"when i first saw you / i had a feeling right from the start / in love i was falling"
I'm sorry, where were we? Oh, that's right, we were talking about xylophones.
The Romantics were a power pop group that had a brief flirtation with the Top 50 in 1980 with a song called "What I Like About You". Drummer/singer Jimmy Marinos handled the vocal duties, belting out a rave-up that had its finger on the pulse of guitar-based New Wave of the time. Unfortunately, the song stalled at #49 and was never heard again.
You wish. Unless you're in a frat or a sorority.
So yeah, you know the deal - song flops upon initial release only to find new life years later via commercials and licensing blah blah. However, The Romantics had another big (actual charted) hit with their fourth(!) album, "In Heat". The vocal duties for the Top 3 hit "Talking In Your Sleep" were handled by guitarist/singer Wally Palmar, no big deal, right? I mean, a band with a drummer as a frontman never gets very far (shut up, Genesis fans. I'm looking at you, Jellyfish!). The problem is that dear Wally had a bit of a - how to put this politely? - faggy lisp (I'm allowed to say that). So, the chorus ended up sounding like:
I hear the thecreths that you keep When you're talkin' in your thleep
Why not just let Jimmy sing everything? What's that? You kicked him out of the band? Oh, dear.
That's right, management squabbles led to Jimmy's exit from the band shortly after "In Heat's" breakthrough to the charts. Nothing ruins a band like success, no? Luckily, The Romanticths had already filmed the video for "Talking In Your Thleep's" follow-up thingle, "One In A Million". While not setting the charts on fire like the first single, "Million" is a great little pop tune, the kind you really don't hear anymore. And what's that in the instrumental break? A xylophone solo? Nah, steel drums. But close!
The band tholdiered on for a fifth album, 1985's "Rhythm Romance", and I'll be darned if its first thingle wasn't a complete rewrite of "One In A Million" with a bit of the '60s classic "Black Is Black" thrown in for good measure. "Test of Time" had a saving grace, however...you guessed it, xylophone! Xylophone is the new cowbell, y'all. And yes, poor Wally ends up thinging "Tetht of Time".
Look, it didn't do well, okay? Lesson learned - your drummer may be a rooster-haired, skin-pounding meathead lacking any vocal subtlety, but geez, let the wookie sing.
(And not for nothing, but The Romantics Greatest Hits album has the WORST cover art imaginable. I'd sue.)
"One In A Million" peaked at #37 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984. "Test of Time" peaked at #71 on the same chart in 1985.
"Somebody just told me a story the other day about David Byrne. Some girl was going out with him in the '80s, and she woke up in the middle of the night and he was about to shit on her. Now that's weird. I don't go for that. That's pathetic and beyond the pale."
"it's spinning me round & round & round / high frequency pulses of electronic sound"
Continuing the Cleveland recollections…
One of the more (only?) popular New Wave acts from the Home of Rock & Roll in the early 80s (I'm excluding Akron) was Exotic Birds, formed by three students at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 1983. The line up evolved over the years, but one constant was singer/songwriter/percussionist Andrew Kubiszewski. The Birds’ music was right in touch with the times, very much in the early Depeche Mode/Erasure style, with one unique difference – Kubiszewski’s ever-present xylophone.
Thaaaaat’s right, Andy could shred the xylophone. I’m not being glib here. During the Birds’ live shows, Kubiszewski would stand behind a xylophone, playing his intricate, lightning fast melody lines while singing, never hitting a bum note. For most bands, this would cross over into pure gimmickry, but Exotic Birds had strong songs so the xylophone was never the musical focus, just another layer.
After a single, an EP and a reshuffled line up later, Exotic Birds released a second EP, “L’Oiseau”, in 1986. Joining the band for this EP was a local keyboardist and part-time music store employee who had been bouncing around several minor cover bands and original projects in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. His name? Trent Reznor. Here's Trent and the Birds talking about being part of this newfangled wave of "computer musicians" along with Thomas Dolby on Live on 5 in 1985. Clevelanders will note the cameo by über-Stepford anchor Wilma Smith, whose chemically and surgically preserved face has not changed one iota in the passing 21 years:
”Dancing On The Airwaves” was “L’Oiseau’s” leadoff single, continuing a tradition of Birds’ songs with “dance” or “dancing” in the title (I can name three off the top of my head – hey, it was a theme). “Airwaves” was the first Birds single to cross over onto Cleveland Top 40 and AOR radio, getting some minor airplay. But it seemed that whenever the Birds seemed ready to break through on a national level (MTV had briefly added a video for “No Communication” off the first EP), the band would retreat, take a few years off, retool, then return. That was the case here as well, as “L’Oiseau” would be the band’s last release until 1989.
Reznor had left the band at this point to concentrate on his own project, a little thing that a short year later would become Nine Inch Nails, but he still contributed some keyboards and programming to the Birds’ actual first full-length album, “Equilibrium”. Some of the Reznor sound comes thru when listening to the album’s single, “Imagination”. The off-kilter beat and a bit of the synth guitar squall effects would resurface soon after on NIN’s debut single, “Down In It”, and boy, doesn't that little spoken-word bridge sound familiar?
One of those three aforementioned “dance” titles pops up later on the album, “Dance With Me”, another Andy xylophone showcase. The Birds were a little derided by the then-hipster groupthink around Cleveland because of their accessible dance sound and fearlessly mainstream ambitions. Well, poo on them. I loved the Birds and spent quite a few bucks going to see them play at the Phantasy Theater and Spanky's in happening North Ridgeville, Ohio. Besides, the band's alumni went on to become one of the most influencial alternative/industrial bands of the '90s (Trent and NIN) and drum for bands like Prick and Stabbing Westward (Andy - he even wrote Stabbing Westward's big alterna-hit "What Do I Have To Do"). Everything's incremental.
Here's a link to an Exotice Birds website that hasn't been updated in a while, and as a bonus, here's the first Exotic Birds video, "No Communication", from 1983. This is the one that got added to MTV's playlist and earned the Birds some local bragging rights:
"Equilibrium" is long out of print, but you can find used copies on Amazon.
"Dancing On The Airwaves" and "Imagination" did not chart.
* All songs are for sampling purposes only. If the album is currently in print, you'll see an Amazon link to purchase it. Supporting artists is a good thing, since labels are run by soulless whores. I KEED! Sorta. Look, if you like it, and it's in print, support 'em. If you're the artist or copyright holder, a quick e-mail to me will bring the song down ASAP. But compliment my writing first.
* Don't e-mail me asking me to repost dead links or to send you a song you can't find. Believe it or not, I have a life outside my blogging. I KEED! But don't do it.
* One more, and this is a biggie -- do NOT hotlink directly to my audio files and post them on your site, big shot. That's just disrespectful, rude, and a theft of my hard-earned bandwith.
Now, get readin', get downloadiN', and play nice. I loves me some comments. Bring it!