Saturday, March 28, 2015

Iron Maiden - Flight Of Icarus

We have posted many acts on ERV that were (are) one hit wonders, often with the caveat that there is no shame in having only one top 40 hit.  Case in point: Iron Maiden, who scored exactly zero charting singles in the U.S. (Yes, that makes them a no hit wonder, I suppose.)

"Flight of Icarus" is a retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, although in the Iron Maiden version, Icarus' father (Daedalus) betrays Icarus by encouraging him to fly too close to the sun.  (In the original version, Daedalus warns Icarus not to fly too high, but the boy doesn't listen, with disastrous consequences).

The song works on a number of levels, and is helped by the mythological theme.  Maiden cultivated a fantasy-driven image, which was strengthened by singer Bruce Dickinson's lyrics.  [As an aside, Dickinson is an interesting person with expertise in fencing, aviation, writing, and broadcasting; these varied interests have resulted in at least once source naming him as a polymath.]

Directed by Jim Yukich, the video brings these darker elements to the fore, which are contrasted with the band playing the song in a studio.  While the song was not a huge hit, the Piece of Mind LP reached #14 in the U.S. (#3 in the U.K) and went platinum in both geographies.

The band would remain heavy metal stars through the early 1990's, and remain together (with some personnel changes along the way) to the present day.

Another Maiden classic, 1982's "The Number of the Beast" was featured on ERV's first All Hallow's Even celebration in 2011.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cameo - Candy

So here's a handy tip from your friends at ERV:  If you see an eighties video and it features a red codpiece, then you're probably watching something by Cameo.  (This is especially true if the song is funky.)

We previously featured Cameo's smash "Word Up," which was the group's breakthrough song.  The second single off the Word Up LP was "Candy," and it would be the only other Cameo song to break the top 40 at #21.  In contrast, the band had a string of charting R&B songs from 1976 through the early 1990's.  Cameo had a remarkably long and interesting career, and managed to change with the times during the 1970's and 1980's.  It's a shame that they didn't have more crossover success, but that's the way it goes, sometimes.

The video for "Candy" was directed by Zbigniew RybczyƄski, using Times Square, New York (circa 1986) as the backdrop.  It was technically advanced for the time, with multiple images appearing one after another.  And yes, many of the images are wearing a red codpiece, starting 9 second in.  In our view, the video captures the energy, funkiness and strangeness of Cameo; we're fans of it.

As we mentioned on the "Word Up" post, Cameo had continued R&B success until the early 1990's, then faded from view.  Frontman Larry Blackmon remained in the industry as an A&R executive, though there have been occasional Cameo releases in recent years.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fischer-Z - So Long

Fischer-Z (named after two of Ronald Fisher's statistical formulas) was a quirky British new wave act.  The group had the potential to be akin to Talking Heads, even if Americans didn't pronounce the name correctly (Fisher's Zed, not Fisher Zee).  Mixing new wave, reggae and rock with interesting lyrics, the act became somewhat successful in Europe, but never enjoyed more than cult status in the U.K. and U.S.

The band was formed in London in 1978 by John Watts (vocals, guitars) and Steve Skolnik (keyboards), but it was really Watts' band from the get go.  They quickly signed to United Artists and released their debut album in 1979.  Their second LP, the wonderfully named Going Deaf for a Living (1980) built on their success in Europe, and the "So Long" single even reached #72 on the U.K. charts.

Skolnik quit after Going Deaf for a Living, but Watts released a strong follow up (1981's Red Skies Over Paradise) before deciding that he did not want to be constrained within a band.  (Even if it was his band).  Watts released three solo records before resurrecting the Fischer-Z name in 1987; he seems to have used both names during most of the ensuing years.

The video for "So Long" is awesome, in a totally 1980 sort of way.  Shots of the band playing are mixed with vintage cars and a Humphrey Bogart look-alike private eye (no relation to Hall & Oates).  The results are ... well, see for yourself:

Cool trivia fact:  "So Long" was the 112th video ever played on MTV, and was played on the first day.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sandy Stewart - Saddest Victory

Best-known for her collaborations with Stevie Nicks, Sandy Stewart is a singer/songwriter who could have become a successful pop star if the pieces had fallen into place.  The fact that she ended up as more of a musical footnote says more about the vagaries of the industry than her talent.

Stewart grew up in Houston, and met Stevie Nicks through a mutual friend when Stewart was trying to break into the industry.  Initially, Stewart was seeking some help writing lyrics for a song, but she soon partnered with Nicks and co-wrote three songs for Nick's 1983 LP, The Wild Heart. Two of those songs, "If Anyone Falls" (#14) and "Nightbird" (#33) broke the top 40.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a recording contract and Stewart's debut solo album, Cat Dancer, came out the following year.  Although "Saddest Victory" picked up a bit of airplay on MTV, neither the song nor the album charted.  A collaboration with Nile Rodgers for the soundtrack of White Nights followed in 1985 ("This Is Your Day").

In 1987, Stewart co-wrote the Fleetwood Mac song "Seven Wonders" (with Stevie Nicks), which would reach #19 on the charts.  While that was it for her major hits. Sandy Stewart remained in the industry, and has collaborated with Stevie Nicks several times in the intervening years.  Most recently, Stewart has been involved with the Purple Songs Can Fly organization, which helps pediatric cancer patients through music and songwriting.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Stone Roses - She Bangs the Drums

By the end of the 1980's, the music industry seemed to be at an inflection point.  The trends that had held for much of the later half of the decade seemed to have run their course, and many critics (and even some fans) were looking for something new and fresh.  (This eventually led to the grunge scene of the early 1990's, though that was not on anyone's radar in 1989).

In Britain, the trend that seemed to have the best chance of being "The Next Big Thing" was the Madchester scene.  Based in Manchester (of course), this music was a combination of 1960's power pop and electronic dance, with elements of rock thrown in for good measure.

While there were several bands thats became associated with the Madchester scene, the Stone Roses were the poster children.  They formed in 1983, and by the late 1980's the lineup had become settled with Ian Brown (vocals), John Squire (guitars), Mani (bass), and Reni (drums).  The group's debut album was released in 1989, and slowly gained traction during that summer.  By 1990, the band had become a bonafide sensation in the U.K., with 4 top 40 hits, and a #5 album.  In contrast, the  Stone Roses never really broke through in the U.S., as neither their singles nor their album broke the top 40.

Sadly, after their breakout in the U.K., the band slowly fell apart.  Egos, lawsuits and the rock lifestyle delayed their second album until the end of 1994.  Although the appropriately named Second Coming did well in their home market, it was viewed as a weaker album by critics.  The strains of touring in support of their second LP proved to be the nail in the coffin and the group officially broke up by the end of 1996.  However, the group did re-form in 2011 and appear to be together as of this writing.

For the blog, we went with "She Bangs the Drums."  The song was released in July 1989 and became the group's first top 40 hit.  It remains as our favorite (favourite if you are reading this in the U.K.) song from the band.