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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"with a will, there's a way / but there's no way I can see / coming up with something you'd enjoy / as much as TV"

I love Ringo. Unashamedly. While the other solo Beatles get all the accolades and major hits, I've always been partial to the laid back, laconic goofiness and self-deprecating pop of Mr. Starr. From "Photograph", "It Don't Come Easy", "No No Song", all the way through his '90s work with Jellyfish, each Ringo album has at least two or three guaranteed pop classics.

I am dead serious here, people, stop that snickering.

While Ringo's solo career got off to a great start in the first half of the '70s (at one point he was the most successful solo Beatle in terms of charting), by the end of the decade a string of flop albums and singles weighed him down to the point of shopping around for a new label. As Starr entered the '80s, he signed to Neil Bogart's Boardwalk Records (them again!) and began recording an album tentatively titled You Can't Fight Lightning. Helping out were Paul, George and John (separately, of course). Paul contributed a couple songs, while George offered Ringo a tune he wrote about his frustration with his record label who had rejected his last album. "Wrack My Brain" is one of those deceptively simple pop songs that seems quite slight until you realize it's earwormed its way into your consciousness, possibly forever. The genius lyrics can not only be interpreted as a frustrated plea to a lover, but also towards an indifferent record company. After finishing the album in 1981, complete with a title change to Stop And Smell The Roses, "Wrack My Brain" was wisely chosen as the lead-off single, giving Starr his first Top 40 hit in five years. In keeping with the new trend of the time, a video was shot for the single - squint hard and you can spot Ringo's girlfriend Barbara Bach in a straightjacket.

George also wrote another song for the album that Ringo rejected because he wasn't feeling the lyrics and the range was too high for his voice. Harrison took it back and "All Those Years Ago" became the hit his record label was searching for, peaking at #2. And what of the songs John Lennon wrote for the album? Lennon offered Ringo two new songs for the project, but before Starr had a chance to record them, Lennon was gunned down. Too distraught to record the tunes in the aftermath, the songs never saw the light of day until one of them, "Nobody Told Me" was released in demo form as a single for the "final" Lennon LP, Milk & Honey, becoming Lennon's final Top 40 hit, peaking at #5. Now that you know that, doesn't those just sound like Ringo songs? And isn't it just Ringo's luck to decline two of his biggest could-have-been hits?

"Wrack My Brain" peaked at #38 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1981.

Get Ringo Starr music at Amazon or on Ringo Starr

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posted by John, 3:44 PM | link |

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"I needed the heat from a young man's lips to break the darkness of my room..."

New Wave slammed headfirst into the '60s girl group aesthetic and out came Get Wet, a duo led by the chirpy vocals of Sherri Beachfront (really?) aided by songwriter Zecca Esquibel. Signed to Neil Bogart's post-Casablanca label Boardwalk Records, the band had some promotional muscle behind it that scored the duo a shot on American Bandstand, where they mimed their single, "Just So Lonely."

An upbeat, chirpy number at odds with its lyrics, "Just So Lonely" caught the ears of a few regional Top 40 program directors and began to climb the charts, thanks in no small part to the superb Phil Ramone production. Beachfront's voice didn't hurt either - a mix of classic teen romance angst with a new wave squeal, not unlike her contemporary, the lead singer of a similar retro-futurist combo called Blue Angel who went by the name Cyndi Lauper. The Blue Angel/Lauper comparison was even more striking on "Lonely's" b-side, "Turn On Your Lights,", a more straight-ahead new wave number.

Get Wet bested Blue Angel by copping a Top 40 hit, something Lauper's band was unable to do. But despite the promotional push and nationwide TV exposure, Get Wet was left with that single (barely) hit and not much else. Their self-titled debut album is long out of print, but "Just So Lonely" turned up on the awkwardly named Then: Totally Oldies '80s Again Vol. 7, keeping this should-have-been summer smash available.

Zecca continues to perform as a keyboardist and Sherri is an HIV educator and activist who hosts Straight Girl In A Queer World, a podcast for the here! network.

"Just So Lonely" peaked at #39 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1981.

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posted by John, 2:40 PM | link |

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"a woman's just too tired to think / about the dirty old dishes in the kitchen sink"

Returning to their earlier, experimental synthpop roots must have been too much for the casual Eurythmics fan, since 1987's Savage remains their lowest-charting album (not counting the soundtrack for 1984).

Coming off the heels of the more rock-oriented Be Yourself Tonight and Revenge LPs and hits like "Would I Lie To You?" and "Missionary Man", Top 40 radio programmers should have been ready for more of the same when presented with Savage's first single, "I Need A Man". A crunching guitar riff rides over a mechanical beat as Annie Lennox takes vamping to a whole 'nother level. That video and single were preceded by a video-only "single" of "I Love To Listen To Beethoven", which introduced the album's loose concept, Annie as a Suffocated Housewife who slowly becomes a more liberated Marilyn Monroe analogue. The "I Need A Man" video picked up where "Beethoven" left off but the one-two punch was a bit much for Top 40 to take and "I Need A Man" pooped out at #46.

In an effort to salvage Savage, a more "traditional" Eurythmics song was chosen for the second single. "You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart", an awesome kiss-off that should have been a sure thing. But the muted reception of the lead-off single dashed any momentum Savage had, and "Chill" faltered in the #60's, despite being paired with an extended mix for the clubs.

Savage was supported by a Video LP, which featured clips for every song on the album, directed by Sophie Mueller and carrying the Housewife/Marilyn concept mostly throughout. A third single, "Shame", my personal favorite from the album, was released almost as an afterthought. An indictment of '80s club culture, the lyrics are even more relevant today:

Now there's a lifestyle
Of painted lips
Now there's a lifestyle
Everybody wants it, but it don't exist

On the dance floors
On the cinema
On the TV
And the media

I have to wonder what may have happened if "Chill" had been the first single followed by "Shame". It may have been a more palatable introduction for the masses and improved Savage's sales. As it is, it stands as my favorite Eurythmics album and was remastered and re-released last year, so it sounds better than ever.

"You Have Placed A Chill In My Heart" peaked at #64 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1988.
"Shame" did not chart.

Get Eurythmics music at Amazon or on Eurythmics

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posted by John, 10:39 AM | link |