Smiths Complete - Available at Rhino.coma-ha "Hunting High & Low" and "Scoundrel Days" Deluxe Editions Rhino Handmade raids the vault!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"supersonic motivating rhymes are creating / and everybody knows that J.J. Fad is devasting"

Why? Because I can.

Besides, how can you hate on J.J. Fad (Just Jammin' Fresh And Def)? They're aDORable. The first female rap group to be nominated for a Grammy, even. And can you believe they were produced by N.W.A.'s Dr. Dre (yes, that Dre - forgot about him, did you?), Eazy E and DJ Yella? Dre had a soft spot for fluff, also producing Michel'le ("No More Lies!" - your nose is growin', Pinnocho!) during this period.

"Supersonic" is total fun, a pioneering single in what I call "big booty bass babygirl rap", a tradition carried on today by groups like Fannypack and the über-raunchy Gravy Train!!!!("four exclamation points, hooker"). The follow-up, "Way Out", is more of the same, and isn't the hook stolen from an old Jetsons' cartoon?

I want to hear this pumpin' from every car and iPod earbud this weekend, people. And can anyone do the really fast part from memory besides my buddy Roy?

"Supersonic" peaked at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100, #22 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart and at #10 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart in 1988.
"Way Out" peaked at #61 on the Hot 100 and at #51 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Chart in 1988.

Get J.J. Fad music at Amazon or on
J.J. Fad
posted by John, 11:47 AM | link |

Monday, August 28, 2006

"did your mother ever tell you / that the joyful are free?"

Bowie hearts Iggy.

This we already know. David Bowie’s musical life was changed when he first heard the Stooges perform in the early ‘70s and entered into a long friendship with Mr. Osterberg, a/k/a Iggy Pop. A few years and failed albums later, Bowie tracked the struggling, newly sober Pop down in a sanitarium, er, “hospital”, and convinced him to begin a solo career after the Stooges’ implosion. The happy couple relocated to Berlin and recorded some of the most important albums in rock (and New Wave) history; Bowie’s “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” and Iggy’s “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life”. After that, Iggy went his own way and lost the plot. Ever seen the movie “Velvet Goldmine”? It was sorta like that, but not really.

As Iggy floundered in the early 80s, Bowie, well…you know. “Let’s Dance” was humungous, if safe, and Dave also had a huge hit with “China Girl”, a song co-written and originally recorded by…Iggy Pop. Bowie wanted Iggy to have some royalty money, so the story goes, so David recorded the song as sort of a favor. When it became a Top Ten hit, Bowie threw the money on his already teetering pile and moved on, while Iggy probably paid his rent by its due date for the first time.

Bowie was flush with cash and he wanted to help his old mate out. So together, Bowie and Pop collaborated on what was meant to be Iggy’s big Top 40 breakthrough album, Blah Blah Blah. The idea was to create an accessible album that would finally let Iggy live comfortably, and since Bowie was at his highest commercial apex since the Ziggy days, he was the man to do it.

“Cry for Love” was the first single and was so bland, AOR-by-numbers and inconsequential, I’m not even going to bother posting or discussing it. Bleh. Moving on. Trust me here.

The second single was a remake of “Real Wild Child (Wild One)”, a song first made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis. You know this one, since it’s been used in so many commercials years after its release, but at the time, it failed to chart. MTV played it a bit here and there, but it wasn’t anywhere near a hit. Strike two for Blah Blah Blah.

The albums’ third attempt is the real reason I’m writing this post – I absolutely adore “Isolation”, because it’s the most pure sounding Bowie/Pop collaboration on this set. The production is a bit dated, but Iggy’s delivery is impassioned and the Bowie backing vocals give the affair a real Sixties/Righteous Brothers groove amid all the drum machines and synths (Bowie is not credited with backing vox on the insert, but just listen and you tell me). And the “I need some lovin’/like a fastball needs control” metaphor is hysterical. Just a great track all around.

Another favorite, if a little too long, is “Shades”, another ballad a la Iggy. This was another of the few new Bowie/Pop co-written efforts, and featured a spirited “Woo hoo!” backing hook that makes me smile each time I hear it. If Blah Blah Blah had sounded more like these two tracks, it may be a little more fondly remembered than it is.

As it stands, Iggy’s true commercial breakthrough finally happened four years later, when “Candy”, a duet with the B-52s’ Kate Pierson, hit the Top 20. A few years later, “Lust For Life” was first used in the soundtrack for the movie Trainspotting, then began popping up in commercials for banks and cruise lines (not bad for a song about kicking junk). Then, “Real Wild Child” got its day in the commercial sun, as it also made the advertising soundtrack rounds.

I imagine Iggy has no problem paying his rent/mortgage these days, and the man deserves that.

I can't find the video for "Isolation" on YouTube, so instead, enjoy Iggy being told to go "fuck Bowie" by a fan and Iggy's well-mannered and deserved response:

”Isolation” did not chart. “Shades” was an album track.

Get Blah Blah Blah at Amazon or on
Iggy Pop - Blah-Blah-Blah
posted by John, 11:04 AM | link |

Monday, August 21, 2006

"no, no, no, no, no, no / i don't want you to go / no, no, no, no, no / i don't want to lose your love"

Now, I realize it may seem that way, but I don’t mean to be hating on Blancmange. In fact, I’m pretty much a fan. Just not of that remake. How about I prove it with some Blancmange love?

”Lose Your Love” was from the synthpop duo’s final album, Believe You Me, and if memory serves me, it was their first for Sire Records. I get the feeling Sire had big plans for the twosome, who had spent the previous few years garnering some MTV play and underground dance hits with their instantly catchy melodies paired with some seriously histrionic vocals (“Blind Vision” anyone?). But with this album, Neil Arthur toned down the yelps and hysteria and we got a more polished vocal delivery, perhaps in preparation for mainstream success in the States, while instrumentalist Stephen Luscombe abandoned much of the third world flourishes that adorned previous releases for a more straight-ahead synthpop sound not unlike another keyboard based duo, Erasure. Basically, Believe You Me smoothed off any edges that made Blancmange, well, Blancmange. It flopped.

That doesn’t stop “Lose Your Love” from being undeniably catchy, if not a bit repetitive near the end. But if you think your patience is being taxed near the end of the four minute song, try the 12” mix, clocking in over 10 minutes. That’s right…ten minutes. It’s a bit of an endurance test, to be sure. The video, however, is hilarious, recalling the Art of Noise’s “Close (To The Edit)” (was it by the same director, Zbignew Rabzinski (sp)?):

The duo tried to salvage Believe with a second single, ”What’s Your Problem”, which ended up sounding like an Erasure outtake. I’m not sure why Sire wanted two Erasures on their label at the same time, or if Blancmange intentionally went out of their way to ape their sound, but the proof is there on wax (or digital numbers on aluminum, since Believe actually made it to CD for a brief period). Unfortunately, even with Erasure’s commercial clout during that period, it didn’t help matters any and the single and album sank. Shortly after, Blancmange called it a day.

Hmm…let’s see. I prove my love for Blancmange by posting two of their lesser singles from a final, derivative album that took away all that made them unique, all in the pursuit of a hit.

I really need to work on showing affection.

”Lose Your Love” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart in 1985.
“What’s Your Problem” did not chart.

Get Blancmange music at Amazon.
posted by John, 8:52 AM | link |

Sunday, August 13, 2006

When New Wave Happens To Old Artists - Alice Cooper

The 80s were a weird period for Alice Cooper, and that’s saying something.

In the 70s, Alice’s musical journey had wound through catchy, extremely underrated “shock rock” like “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen” to borderline adult contemporary hits such as “Only Women Bleed” and “How You Gonna See Me Now”. But as the 70s waned, so did Alice’s hits. Alice’s career needed a jumpstart. So, why not rip off Gary Numan?


That’s right – in 1980, Alice teamed with the famous Roy Thomas Baker (the producer best known for putting the New Wave chrome sheen polish on The Cars’ first three albums), ditched the horror costuming and eye make-up and became “Alice Cooper ‘80”, releasing Flush the Fashion, a full-tilt New Wave album very much in the synth-based Gary Numan vein. And it wasn’t half bad.

Now the title, Flush the Fashion, could be seen as an ironic statement, since Alice was certainly embracing current fashion, or perhaps Alice was sincere in that statement in an effort to hold on to his existing fan base, who might have blanched at such genre-hopping. He shouldn’t have bothered – that was going to happen regardless once those fans heard the first single.

“Clones (We’re All)” was written by songwriter David Carron and brought to Alice via Baker, who thought it would make a terrific single, with its menacing tale of clones taking over human society, only to discover the loneliness of being just like everyone else. Baker was right – “Clones” is an excellent song, a tight, hook-filled number with just enough guitar crunch to offset the synthesized proceedings. It also became Alice’s first hit in two years, just squeaking into the Top 40. There was even a video that ripped on Numan's fog-filled affairs (which in turn were a rip on Bowie's Thin White Duke period, but still...). The video is neat in that Alice sings a live vocal over the track, but boy, the booze made him look a little rough:

Follow-up single, “Talk Talk” was another cover, this time an updating of an old garage classic from The Music Machine. You wouldn’t know it from the Numan-isms all over Alice’s version. “Talk Talk” was another well-crafted New Wave blast, but unfortunately flopped. The Flush the Fashion album soon dropped off the charts right behind, but Alice didn’t quite give up on New Wave yet. As his alcoholism spiraled out of control, Cooper’s next three albums, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada grew more wildly experimental, and some would argue, unlistenable. An eventual stint in rehab followed, after which Alice retreated back to his standard horror schtick, mascara intact, hiding beneath faux-hair metal shlock like “Poison”.

Of course, he returned to the Top Ten.

Alice’s New Wave legacy was legitimized years later when The Smashing Pumpkins covered “Clones” as a b-side, doing justice to a great single.

”Clones (We’re All)" peaked at #40 on the Billboard Top 40 and at #69 on the Club Play Singles Chart in 1980.
“Talk Talk” did not chart.

Get Alice Cooper music at Amazon or on
Alice Cooper
posted by John, 8:28 PM | link |

Friday, August 04, 2006

"your hands are tired / your eyes are blue / i'm keeping you right here"

A quickie today:

The Go-Betweens were one of those college-rock-y bands you used to see here and there on MTV’s “120 Minutes” ten minutes before 2 a.m. The Australian band was led by songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, and released a stream of albums until they broke up in 1989, only to reform in 2000. Unfortunately, McLennan died fairly recently. Back in the 80s, I’d see a video of theirs every so often, but nothing really grabbed me until I saw “Right Here,” a cute song with an equally cute (and sometimes disturbing!) video.

Flash forward to about 15 years later – I’m digging thru some old VHS tapes, finding out which ones to toss in preparation for a move, and I find some old “120 Minutes” episodes, one featuring this video. Reminded of this great song, I purchase a then-recently remastered and re-released “Tallulah”. I listen to “Right Here” over and over again, put it on the iTunes and shelve the rest.

So, howzabout it, Go-Betweeners? Am I missing some great stuff here? What portion of this album or the rest of their work should I explore next?

EDIT: I hate hitting "Publish Post", then suddenly remembering stuff - I forgot that one of my favorite bands, Ivy, covered the Go-Betweens' "Streets Of Your Town", a song I love. Sigh. I need to break this album out this weekend, don't I?

”Right Here” did not chart.

Get Go-Betweens music at Amazon or on
The Go-Betweens
posted by John, 3:02 PM | link |

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"there's not, I think, a single episode of 'Dallas' that I didn't see"

It was tough growing up in the late 70s/early 80s as an ABBA fan in America.

Y’see, while the Swede popsters were next to the Beatles and Elvis in pop chart dominance worldwide, in the States they were relegated to the occasional Top 10 or Top 40 hit, with many, many more singles falling far short of that. “Mamma Mia,” a single that everyone now retroactively adores? Peaked at a wimpy #32. “Money, Money, Money”? #56. “Voulez-Vous”? #80. As a young, ahem, homo I proudly called ABBA my all-time favorite group, much to the puzzled stares of my grade school classmates, most of whom were mocking and/or clueless.

Sure, each new ABBA album would have one or two hits here, but as the group aged, the hits got smaller and smaller – “When All Is Said And Done”, the lead-off single from the group’s final studio album The Visitors, peaked at a paltry #28, hardly the way to introduce the American public to what may be your most mature, cohesive album.

That’s right – The Visitors was a big step for ABBA, as the quartet finished off their first decade as a group and their second album of the 80s. The title track was an immediate declaration that the band was moving in a new, grown-up direction. Gone were the Dancing Queens and Ring Ring campiness, replaced by a dark, synth-driven New Wave number about the terror faced by Russian dissidents of the time. It was a thematic turn for ABBA, which makes the fact that it was chosen as a second single from the album in America baffling and/or encouraging (the rest of the world got “One of Us” as the first single and “Head Over Heels” for the second). I’d like to think Atlantic, the group’s U.S. label, was behind this mature direction. They supplemented “The Visitors” single release by releasing a 12” to the clubs, where it got considerable play. Joe. My. God. was kind enough to forward this ultra-rare, DJ-only Disconet Remix.

The Visitors LP was a relative stiff worldwide, especially coming off the hugely popular Super Trouper. ABBA was feeling creative fatigue as well, so they took a break before working on their tenth studio album. A few tracks in, malaise set in again, so the group stopped recording and culled two of the new tracks for inclusion on a career-spanning greatest hits collection called The First Ten Years. Both songs were released as singles, and the first of those, “The Day Before You Came”, was, despite the group’s feelings about the proceedings, another leap forward into adulthood for the group, both in subject matter and presentation. It was 1982, and ABBA finally entered the MTV age, as the single was accompanied with a full-blown film production, complete with an aerial helicopter shot and artful direction, as opposed to the videotaped “stand in front of this backdrop and mime the lyrics” style of their earlier promo clips:

Perhaps it was the dour tone of the song (which is actually quite upbeat if you listen to it carefully – it’s the day before [he] came, so it has a happy ending, see) or the length (it tops out at just under six minutes), but “The Day Before You Came” fared poorly on the charts worldwide (to be fair, it was a huge hit in some smaller territories) and didn’t even chart in the States. Were people over ABBA, or just not on board with “adult” ABBA? More importantly, was ABBA over ABBA?

The second new single to be pulled from The First Ten Years, “Under Attack”, did even worse. Atlantic didn’t even bother to release it in the States. It wasn’t bad per se, it just wasn’t anything Olivia Newton-John wasn’t doing slightly better at the time. It’s interesting to note the prominence of synthesizers in both new songs – this was truly synthpop. “Huh, wha, huh?” you exclaim? Think about it – synth-based pop = synthpop. Ask the Human League about ABBA’s influence and I rest my case.

I love ABBA’s late videos. Agnetha (the “pretty one”) started to hit the wall and wasn’t so bubbly cute anymore and I swear to God, Frida smelled blood and pounced, cutting her bad perm into a punky, spiked mulletish do, and dear Lord, in the “Under Attack” video sporting pink and purple streaks in her hair:

It was like after ten years of being ignored, the shy, plain, brainy girl who used to draw Hello, Kitty on all her Trapper Keepers in the back of the class went totally goth her sophomore year.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to watch ABBA enter their full-blown adult New Wave phase. Creatively beat and disillusioned by the muted response to their last few releases, the group took a sabbatical, from which it never returned. The remainder of the aborted tenth album's songs have trickled out here and there – “Cassandra” and “Should I Laugh Or Cry” were used as b-sides for the final two singles, the somewhat bizarre “I Am The City” finally surfaced as a track on More Gold and "You Owe Me One" and a snippet of “Just Like That” (which remains unreleased in its full form) appeared as part of the Thank You For The Music box set. Benny and Bjorn went on to fulfill their dream of writing a hit musical (?) by penning Chess with Tim Rice and Agnetha and Frida went on to release solo works which we’ll definitely cover here in the future (guess who was more successful? It’s always the quiet ones…).

What would an ABBA reunion be like? Awful. I think any momentum would be lost and we’d get a nostalgia show, nothing more. What do you think? Comment away.

”The Visitors” peaked at #63 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart and at #8 on the Club Play Chart in 1982.
Neither “The Day Before You Came” nor “Under Attack” charted.

Buy ABBA music at Amazon or on
posted by John, 12:43 PM | link |