Monday, July 27, 2015

The Housemartins - Happy Hour

The Housemartins were the rock band equivalent of a shooting star.  In Britain, they enjoyed some mainstream success, with 7 top 40 singles between 1986 - 1988.  However, the band barely made a ripple in the U.S., though they did pick up a modicum of airplay on college radio in the mid 1980's.

The group formed in Hull (U.K.) in 1983 and jokingly referred to themselves as the fourth best band in town (after Red Guitars, Everything but the Girl, and the Gargoyles).  However, their seductive combination of upbeat guitar hooks and cutting lyrics endeared them to critics and fans alike.  John Peel (the influential DJ) became an early supporter, and the Housemartins' first album, 1986's London 0 Hull 4 became a surprise hit, reaching #3 on the U.K. album charts and going platinum.  Our pick for the blog, "Happy Hour" was the big hit off this album, and reached #3 on the U.K. singles chart.

While 1987's The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death (yes, that's really what they called their sophomore effort) did not do quite as well, it still reached #9 on the charts, and their non album single "Caravan of Love" (a cover of the Isley-Jasper-Isley song) became a #1 smash in the U.K.  However, inside the band, things were not going well at all.  Singer Paul Heaton was interested in sophistipop, while bassist Norman Cook was more interested in club and dance music.  As a result, the band amicably called it a day in 1988.

For most of the acts on ERV, that would be the end of the story (except for the reunions).  However ... Paul Heaton along with drummer Dave Hemingway and roadie/bassist Sean Welch formed The Beautiful South, who would go on to have massive success in the U.K. through 2007.  Not to be outdone, Norman Cook also became a big success; you may know him by his pseudonym, Fatboy Slim.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Joe Satriani - Satch Boogie

How prevalent were rock guitarists in the 1980's?  So much so that even Michael Jackson inserted a blistering solo into "Beat It" (with Eddie Van Halen, no less).

However, even among guitar heroes Joe Satriani stood out as a king among kings.  His effortless technical prowess, use of multiple styles and abilities as a teacher made him a living legend in the hard rock scene of the 1980's.  Surprisingly, a combination of great musicianship, good timing, and a bit of good luck led to some commercial success, in spite of the fact that his work was entirely instrumental.

Satriani was born on Long Island and gained local notoriety as a player and teacher.  In the late 1970's he moved to California to pursue a career in music, which eventually led to a gig in the Greg Kihn Band (seriously!)  After former student Steve Vai joined David Lee Roth's solo band, Satriani became better-known, and he eventually released his second solo LP in 1987.

Surfing With the Alien became a surprise hit that same year, reaching #29 on the charts, and the title cut and "Satch Boogie" both hit the Mainstream Rock Charts, due to FM radio play.  The video for "Satch Boogie" is relatively basic, but this is definitely a 'let the music do the talking' sort of song.

 Joe Satriani's  commercial success faded somewhat in the 1990's, be he remains a working musician, and seems to enjoy performing with other guitarists.  (For example, G3, a working group that originally comprised Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson has continued in various versions to the present day).

Cool trivia fact:  Satch is Joe Satriani's nickname.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Styx - A.D. 1928 / Rockin' the Paradise

Long time readers will recall that videos which were played during the first day of MTV (August 1, 1981) have a special place in our hearts at ERV.  Is this rational?  Probably not. (Especially since we did not get MTV on our cable system until the following summer).  But there you have it.

Which brings us the Styx' "A.D. 1928 / Rockin' The Paradise," the 10th video played on MTV (yes, ever).  "A.D. 1928" is the piano and keyboard intro, while "Rockin' the Paradise" begins with the guitars (around 1:10 below).  The song is a good example of the band combining different musical styles, while the live (ish) video highlights the band's showmanship.

Styx are an interesting band and an unlikely success story.  The group formed in Chicago in the late 1960's and officially became Styx when they signed their first recording contract in 1972.  Originally a prog rock act, the band's style become progressively more pop rock during the 1970's, leading to their 1977 breakout, The Grand Illusion.

"Rockin' the Paradise" was off the group's 1981 Paradise Theater album, a concept album based on the opening and eventual closing of a theater in Chicago.  By this point, the tension between guitarists Tommy Shaw / James Young (who were more rock oriented) and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung (who was more pop ballad focused) were nearing a breaking point.  The conflict would eventually boil over during the 1983 Kilroy Was Here album and the group would break up the following year.

In spite of this, the Paradise Theater album would reach #1 on the charts, although "Rockin' the Paradise" surprisingly did not chart.  However, "The Best of Times" (#3) and "Too Much Time on My Hands" (#9) would both break the top 10.

Styx re-formed in 1989 (without Tommy Shaw, who was in Damn Yankees at the time), broke up in 1992, and reformed in 1995.  They remain together (with some personnel changes) as of this writing.

Tommy Shaw's solo video for "Girls With Guns" was posted on ERV in September 2013.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Katrina & The Waves - Do You Want Crying?

Although casual listeners may view Katrina & the Waves as an overnight success story and a one hit wonder, the truth is that they were neither.  In fact, this is the second time that they have been featured on ERV without their signature hit, 1985's "Walking on Sunshine." [The first time was when we posted The Bangles' cover of "Going Down to Liverpool," complete with Mr. Spock.]

The group formed in London in 1981 and was fronted by American ex-pat (and army brat) Katrina Leskanich.  Guitarist Kimberley Rew (the group's primary songwriter), Vince de la Cruz (Bass) and Alex Cooper (drums) rounded out the lineup.  Signed in Canada, the band released two records there before they finally scored a major deal with Capitol in 1985.

As a result of their previous work, the act's self-titled major label debut consisted primarily of reworked material - making it something of a greatest hits record.  The album would go on to become a major success, reaching #25 on the charts, led by the ever present (in the summer of 1985) "Walking on Sunshine," which peaked at #9.  However, "Do You Want Crying?" would also break the top 40 at #37, as would 1989's "That's the Way" (#16).

While Katrina & the Waves continued recording and touring in the 1990's, they did not have much in the way of major commercial success ... until a surprising win at the 1997 Eurovision song contest with "Love Shine a Light," which would go on to be a #3 smash in the U.K.  Sadly, this second period of success did not last, and the group broke up in 1998, though there have been occasional reunions in recent years.