"not one Picasso, he'd give me a pair/that's what I've always dreamed of"
Wrapped in taffeta and camp while sporting a foot-high blonde beehive, Mari Wilson (not the Supreme) stepped out of the mid-sixties and straight into the new wave movement with her 1983 debut, “Show People” and its centerpiece single, “Just What I Always Wanted (single version)”.
Wilson began her career with a huge backing group dubbed the “Wilsations”, including three male background singers who had the nelliest, campiest choreography ever. Mari notched a couple chart hits in the U.K. and MTV put the “Just What…” video in light rotation, where I sat waiting to see it for hours and hours, alongside the video for Tears For Fears’ “Pale Shelter” after my best friend Brandon claimed he saw once and I refused to believe him (he was right, by the way). There, tucked between such videos as Planet P “Why Me?” and Rod Stewart “Baby Jane” came Mari, all sixties girl group glam and lush production, belting a Bacharach-ish tune with electronic drums. Heaven.
Wilson’s “Show People” album was packed with such treasures, but the highlight was probably her version of “Cry Me a River”, where she very nearly ditched all the camp novelty aspects of her act and gave a stirring, moody performance. It’s quite lovely and pointed toward her future career as a smooth-jazz performer. A few more singles, a cameo in the Soft Cell video for “What!”, a record label dispute and one final jazzy album in 1991 followed, then the quiet life until this month, when Mari released her first album in 15 years, “Dolled Up”.
"we both know we're never gonna make it / but when we touch, we never have to fake it, Leah!"
Straight outta Beaver Falls, PA, came Dominic Ierace, playing in local combos until he and his band The Jaggerz hit number two in the ‘70s with “The Rapper”. After The Jaggerz dissolved, Ierace played with Wild Cherry, who had a hit with the ubiquitous “Play That Funky Music”. Then by 1980, Wild Cherry hit the pits.
That’s when Dominic Ierace, R&B/funk band sideman, became Donnie Iris, power pop/new wave hitmaker.
Teamed with keyboardist Mark Avsec, Iris had a decent run of chart singles in the early ‘80s, his biggest Pop hit being “My Girl”, a sickly sweet ‘60s-tinged Beach Boys-ish rip which peaked at #25. But thankfully, history won out over chart positions and Iris is better known these days for a brilliant 3:42 blast called “Ah! Leah!”
“Ah! Leah!” was huge in the Cleveland/Pittsburgh markets where Iris made his home(s), played in constant rotation in 1981, and spilling over nationally. It was deserved. “Ah! Leah!” is classic power pop, all crunchy chords, harmonic backing vocals and an echoing “Ah! Ah!” bridge that still gives me goose bumps. “Ah! Leah!” struggled up to #29 on the charts which is a shame – so many people still remember and love this song – in fact, I got an e-mail about it today that inspired me to finally finish this post I’ve been puttering around with for months (thanks, Mark!).
Iris returned to the Top 40 a year later with “Love Is Like a Rock”, another regional smash that if recorded by, say, Rick Springfield (ahem), would have been a Top Ten smash. As it is, it barely squeaked into the Top 40. If I asked you if you remembered this song, you’d look at me blankly – however, if I played it for you, you’d say, “Ohmigod, who did this song! I used to LOVE it!” G’head, try it.
Another year later, Iris and MCA Records wanted some of that MTV video action the kids were all hot about. Riding the new wave bandwagon, Iris released “Do You Compute?”, a very timely play on TRS-80s, Timex Sinclair 1000’s, and romance. The video is HYSTERICAL, with Donnie attempting to build a perfect woman via computer, (years before “Weird Science!”), only to end up trapped in the computer himself. I wish I had it – I’d post it so you could see if my theory that the woman in the video is indeed Joanna Lumley aka Patsy Stone from “Absolutely Fabulous”. I swear it is.
And hey, how about a modern-day remake of that video, done shot for shot in someone's rec room?
What’s Donnie up to these days? Still playing dates here and there, and…well:
Back in 2005, we saw the (nearly) complete re-release of 8 of Eurythmics albums, remastered and chock full of bonus tracks and b-sides, some never before released. Each disc features one cover version as a bonus track, which is pretty neat. Here's the scoop, along with track listings.
Now, what's missing?
After hitting paydirt in America with their 2nd and 3rd LPs ("Sweet Dreams" & "Touch"), Annie & Dave were invited to create the soundtrack for the dark, dreary, depressing film version of George Orwell's "1984". While the film was a drag, the songs weren't - they were darker in tone, but then again, Eurythmics always played with darker elements. The first single, "Sexcrime (1984)" did well overseas, but conservative ears in America weren't ready for this. Dance clubs (particularly gay ones - shocker) were though, and the extended version of the track very nearly topped the dance charts.
"Sexcrime's" follow up, "Julia", was a complete 180 - a somber, slow ballad, mournful and bitter. While a beautiful song, it wasn't what the charts were looking for. However, overseas charts went nuts for it.
So, why isn't the "1984" soundtrack on the slate for reissue? Only the band and their label can say for sure, but I'm guessing it has to do with the vagaries of soundtrack rights - often the movie studio, not the record label, holds the rights to such things. A pity - these two songs alone are reason enough to set the album free.
But hey, that's why I'm here.
"Sexcrime (1984)" peaked at #81 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and at #2 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1984. "Julia" did not chart.
"don't worry daddy, i'll have her home at a respectable hour"
I’m not scared – I’ll come right out and say it.
Rick Springfield is one of power pop’s unsung heroes and should be held up right next to your Eric Carmens, Matthew Sweets and Alex Chiltons.
While he’s primarily known for his impressive string of hits in the ‘80s, Springfield actually got started in the early ‘70s, scoring his first Top 40 hit, “Speak to the Sky”, in 1972. Some lean years and a gig as an animated Saturday morning cartoon character on “Mission Magic” followed, until Rick scored a gig on ABC’s “General Hospital” as Dr. Noah Drake. This just happened to coincide with the release of his “Working Class Dog” album, a record that front to back is packed with power pop classics, like “Jesse’s Girl”, “I’ve Done Everything For You” (written by Sammy Hagar), and my favorite, “Love Is Alright Tonight”.
Don’t worry daddy, I’ll have her home at a respectable hour Go to sleep daddy, you won’t think about tonight With the night comes a feeling of incredible power Gonna love her daddy, she’ll be feeling it tonight...
Oh, Rick. You scamp.
There’s no “guilty” modifier to be added to the pleasure in these songs – they’re three to three and a half minutes of well-composed, tightly played power pop. Springfield’s fluffy teen idol image overshadowed the work at the time, but listen to these songs now and they hold up. Timeless. You can put on “Love Is Alright Tonight” and crank it, whether it’s 1981 or 2005. In fact, I often do.
Now, if Rick made any mistakes in his career, it was jumping on the movie gravy train and getting a bit overexposed via his starring vehicle, “Hard to Hold.” And musically, he started to veer away from the four-piece guitar-based ensemble and experiment with synths. A LOT of synths. Songs like “Human Touch”, “Celebrate Youth” and “Rock of Life” are oozing with dated swooshes, bleeps and bloops. But even in this keyboard-heavy later period, Rick could pull out a stunning, deceptively simple song like “State of the Heart”.
Rick is still recording today, and even had a sizeable Adult Contemporary hit last year called “Beautiful You”. But track for track, you won’t find anything as powerful as the one-two punch of the “Working Class Dog” and “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Me Yet” albums. These two need some serious remastering and reissuing.
* 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!