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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

When New Wave Happens To Old Artists - Sheena Easton

Sheena Easton, the adult comtemporary pop princess of the early '80s, got a bit of a makeover in 1984 with her album, A Private Heaven, thanks to the Top 5 hit, "Strut", and the Prince-penned ode to, um, anatomy, "Sugar Walls", which hit the Top 10. While Heaven's first two singles had a decidedly dance-pop feel, the album's third single had a New Wave pedigree.

It wasn't Sheena's first flirtation with New Wave - that would probably be the 1982 single "Machinery" that sputtered at #57 on the charts, while shmaltzy ballads like "Almost Over You" did considerably better. Either undettered or simply unable to learn her lesson, Easton dipped into the New Wave pool once again for Heaven's third single, "Swear", an almost note-for-note remake of an underground hit Tim Scott had released two years prior. The Scott version got a bit of club and college radio play, so maybe 1985 was the right time for the song to get its long-awaited crossover time in the sun.

Nope. "Swear" was Easton's lowest-charting single (among her singles that actually charted). To be fair, it did better in dance clubs with its extended Dance Mix, but Top 40 radio just wasn't havin' it. The bland video didn't help matters either:

Having said all that, I love this song. It's so of its time, and the rap is unintentionally hysterical, but what else can you expect from a New Wave Sheena tune?

"Swear" peaked at #80 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and at #43 on the Hot Dance Music Sales Chart in 1985.

Get Sheena Easton music at Amazon or on Sheena Easton

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posted by John, 12:17 PM | link |

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Ultimate Toni Basil Post

No, don't you dare click to the next blog. Seriously, you're going to like this one a lot more than you think you will.

The quintessential one-hit wonder, Toni Basil seemingly came out of nowhere and blasted the charts with the still-irresistible "Mickey" (a remake of a song called "Kitty" by the UK band Racey), then seemed to vanish into vapor almost just as instantly. That's a shame, because while Basil was not only a music video pioneer, she was an accomplished choreographer, actress (she was in Easy Rider!) and hip-hop pioneer - her breakdance troupe The Lockers (featuring Rerun from What's Happening!) were featured on Saturday Night Live as early as 1975, just as that scene was beginning to bubble up in New York - Basil should have had a few more hits in her.

It wasn't for lack of trying. Her debut, Word of Mouth is a stone-cold New Wave classic, featuring enough songs and musical contributions from Devo, that it could almost be considered a lost Devo album (it comes as no surprise that Basil and Devo's Jerry Casale were an item at the time). First off, you have a pretty faithful remake of "Be Stiff", complete with a video featuring cross-dressing poppers and lockers and the anarchistic dance stylings of one Spazz Attack on "bass", whom you may remember from the Devo "Satisfaction" video:

Word of Mouth also featured "Space Girls", a re-imaging of an early Devo tune, "Space Girl Blues". Here's Toni and Spazz Attack yet again (Basil also released Word as a "Video LP", featuring a music video for each song on the album):

Rounding out the Devo-ness is "You Gotta Problem", a nearly straight-ahead remake of Devo's "Pity You", released just a year before on Devo's New Traditionalists album - LOVE the pink French Poodles in the video:

When it came time to follow-up "Mickey's" huge pop success, all the Devo tracks were sidelined in favor of "Shoppin' A to Z", a fun novelty track that just didn't seem to catch the mass public imagination like "Mickey". A few weeks in the Hot 100 and "Shoppin'" disappeared from view - but that won't stop us all from shouting "X = NOTHING!" (and U="undies"??? At the grocery store? Eww.):

By the way, Basil conceptualized, choreographed and directed every video from Word of Mouth. I love Word and it's a shame that this seminal New Wave album that got all the way to #22 on the album charts has never been released on CD. You can grab up most of the tracks piecemeal from several Greatest Hits compilations, but I'd love to see the original album remastered and reissued someday. Love it or hate it, you can't deny Basil's debut's place in pop history.

Her self-titled followup? Not so much. Toni Basil seemed to be one of those attempts to take a borderline novelty artist and make her more "mature". That apparently included draining all the fun out of her, judging from the more "rock" sound of the album's leadoff single, "Over My Head" (featured here in its extended club version). Where Basil once demanded "I want your mechanism!" in a Space Girl voice, we now find her singing more typical love songs over generic 80s pop/rock. Luckily, the videos stayed fun:

Basil's label Chrysalis tried to breathe life into Toni Basil by working two more singles, "Street Beat" and "Suspense" (again, here in its rare club mix), but no one bit. Basil called it a day on her recording career and renewed her focus to choreography and directing. Fun fact: Basil did both those tasks for Talking Heads' "Once In a Lifetime" video.

For old time's sake (which is the purpose of this blog, I suppose!) here's Toni performing "Mickey"..with the SOLID GOLD DANCERS!!!!

"Shoppin' A to Z" peaked at #77 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983.
"Over My Head" peaked at #81 on the same chart in 1984.

Get Toni Basil music at Amazon or on Toni Basil

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posted by John, 4:12 PM | link |

Friday, July 13, 2007

"it happens every time i'm near him / i revere him from the start"

Stacy Lattisaw was a mere 16 years old in 1983 (the Best Year for Music Ever!) and had already notched two Top 40 hits and a number one Dance Club hit, along with seven hits on the Black Singles Chart. Working with future super-producer Narada Michael Walden, the two set their sights on fully crossing over to the pop charts with her fifth album, the appropriately titled Sixteen.

"Million Dollar Babe" was the first single (provided here in its superior 7" mix, yet to make it to CD), and on paper it seemed like a can't miss. Over an updated Motown beat, Stacy delivers a comfortable, fun vocal that belies her true age. In retrospect, it's a tad syrupy and over-synthesized, but it should have nestled comfortably on the pop charts next to Irene Cara, Michael Jackson and Hall & Oates. However, it didn't even chart. That would have to fall to Sixteen's second single, "Miracles", and even that limped to #72. Here's Stacy performing "Miracles" in front of some plywood:

Stacy continued recording through the 80s, signing to Motown and updating her image, with continued success on the R&B charts, including some memorable duets with Johnny Gill. She retired after her final album in 1989 to raise her family. Narada Michael Walden would go on to learn from his work with Stacy and notch huge hits for the likes of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin.

"Million Dollar Babe" peaked at #52 on the Billboard Black Singles Chart in 1983.

Get Stacy Lattisaw music at Amazon.

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posted by John, 3:44 PM | link |

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Lost B-sides Week: Dead or Alive & Adam Ant

Well, hello there. Nice to see you. What's that? Lost B-sides Week was last week? I haven't posted anything since? I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about. Ahem. Moving on...

Dead or Alive's "Misty Circles" had a strange trip to becoming a b-side. It was originally the first a-side the band released after signing to Epic Records, but after peaking at a stellar #100 on the UK Singles Chart, well...what can ya do. A year later, the extended version found its way to the b-side of a little single called "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)". On 12", this essentially created a double a-side single, as many DJs had no problem flipping it to play "Misty Circles" - listening to it now, you can almost smell the poppers.

Speaking of gender-bending, the b-side to Adam Ant's "Vive Le Rock" featured a little ode to cross-dressing called "Greta X":

I'm a joyous glad TV
Why don't you come TV with me?
I know a girl who loves to dress me
Up like this and then caress me
To remind me of the way
I used to go both night and day
In femininity there's pride
We'll marry soon, I'll be the bride

15 years later, he'd fire a gun at some people in a pub who made fun of his hat. Oh Adam, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

And THAT is the end of Lost B-sides Week. What do you mean a week is only 7 days?

"Misty Circles" peaked at #4 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart in 1984 as a double a-side.
"Greta X" is the b-side of "Vive Le Rock".

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posted by John, 2:40 PM | link |

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Holding Out For A Urologist

I'm not sure how many of you read my other blog, but you may have missed this post where I linked to a Brain Melting Video of the most...inventive...performance of Bonnie Tyler's Footloose-era classic "Holding Out For A Hero" - make sure you give it at least 25 seconds before you give up:

Two things:

1. Yes, it is.
2. Yes, I'm sure it did hurt.

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posted by John, 12:40 PM | link |

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Lost B-sides Week: Gene Loves Jezebel

We just talked about Gene Loves Jezebel recently, so why not feature a Lost B-side from the fey, scarf-twirling duo?

While I've previously lamented that today's featured song's a-side was a concession to Top 40 and AOR radio, the flip, "Bugg's Bruises" was old-school Gene Loves Jezebel, a nice fusion of goth trappings over pure rock, not too dissimilar to what The Cult were doing at the same time, albeit with an extra layer of, let's call it, "femininity". Or "feminess". Not an insult, by the way - I kinda dug it.

Unfortunately, "Bugg's Bruises" did not make the LP proper, sacrificed for Jimmy Iovine-produced sheen and more Top 40 grabs that never quite took. It lives on today though, thanks to TEH INTERWEBS. Enjoy.

"Bugg's Bruises" was the b-side of the "Motion of Love" single.

Get Gene Loves Jezebel music at Amazon or on Gene Loves Jezebel

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posted by John, 12:10 AM | link |

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lost B-sides Week: Culture Club

Did you know this is the first time in this humble blog's two and a half-year history that we've featured Culture Club? That's a bit of a travesty which needs correcting, isn't it?

"I'll Tumble 4 Ya" was a 1982 U.S./Canada-only single release that became their third Top Ten hit off their debut, Kissing To Be Clever. For the b-side, the band chose "Mystery Boy", which was actually a Japan-only a-side (its full title is "Mystery Boy [Suntori Hot Whiskey Song]", which leads me to believe it was probably used in a television commercial there.). It's all so very confusing, isn't it?

"Mystery Boy" languished in obscurity for a couple of years...a say "a couple" because I'll be darned if their 1984 hit "Miss Me Blind" isn't a more fully fleshed out rewrite of "Mystery Boy". Listen and judge for yourself.

"Mystery Boy" finally made it to CD when Colour By Numbers was re-mastered with bonus tracks in 2003. Why they placed it on their second album and not the first is one of those weird record company things, I suppose.

"Mystery Boy" was the b-side for "I'll Tumble 4 Ya".

Get Culture Club music at Amazon or on Culture Club.

Thanks to Baby Chutney for the vinyl!

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posted by John, 10:53 AM | link |

Monday, July 02, 2007

"one more time for a healthy body/one more time for a healthy mind/one more time for no good reason"

It’s been some time since we last did this, so we’re about due for another Lost B-sides Week here at LIT80s, aren’t we? All this week, we’ll feature b-sides to some famous and not-so-famous singles that for the most part have yet to make it to CD.

Kicking the week off is a long-time LIT80s fave, Sparks. We’ve talked about Sparks a bit here and here. The Brothers Mael had been recording for more than ten years by the time they got their American breakthrough with “Cool Places”, a duet with the Go-Go’s Jane Weidlin featured on their 1983 (the Best Year for Music Ever!) album, Sparks In Outer Space. The single’s b-side, ”Sports”, is another fun romp that wouldn’t have been out of place on the already short LP. In fact, it sounds a bit too close to other songs on Outer Space, especially “Popularity”, which may account for its flip-sided fate.

Oglio Records issued Outer Space on CD for the first time in the mid-90s, but left “Sports” off, so it’s remained a forgotten Sparks artifact. The band and Island Records have been slowly re-mastering and reissuing their catalog, but since their 80s output remains in the hands of Atlantic Records, it’s tough to tell when and if Outer Space and “Sports” will ever make it to CD.

”Sports” was the b-side of the “Cool Places” single and 12”.

Get Sparks music at Amazon or on Sparks

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posted by John, 9:33 AM | link |