Tuesday, June 28, 2005
"Superman had come to town to see who he could rock /He blew away every crew he faced until he reached the block"
Newcleus had been bouncing around the early hip-hop/breakdancing scene since 1977 when they were part of a DJ crew calling itself Jam On Productions, but it wasn’t until 1983 and a chance encounter with a sped-up tape machine that they stumbled upon a hit.
While many members came and went, the, uh, center of Newcleus (sorry) was Ben “Cozmo D” Cenac, who had some extra time to fill on a mixtape. Together with some family members, he recorded a favorite rap from their block parties, only this time with some of the vocals sped up, a la the Chipmunks. “Jam On’s Revenge” was born, blazing up cardboard breakin’ squares all over New York. Pop radio wasn’t having it, however. That would change with the release of the follow up, “Jam On It”.
Hard to believe now, but yes, Virginia, there was a time when Top 40 radio was scared shitless of rap. Mainstream radio programmers weren’t coming anywhere near this emerging musical force out of fear of offending listeners and advertisers. Besides, there was no side money from independent promoters coming in to justify adding rap singles to a Top 40 format. Why add Grandmaster Flash's “The Message” or “Basketball” by Kurtis Blow when you were getting hookers and another kind of blow from labels pushing Journey’s latest piece of crap? But who could hate a song about Superman coming to the block to get served by Cozmo D and his crew of funky sounding aliens? Despite the near-total embargo of rap on Top 40 radio in 1983, “Jam On It” broke thru, garnering significant sales and airplay, but not enough to crack the Top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100.
This song should have been at least a Top Ten pop hit – it was everywhere in my high school, and I was stuck in bumfuck Elyria, Ohio, so I can only imagine how popular it was elsewhere. But alas, Newcleus were destined to release a few fallow follow-ups, another full-length LP, and then get pushed aside by more aggressively commercial rap stars such as Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J, who were just waiting in the wings for unprecedented mainstream acceptance.
But do we still get to say “Wikki, wikki, wikki, wikki?” Hell, yeah.
Download “Jam On It”
by Newcleus.”Jam On It” peaked at #56 on the Billboard Hot 100.Buy Newcleus' "Jam On This" at Amazon.
posted by John, 4:53 PM
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Let’s dive right in, shall we?
First, I have an e-mail from a very reliable source (try Pete Byrne, the co-founder and lead singer!) that Naked Eyes are touring the U.S.!
Check out the dates at the official Naked Eyes website.
I know I’ll be at the August 27th show in Anaheim for sure, since they’re sharing the bill with none other than ABC! Anyone care to make it an L.A. area “Lost in the ‘80s” outing?
Remember my plaintive plea for Billy Rankin’s “Baby Come Back?”
Well, good and faithful reader Victor C. not only answered my call, but answered it twice, after all my recent files were lost in a horrific hard drive failure a month or so ago. Back up your files, people…I used to think it was a myth, much like the unicorn or a good Mariah Carey song. If not for a recently purchased external hard drive, I would have been in fucked up city, population me. Victor, you rock.
My Southern California Edison electric bill is ready for viewing.
Confidential to SPB – thanks again for the kind words! They hold weight coming from your background. Now fling a couple assignments this way.
Rami B. writes – I just wanted to say thank you for your work at "Lost In the 80's". I've really enjoyed the lost gems that you've managed to pull out of obscurity. Your website is always a good read and a great nostalgic listen to these ears.
Hey, I wanted to know if you have or remember the song "Modern Day Delilah" by a band called Van Stephenson in 1983 maybe? I think it charted in the Billboard's top 100 and for some reason I can't get the memory of it out of my head.
Also, in the 80's I was a big fan of breakdancing music. Nowadays you hardly see or hear a reference to the magic of this genre and I was wondering if you would mind posting a few classics.
Oh, Rami. I sure do remember “Modern Day Delilah”. How can I not, since MTV played it nearly every hour on the friggin’ hour back in the day? God, I hated that song. But with some distance, I kinda dig it now! Did you know Van went on to join country combo Blackhawk? You do now. Unfortunately, Van was later diagnosed with skin cancer and passed away in 2001. But hey, here’s the wacky video!
Camp, camp, camp!
And I hear ya about breakin' and early hip-hop. That's an area that's been sorely unrepresented here thus far, but stayed tuned...that'll be addressed in the next few weeks.
Download “Baby Come Back” by Billy Rankin.
Download “Modern Day Delilah” by Van Stephenson.”Baby Come Back” peaked at #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
“Modern Day Delilah” peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 that same year.
posted by John, 10:38 AM
Monday, June 20, 2005
"there's a future here, there's a future there / just pick it up right out of the air"
1986...small town Ohio Elyria West High School's Senior Prom! A date with my "best girlfriend" (uh huh)! And the song that reminds me most of this occassion?
"Say you, Say Me?"
"I Miss You" by Klymaxx?
"Greatest Love of All?"
Nope. Try the Woodentops' "Give It Time."
Let me explain...our senior prom was awful and hideous. We didn't even have a live band like Midview High's prom (Me & the Boys, a local new wave-ish cover band with a hot chick singer that would do Berlin and Missing Persons tunes). We had OUR ENGLISH TEACHER as our DJ playing just the worst Top 40 shit. The only solid memory I have is of our after prom at some rec center where the dancing and prize giveaways continued. I won a prize package that included a free month's membership at a new local gym (ah, if only I'd gone then instead of six years later...) and a bunch of promotional 45s.
One of these was The Woodentops' "Give It Time".
I was immediately drawn to this tune's laconic, lazy mood, complete with a James-ish trumpet solo. It just reminds me of summer days on a hammock, lemonade in hand (has anyone really done that? Ever? No?). On the strength of this song, I ended up getting both Woodentops albums on CD when they were re-released in the late '80s. I have to admit, I don't think I've ever listened to either one all the way thru. Woodentops fans? Am I missing out?
Download "Give It Time".
Did I just write about my effin' senior prom? Oh, God. I'm horrible."Give It Time" did not chart.
posted by John, 3:08 PM
Monday, June 13, 2005
Offered Without Comment
Watch the video for The Jacksons' "Torture"."Torture" peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
posted by John, 1:52 PM
Friday, June 10, 2005
"keep up the good love for Chaka..."
You got your Chaka Khan in my Scritti Politti!
Well, you got your Scritti Politti in my Chaka Khan!
Mmmm…hey! This is pretty good!
Chaka Khan was cooling off in 1986 after a major hot streak. Coming off a huge smash cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You”, she was back in the Top 40, but following such a big single ended up being a bit of a problem, as songs like “(Krush Groove) Can’t Stop the Street” and “Own the Night” struggled to even hit the Top 50. Even “Through the Fire,” a song that just about everyone knows now thanks to Kanye West’s sampling, peaked only at #60. Chaka needed a little boost back to the top.
Meanwhile, fey art-funksters Scritti Politti had finally broken thru the States the year prior with “Cupid & Psyche ’85,” an album that sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did twenty years (holy shit) ago. The technology and recording tricks that lead Scritti Green Gartside employed blew pop music wide open with this release, and homeboy does NOT get enough credit for that. “Perfect Way” hit #11 in the States and Scritti Politti were plotting their next move.
Why not write and produce Chaka Khan’s next single?
A bizarre collaboration that honestly sounds horrid on paper, but in practice works out quite nicely. I’m not quite sure who had this idea, Chaka, Scritti or their shared label at the time, Warner Brothers, but the results were inspired. Green pushed Chaka into a poppy, glossy, new wave-ish realm and Chaka pushed back with a stellar (as usual) vocal. Plus, you had Chaka referring to herself in the third person in the chorus which is always a slam dunk move. What could have been cringe-inducing came out sounding like a hit.
Only it wasn’t.
“Love of a Lifetime” did some considerable damage in the clubs, but petered out at a paltry #53 on the Hot 100. The rest of the accompanying album, “Destiny,” was produced by others, and the more rock sound of the remaining tracks shows this. There are portions of the album that make one think emulating Tina Turner’s comeback was the goal, and put next to the innovations of the single, the rest of the album lacks punch. A couple other singles from the disc hit the R&B charts, but after that, “Destiny” sank like a stone. It’s currently out of print in the States.
The video is a hoot and half, with Chaka obviously clueless of what the lyrics were, lipsynching like a drag queen at last call, clad in an indigo and cheetah print boot ensemble, surrounded by dancers clad in horrific spandex bike shorts, and is that Jan Hooks in the video?
I wasn’t going to post it, but I can’t resist: Here’s the video.
Barring a sped-up sample on Kanye West’s “Through the Wire,” Chaka never returned to the Top 40.
Download “Love of a Lifetime”.”Love of a Lifetime” peaked at #7 on the Billboard Dance Singles Sales Chart, at #11 on the Dance Club Play Chart, #21 on the R&B Singles Chart and at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100.
posted by John, 12:40 PM
Monday, June 06, 2005
"Girl Fight Tonight! / blood and mascara will run / we’ll see how long your tan lines last / when you’re in a body cast!"
While MTV has launched many a career, it could be argued that Julie Brown (the white one, as she called herself) was the network’s first home-grown superstar. By the time MTV was thru with her (or she was thru with MTV), Brown was a triple threat – a recording artist, television personality and movie headliner.
Julie Brown started out with some bit parts on sitcoms and movies in the early ‘80s, but found her true calling when her novelty song “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” hit radio morning shows nationwide in 1985. The song was comedy genius and features one of my favorite lyrics ever - "The cops fired a warning shot that blew her off the float." A full-length LP, “Goddess In Progress” followed and MTV picked up the video for the single. Thus, a relationship was born.
Julie began making frequent appearances on the channel, becoming a sort of defacto VJ, cracking everyone up with her commentary on the bands and biting the corporate hand that fed her. MTV responded by giving her an entire half-hour, the classic “Just Say Julie,” where she predated “Beavis & Butthead” by inserting herself and her caustic comments into horrible videos by the likes of Rod Stewart (“Oh, I want him. I want him badly,
” she’d faux moan).
Riding this momentum, Julie signed to Warner Brothers for her major-label debut album “Trapped In The Body of a White Girl” (“Goddess” was on then-indie Rhino). Paired with some stellar talent (hitmakers Steinberg & Kelly co-wrote the single “Girl Fight Tonight”), the album had sort of an identity crisis, where some older songs like “I Like ‘Em Big and Stupid” were re-recorded in all their novelty glory, and newer songs were not quite as jokey and almost half-serious sounding without the accompanying video (like the title track). The result was a watered-down version of Julie that didn’t chart.
The album has some bright spots, though, especially “Girl Fight Tonight” with its girl group trappings and hilarious delivery (“Shoo-be-do-bop and a shoo-bop-a run away”). It’s long out of print, but you can buy copies directly from Julie at her website.
Julie has continued acting, most notably on the TV series “Clueless” and her soap parody “Strip Mall” which sadly, Comedy Central cancelled without resolving the second season cliffhanger (did Tami – pronounced Tuh-ME – survive being tossed out of an airplane?). This weekend, Julie will be the emcee for the Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade, as well as performing at the festival Saturday night.
Download “Girl Fight Tonight”.
Download “I Like ‘Em Big & Stupid”.
Oh, and look at that….here’s the video for
“Trapped In The Body of a White Girl”!
If anyone has full episodes of “Just Say Julie,” please e-mail me!Neither single charted.
“Goddess In Progress” peaked at #168 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.
posted by John, 2:23 PM
Friday, June 03, 2005
"my eyes look so heavy / i'm feeling in the past tense, i'm hardly aware"
Cut from the Loverboy mold of rocking gently and non-offensively (which sounds like an insult, I realize, but isn’t really), Niagra Falls, Canada’s Honeymoon Suite (get it? GET IT?!?) got their big break when their self-produced single “New Girl Now” won a radio contest, attracting the attention of Warner Brothers Records in 1984.
“New Girl Now” is a nearly perfect slice of 1984, from the shiny synth chords laid over a pristine guitar crunch, to the low-budget video featuring our hero, The Lead Singer, trying his best to dump his girlfriend who bears more than a passing resemblance to Imogene Coca. The fact that he’d want to ditch this chick is understandable, given her propensity to call him at all hours and throw bricks thru his window, but why then is his New Girl Now “a lot like you”? Some guys never learn…or they just crave psycho strangestrange.
This song was another of my secret guilty pleasures back then, the 45 tucked away between my Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen albums, lest I lose my punker cred. Back then, my friends and I would listen to it in an ironic fashion, mockingly air guitar-ing along to the solo and pumping our fists at the “SHE’S JUSSS LAHK YOO!” part at the end. Today, I love it unabashedly and without shame. I mean, 3:37…intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus to end. Perfect.
Honeymoon Suite went on to have a slightly bigger hit two years later with a single called “Feel It Again”, but that DIY AOR feeling was gone. The band had quite a few hits up north, but limped along in the States. They’re still together, apparently, releasing a new album in 2002.
But for now, it’s 2005, Friday night, June, summertime, hot summer night…storm clouds in the air – get in the car, roll down the windows, and blast this tonight. You’ll thank me Monday.
Download "New Girl Now".
Purchase Honeymoon Suite's debut.”New Girl Now” peaked at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
posted by John, 11:56 AM