Sunday, February 26, 2006
Best of Lost in the 80s: Year One - Hunters & Collectors
Another band Melbourne from punk’s ashes, Hunters & Collectors began life in 1981 as a raucous, horn-fueled live act, feeding off audience participation and feel more than songwriting. Over the course of their first four albums, this changed radically, as lead Hunter Mark Seymour began crafting some beautiful and catchy melodies, climaxing with their fourth album, “Human Frailty”.
Now before everyone in Australia e-mails me, yes, I’m aware H&C were HUGE down there. “Throw Your Arms Around Me” was a massive, U2 sized hit for the band in 1986. However, here in the States, H&C got little more than some late-night MTV airplay and a few modern rock radio spins, which is a shame.
“Is There Anybody In There” was a “120 Minutes” staple for a few months, with the memorable image of Seymour screaming from inside a TV as it tumbled to the ground after being thrown from a building…this image ended up being used during many MTV commercials of the period. The song itself was about how, with everything going wrong in the world, TV seemed to be only concerned with trivial events. Thank God that’s all changed.
H&C’s label at the time, IRS Records, continued to push the band by using their massive hit “Throw Your Arms Around Me” as the follow up, to little success. Some MTV play again, then Lost in the ‘80s.
It wasn’t until two years later and a new U.S. label that H&C would score a Top Ten Modern Rock hit with “Back on the Breadline.” After that and several roster shuffles and record labels later, Hunters & Collectors disbanded in the early ‘90s. Trivia - Mark’s brother Nick was a founding member of Crowded House.
Download “Is There Anybody In There?”.
Download “Throw Your Arms Around Me”.Neither song charted in the U.S.
posted by John, 8:03 PM
Friday, February 24, 2006
Best of Lost in the 80s: Year One - The Other Ones
Originally presented on April 28, 2005.
Another Lost in the ‘80s oddity…there’s not much biographical info or background floating around about The Other Ones, a Scandinavian-ish group who put out a single, self-titled album in 1987, and had a good-sized hit with “Holiday,” most definitely not the Madonna song.
I came across “Holiday” and the actual first Other Ones single “We Are What We Are” on a Virgin Records promotional cassette my sister got from her job as an assistant manager at Coconuts Records. In 1986, Virgin launched an American version of their UK imprint, and they had a heady roster out of the gate, including the Cutting Crew, a by this point limping along Killing Joke, Public Image Limited, and some spunky newcomer named Paula Abdul. To spotlight all these new artists, Virgin US issued this promo cassette packed with two songs each from these artists, including The Other Ones.
The Other Ones' songs stuck with me for months and finally radio and MTV latched onto the album’s second single, “Holiday,” a bright, sunny romp that pretty much lives up to its title. I remember seeing some interviews with the band and gathered they were very European and foreign-y. They even had a strange bald guy who would talk over certain parts of the song, sort of ruining the whole thing with his ramblings, a move the Sugarcubes would perfect a short year later.
“Holiday” did its time on the chart, the album even charted briefly and then…Lost in the ‘80s. Years later, some surviving members of the Grateful Dead took the Other Ones name and consigned the originators to the dustbin for pop eternity.Download “Holiday”.Download “We Are What We Are.””Holiday” peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“We Are What We Are” peaked at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“The Other Ones” LP peaked at #139 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.
posted by John, 8:40 AM
Thursday, February 23, 2006
Best of Lost in the 80s: Year One - Naked Eyes
Originally presented on May 4, 2005.
Turn on any local “Hits of the ‘80s, ‘90s and Today!” radio station, and within an hour, I guarantee you will hear either of Naked Eyes’ big hits, “Promises, Promises” or “Always Something There to Remind Me”. While “Always…” was a cover, there are two entire generations who are completely unfamiliar with the Dionne Warwick original version it completely eclipsed. It was that good. In fact, both singles became perfect pop classics that just about everyone knows by heart.
They were not, however, Naked Eyes’ only Top 40 hits.
Naked Eyes’ first album was successful enough to have three singles released off it, a fairly new practice back in 1983, when most albums were worked for two singles max, then off to the studio for a new one. “Always” went Top Ten and its follow-up, “Promises,” almost matched it, peaking at #11. When it was decided to keep milking the debut album, “When the Lights Go Out” was the choice for single number three, a strange but tasteful decision.
“When the Lights Go Out” was even darker than the first two singles, which, poppy synths aside, were pretty bleak lyrically. Poor Suzy lives alone at home, calling a former lover’s name each night. My life story, pretty much! “When the Lights Go Out” squeaked into the Top 40 for a few brief weeks, then was forgotten…so forgotten, that when EMI put out the first Naked Eyes Greatest Hits compilation, it was left off, even though it was only one of the bands four genuine Top 40 hits! This bizarre omission was corrected on a later re-mastered and re-titled compilation, but strangely enough, that version is out of print, while the earlier, inferior greatest hits comp remains in print.
One short year later, Naked Eyes’ second album, “Fuel for the Fire” was released, and the first single was a blazing dancefloor number, “(What) In the Name of Love,” co-produced and remixed by none other than new wave /house pioneer Arthur Baker. You may remember Arthur Baker from his work with another tiny synthpop band called New Order.
I loved “(What) In the Name of Love,” including its cutesy video featuring the somewhat faceless Rob Fisher and Pete Byrne (Naked Eyes, of course), acting as bellboys at an upscale resort and stealing old guys’ money and young dames. Actually, it may have been that very same facelessness that hurt Naked Eyes in the long run. If they had strange, angular haircuts and “hip” clothes, they may have made more of a lasting impression.
As it stands, all they left behind were some great pop songs. Sadly, keyboardist Rob Fisher died in 1999, just as he and Byrne were prepping a Naked Eyes reunion album. EMI needs to get their shit together and put both of these albums back in print. One Way Records has a nice 12” and b-sides rarities disc in print, but that’s not enough.
Download "When the Lights Go Out"
Download "(What) In the Name of Love"
Get Naked Eyes songs at iTunes:
”When the Lights Go Out” peaked at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“(What) In the Name of Love” peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100.
posted by John, 10:31 AM
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Best of Lost in the 80s: Year One - Echo & the Bunnymen
Originally presented on December 13, 2005.
"Rollercoaster" was the b-side of the Bunnymen's most aggressive stab for a U.S. hit, the immortal "Lips Like Sugar". While the a-side was an instant alternative classic, the b-side....welllllll...
With some excellent production from Pixies producer Gil Norton, "Rollercoaster" chugs along like a rawer, earlier Bunnymen tune - one in particular. The chorus is a little too close
to the chorus for "The Cutter", so it's understandable that it was left on the scrap pile. It also drones on too long near the end.
The most interesting thing to me about the tune was that out of all the hundreds of 45s, LPs and cassettes I had to choose from, for some reason, my then 14-year old sister was fixated on "Rollercoaster"! She played it over and over and over, yet despite my attempts to use her love for this song as a gateway drug into more alternative rock, she ended up retreating back to her Duran Duran and Tiffany LPs. Sigh.
"Rollercoaster" was inexplicably left off the current remaster of "Echo & the Bunnymen"
, but it is included on the "Crystal Days" box set
if you wanna drop some coin.
Buy Echo & the Bunnymen songs on iTunes:
"Rollercoaster" was the B-side to "Lips Like Sugar", released in 1987.
posted by John, 6:06 PM
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Best of Lost in the 80s: Year One - Boomtown Rats
Originally presented on Feb. 24, 2005.
Once upon a time, Bob Geldof was an asshole, and infinitely more interesting.
I’m using the term “asshole” in the most complimentary, and admittedly, inflammatory fashion here. Geldof, alongside the sadly neglected Johnnie Fingers (keys), Garry Roberts (guitar), Gerry Cott (more guitar), Pete Briquette (bass), and Simon Crowe (drums) formed the Boomtown Rats, spitting out Springsteenish observations with just enough wit and bile to tag them as “post-punk” or “new wave,” although those genres limited what they were actually doing. Geldof and the band were not afraid to hold a sardonic, snappish and sometimes sad mirror up to what was going down in Ireland as well as the world, and as a result, came off as brash, bratty, good ol’ assholes.
After scoring quite a few hits in the UK, including a number one with “Rat Trap” (a song I can’t take because it’s so Bruce-by-the-numbers, right down to the faux Clarence Clemons sax solo), the Rats set their sights on America. While on a U.S. radio tour promoting their second LP “A Tonic for the Troops”, the news came over the wire about a school shooting in suburban San Diego. When asked why she did it, the teenaged female shooter simply shrugged, “I don’t like Mondays.”
The Rats had their first taste of American airplay and chart success with the resulting single. Make that “some” airplay and chart success, since a boycott over the tastefulness or lack thereof of said single impeded the song’s chances. Since then, it’s become one of those songs, like Modern English’s “I Melt With You,” whose legend has grown over the years in comparison to its actual chart standing and popularity during its release. A retroactive classic.
After that, things were pretty quiet stateside, save for some college radio heat and a few videos on light rotation on MTV, including one that most Americans associate with the Boomtown Rats, “Up All Night.”
“Up All Night” had a strange, circuitous route of release. It was left off non-U.S. and Canadian versions of “Mondo Bongo”, the Rat’s fourth album. Besides getting this track on its version of that album, North America also got it via the “Rat Trax” EP, plus a 7” single. Everyone else had to wait for the Rats’ next album, “V Deep” to hear it, and even then it via a radically different version than what we in the states got to hear. “Up All Night” was not chosen as a single for the UK, that distinction going to the epic “Never In a Million Years.” This explains why it’s left off the recent “Best of the Boomtown Rats” compilation…everywhere else but here, it was merely an album track.
The U.S. album and single version of “Up All Night” is stripped down to drums and bass, with some guitar and keys thrown in, almost a dub version, tailor-made for 1983 dancefloors, where it scored quite well. If this is the version you’re used to hearing (and seeing, via the video), the UK version, which is much more of a straight-ahead new wave rock song, is quite startling but still excellent. This ability to change gears musically carried over to all their mostly excellent albums, where you'd find a rock song going into a deep dub reggae song, then a dancey tune, genres be damned.
A similar thing happened with the lead single off the Rats’ final album “In the Long Grass”. A poignant song about helping a grieving friend through depression, “Dave” got completely misunderstood by some coward at the Rats’ American record company and as a result, had the lyrics completely rewritten and re-titled “Rain.” Again, this is the version most of North America is familiar with, since it also had a video that got some MTV play, to no avail. “In the Long Grass” was dead on arrival, even after the record company left it on the shelf until after Band Aid and Live Aid, and then released it, hoping to capitalize on Geldof’s higher profile.
Oh, yes. Live Aid. Band Aid. Saint Bob. Bono. Ethopia. Good deeds. Rats breakup. Horrible solo albums. Affairs. Tabloids. Boring.
But today is a great time to be a Boomtown Rats fan. This month, their entire catalog was reissued, and it sounds spectacular. There’s also a live DVD of a vintage 1982 concert being released stateside next month. Now’s the time to rediscover this music, so criminally out of print for nearly 15 years.
I mean, not to dismiss all the good you’ve done man, but we liked you more as an asshole, Bob. Download the original UK version of ”Up All Night”
.Download the original UK version of ”Dave (Rain)”
."I Don't Like Mondays" peaked at #73 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"Up All Night/Elephant's Graveyard" peaked at #54 as a double A-side 12" on the Billboard Club Play chart.
"Rain" did not chart.
Buy the re-issues from The Boomtown Rats.
Find out more about the Boomtown Rats at Boomtown Rats.co.uk.
posted by John, 7:07 AM
Sunday, February 19, 2006
Lost in the 80s is one year old this week!
In one short year, I've seen my little hobby and obsession with 80s emphemra grow from about 10-15 visitors a day to more than 1,000 on average, which never ceases to amaze me. I've also had the privilege to correspond with many of the artists I love and have written about, including members of Naked Eyes, the Woodentops, Kommunity FK (I'm still waiting for Phil Oakey to shoot a note over). I never dreamed that one day I'd be trading e-mails with an artist whose 45 I once spun endlessly in my teenage bedroom, but hey, here we are.
And since we're here, let's celebrate. I'd like everyone to leave a comment and tell me what post from the previous year you'd like to see reposted, complete with songs. If you've missed something you've been looking for, here's your chance to get it again. I'll take the top vote getters and repost them all this week - so sign in and get crackin'.
And thanks for hanging around - on to Year Two!
Balaam & the Angel
Frankie Goes To Hollywood
The Human League
The Other Ones
Wa Wa Nee
Hunters & Collectors
Kissing the Pink
Book of Love
The Human League (again)
Tears For Fears
Echo & the Bunnymen
Duran Duran / Kissing the Pink b-sides
posted by John, 9:27 PM
Wednesday, February 15, 2006
"I'm holding on to my sanity / I feel the beginning of emergency"
When they both hit the Top 40 in 1983, it was a common debate: Who was better, Madonna or Cyndi Lauper?
While Madonna had the sex appeal, looks and dance moves down, it was the general consensus that Cyndi had True Talent. After all, she helped co-write some of her own songs and she had that voice – that wonderful, squeaky, cutesy-poo, then suddenly dead serious belting voice. Lauper had control and nuance Madonna could only dream of. Unfortunately, as Madonna’s image matured, Cyndi seemed to become even more infantile, getting involved with wrestling, contributing the theme song for “The Goonies” and filming video after madcap, wacky video. And when Madonna went into films, someone decided Cyndi had to follow.
And we were presented with “Vibes,” co-starring Jeff Goldblum. I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever seen this flick or can comment knowledgeably about it, because I haven’t and I can’t. But judging solely on the clips featured in the video for the theme song, boy, did it look stinky. “Hole In My Heart (All The Way To China)”
, wasn’t bad by any stretch, it was perhaps just a little too familiar. It has the corporate stink of someone at the movie studio ordering up “a Cyndi Lauper-type song”, only this time they got the real thing. The single didn’t do well at all, especially in comparison to her string of hits previous. It's never shown up on any domestic Lauper compilation - I happen to have an old 3" CD single from when Sony was trying that format out.
Tellingly, this was the last “wacky” Lauper song – her next album showcased a new, more mature look and sound and it was rewarded with a return to the Top 10 with “I Drove All Night”.
And that Madonna? She did okay.”Hole In My Heart (All The Way To China)” peaked at #54 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988.
Click the iTunes logo to buy Cyndi Lauper songs:
Help a brother out and click on a Google link above to defray hosting costs. Thanks!
posted by John, 4:08 PM
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
“ink and paper / the broken heart in black and white”
Allow me to get something off my chest first, if I may: Modern English’s “I Melt With You” was not
a hit back in the day. No matter how many former cheerleaders at your high school reunion squeal when it comes on, I am here to tell you those people
not only did not like that song when it was released, they never even heard of it. The popular kids were not digging Modern English in 1983 – they were more about Loverboy, Def Leppard and Michael Jackson. It wasn’t until years and years later that revisionist history kicked in and suddenly everyone loved that song, even the jocks whom regularly beat up the “fags” in Duran Duran t-shirts back when the single was struggling to its peak of #78 on the Hot 100.
Not that I’m bitter or anything.
I bring this up because of conversations I have with people I went to high school with when I go back to small town Elyria, Ohio. Oh, I’ll be at the local mall with my nieces and nephews and someone will invariably stop me at the food court, “Hey John, is that you??” (and I’m always amazed they recognize me, since I’m nearly 70 lbs. larger and have zero hair). I’ll give a weak smile and that I-totally-don’t-know-you “Heyyyy!” and my sister will jump in and work the stranger’s name into the convo. Invariably, the conversation will veer to music and this person, who I barely remember save only for being on student council or some other A-list high school activity will say something to the effect of “Do you still listen to all that ‘punk rock?’”
Now, I did like some true punk rock, but I rarely listened to it around people in my high school – I knew better. But back in 1983, Modern English were easy to lump into “punk rock” if you were Sally McTreasurer who dated Trent Von Linebacker. It was “fag music”, but you were trying to be nice. So it became “punk!” Tee hee! So yeah, I still harbor some residual anger that “my” music has been co-opted by the cool kids and say, Burger King, over the decades. Oh, well. They’re all still fatter and older looking (possibly due to said Burger King).
ANYHOO…“Ink and Paper”
was even more obscure than Modern English’s first two American “hits” (“Melt” and 1984’s exquisite “Hands Across the Sea”, which we’ll get to another day). It didn’t even chart, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. The band seemed so desperate for another hit, they even ripped off the “ohh, ohh, ohh” refrain from Springsteen’s “Born to Run”, for God’s sake. A grab for green doesn’t get much more red, white and blue than that. Yet, “Ink and Paper” is still a fondly remembered song for me – 1986 was a pretty big year for me (graduation and all), and the “Stop Start” LP this came from what was a fairly solid effort I wore out quite a bit that year.
Modern English limped along to re-record “I Melt With You” in 1990 (that version didn’t chart much higher, either) on an otherwise new album called “Pillow Lips”, then one final gasp in 1996 with “Everything Is Mad”. But massive airplay of the hit that wasn’t has probably led to a quite comfortable life for the lads.
Just don’t stop me in the mall and tell me how much you loved it back then, liar.”Ink and Paper” did not chart.
posted by John, 2:59 PM
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
"wearing the fame / like a loaded gun..."
Shona Laing was fairly well known in her native New Zealand for years before finally scoring an American record deal in the late 80s with fledgling indie label TVT Records (who, a year later, would sign Clevelander Trent Reznor). Laing’s first U.S. album, 1987’s “South”, generated two light rotation MTV hits, “(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy” and “Soviet Snow”.“(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy”
is a strange little thing, all violins and, er, JFK samples looped around a nice little melody about being glad one is not a member of the seemingly cursed family. Words not
mentioned in the song include, “assassination”, “Compound” and “Chappaquiddick”.
Follow-up single, “Soviet Snow”
is a bit less metaphoric, focusing on the then-recent Chernobyl disaster. Not quite pop music subject matter, yet this song crossed over into the Dance Charts – I remember hearing it quite a bit at the Nine of Clubs, Cleveland’s premiere alternative music dance club back in the day. Ah, the Nine of Clubs…there’s a series of entries in and of itself…”(Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy” peaked at #14 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart in 1988.
“Soviet Snow” peaked at #32 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart that same year.
posted by John, 10:40 AM