectacular.  It was this updated sound, combined with a shrewd use of videos, that drove ZZ Top's massive success.

1985's Afterburner continued in the same vein, albeit with results that did not hold together quite as well.  Still, there were highlights, such as "Stages," which is our favorite cut off the album.  The song reached #21, while the Afterburner LP went to #4 (thus becoming the highest charting ZZ Top album ever).

The band released one more synthesizer-influenced LP, 1990's Recycler, before returning to a more traditional sound.  While their mainstream popularity gradually declined from the 1980's highs, they remain active in the music industry to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  The ZZ Top name came as a tribute to blues legend B.B. King.  The band was originally called ZZ King, but decided that this was too similar, and changed it to ZZ Top.