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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Spirit of '76

Where did it all begin? Why, in 1976, thanks to Aunt Jackie, of course.
posted by John, 7:54 AM | link |

Friday, April 27, 2007

"days are numbers, watch the stars / we can only see so far"

I've always been a sucker for well-crafted soft rock attached to grandiose concepts like adapting the works of Edgar Allen Poe or Isaac Asimov, or album-length meditations on gambling or religion. Throw in some obtuse cover art and I'm yours. But where does one go for such pop fare? Oh, come now. You know it can only be the Alan Parsons Project.

A rotating cast of characters joined engineer Alan Parsons and lyricist Eric Woolfson for several albums of gentle, soft art-rock. Don't read that as a dig - there's nothing wrong with mellowing out every now and then, and based on the success of the collective's "Eye In The Sky" in 1982, quite a few people agreed with me.

Parsons and Woolfson followed up that album's platinum success with Ammonia Avenue in 1984. Not quite sure what the concept for this one was, but the lead single, "Don't Answer Me" was a Top 20 hit, and the well-crafted video which combined comic book imagery with stop-motion animation brought the group square into the video age. Parsons followed this with the moody "Prime Time", complete with a creepy, noirish video that served as nightmare fuel for my teenaged brain.

"Prime Time's" melody had more than a passing resemblance to "Eye In The Sky", which would have made it a chart slam-dunk, right? As it stood, "Prime Time" sneaked into the Top 40 for a few weeks, then it was time for the Project to move on to the next, er, project. That would be the unfortunately titled Vulture Culture, complete with an Oroboros on the front cover, just in case you didn't catch the concept right away. Subtle! Thankfully, the first single, "Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)" was slightly less heavy-handed, although the whole "we're all just travellers thru life's days" metaphor was pretty middle school English class kinda stuff. It didn't hurt that the song was a pleasant, catchy ballad, with a nice synth line throughout. However, "Days" was not a chart success, partly because of its video. Unlike "Prime Time", the promo clip for "Days Are Numbers" was a mess. Let's watch the entirely inappropriate video that ruins the integrity of the song together, shall we?

The story behind that one is the video was originally made for another Parsons' song "Let's Talk About Me" and the decision was made to release "Days" as a single instead, so they just swapped out the audio. You can hardly tell. Unless you have the sense of sight. Check this out:

To make matters worse, their record company ended up releasing "Let's Talk About Me", using THE SAME VIDEO AS "Days". And you thought you blew off work today.

"Prime Time" peaked at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #10 on the Adult Contemporary Charts in 1984.
"Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)" peaked at #71 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #11 on the Adult Contemporary Charts in 1985.

Get Alan Parsons Project music at Amazon or on The Alan Parsons Project

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posted by John, 1:55 PM | link |

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"my head's in a mess and I've torn my best dress / but i ain't like the rest, gonna make him say yes"

Another song that's somehow become a retroactive hit 25 years after it floundered in the lower half of the Hot 100 is Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy". Long-time readers of Lit80s know how I love to rant about songs like this that everyone today seems to know and love, but at the time were unjustly ignored and sneered at (see also, "I Melt With You", Alphaville's "Forever Young", blah blah). "I Want Candy" is another sterling example of this rewriting of pop history - as much as you hear it on flashback radio today, you'd think it was in the Top Ten, nestled snugly next to Journey and Michael Jackson.


Make no mistake, Bow Wow Wow were scary to American ears in the early '80s. "I Want Candy" made plenty of noise on the west coast and some pockets of the nation, thanks to a fun video that MTV battered us with relentlessly, but the U.S. as a whole had no time for the weird "punk" band with the jailbait singer. This was never better reflected by not only "Candy's" failure to crack the Top 40, but the failure of its superior follow-up "Baby, Oh No" to even make a token appearance in the Hot 100. "Baby, Oh No" is one of those truly lost smashes, a surf-guitar meets tribal drum hookfest, complete with a vocal from Annabella Lwin much more assured than the band's early, Malcolm McClaren-led yelpings. Partial credit must go to new producer Kenny Laguna, who transitioned over from helping launch Joan Jett's stellar career.

The I Want Candy LP was a strange beast, a compilation of various recordings over the prior year made with several producers - it became even more cut & paste when you found out the American and U.K. versions track listings differed as well. For example, the U.S. version featured a re-recording of an early single, "Louis Quatorze" with a hugely improved vocal (I mean, Lwin was a much older 16 years old at this point!) and beefier production. Lyrics about sexual assault on a minor aside -- "Cuz I'm just 14! Gasp!" -- "Louis Quatorze" would have made a great third single had the album taken off. As it was, Bow Wow Wow would record one more full-length release before taking a nearly twenty year break, reforming in 1997 to tour sporadically, which they continue to do to this day.

"Baby, Oh No" peaked at #103 on the Billboard Bubbling Under Chart and at #55 on the Dance/Club Play Chart in 1982.
"Louis Quatorze" was not released as a single.

Most of Bow Wow Wow's catalog is out of print, but you can find some great used deals on Amazon, plus some songs on
Bow Wow Wow

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posted by John, 3:21 PM | link |

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"you said we must all learn to face what we're becoming / and then I saw you in the mirror off & running"

Echo and the Bunnymen lead singer Ian McCulloch was known for his grandiose statements to the music press, full of ego and bluster - for example, he once called the band's Ocean Rain "the greatest album ever written." So naturally, when his ego and clashes with band members caused him to go solo in 1989, people were watching...some hoping for greatness, others to see him fall flat on his face. What we didn't expect was a continuation of the Bunnymen's increasingly mainstream, MOR-ish direction.

"Proud To Fall", the first single from Candleland, sounded suspiciously like "Lips Like Sugar", the Bunnymen's 1987 breakthrough single in America. It's been said Ian had troubles with the Bunnymen going in a more pop direction, but that doesn't make much sense when you listen to most of Candleland and realize it's even more accessible than previous Echo efforts. In fact, it sounds so much like the band's much-maligned self-titled 1987 album, you keep waiting for a patented Will Sargeant one-note guitar solo to pop up.

Guitars were just about the last thing to be found on Candleland's second single, "Faith And Healing", represented here in its single mix, all New Order sequencers and drum machines a'kicking. Longtime fans scratched their heads and wondered when Ian decided to move from Liverpool to Manchester, musically speaking. The 12" mix gets even more New Order-y, if possible.

Turn this WAY up - encoded very quietly.

Candleland yielded a third single, a very nice ballad duet with Liz Fraser from the Cocteau Twins - sorry, I'm holding that one for a future entry! Ian recorded another solo album before rejoining Bunnymen guitarist Sargeant for a one-off Electrafixion project in the mid-90s, with the two finally reforming the Bunnymen in 1997. Ian continues to record both with the group and solo to this day.

One day, I may fire up Lost in the 90s to talk about the Echo & the Bunnymen album the group recorded without Ian...

"Proud To Fall" peaked at #1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart.
"Faith And Healing" peaked at #10 on the same chart.

Amazon or on
Ian McCulloch

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posted by John, 11:13 AM | link |

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"so, she took me home / told her I wouldn't sleep with any of her friends if she didn't sleep with any of my friends"

Sometimes I'm a little more than taken aback by something that comes back into print - especially when said release sold little to nothing the first time around. The latest re-release to reaffirm my faith in mankind is Wounded Bird's re-issue of the first and only Ebn-Ozn album, Feeling Cavalier.

Is Ebn-Ozn's 1983 (Best Year for Music Ever!) single, "AIEOU Sometimes Y" really Lost in the 80s material? Debatable, since it's hardly a long-lost forgotten track and still gets some fair airplay on 80s shows and clubs. Yet no one under the age of say, 30, seems to have heard it. Ned Liben and Robert Rosen (get it? EBN-OZN?) got some MTV and club action with the single, made even better on the 12" version (which I've provided - "I dare you to play this record!"). Please - do not let the appearance of Ozn's man-pris (that would be Man Capris) frighten you:

Their label Elektra seemed pleased with the single's response, so a full-length platter followed in 1984. Feeling Cavalier may not be what fans and Elektra were expecting, though. It's all over the stylistic map, with a salsa tune ("Video DJ"), mushy synth-ballads ("Stop Stop Give It Up"), a truly wretched remake of "Rockin' Robin" (with the vocal completely processed thru a vocoder), and straight ahead guitar-based rock with the album's first single, "Bag Lady (I Wonder)". "Bag Lady" may have been picked as the single to show some range, but mostly it confused a lot of was dancey, but not too dancey...there were synths, but more guitar solos. What happened to all the wry irony? What was this preaching about the homeless? And how did they score Imogene Coca for the video?

"Bag Lady" did garner a smidge of club play and some college radio action, but not nearly as much as their debut single. Elektra basically shrugged, issued a promo-only single for "Stop Stop Give It Up", then the duo called it a day. Sadly, Liben died from a heart attack in 1998, while Rosen went on to work in film. I wonder if either ever thought their forgotten album would be re-issued 22 years later?

"Bag Lady (I Wonder)" peaked at #36 on the Billboard Club Play Chart in 1984.

Get Ebn-Ozn's Feeling Cavalier at Amazon, but hurry - they only have three copies left!

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posted by John, 5:04 PM | link |

Friday, April 06, 2007

"that's what my heart yearns for now / love and pride"

One day in 1986, my senior year in high school, I took a pair of my thrift-store combat boots to the back yard and spray painted them several different day-glo colors...all because of King.

King was the name of the UK-based New Wave/funk band fronted by Paul King, known for his rooster-like mane of black, spikey hear and high-water dress pants which showed off a pair of combat boots painted different colors. Between creating fashion statements, the group found time to record some catchy tunes, the most popular being "Love & Pride", a dub-heavy workout with the fakest synth horns ever. The Body & Soul Remix was even dubbier, coming off like a reggae LP played at 45 RPM. I caught the video on MTV one afternoon and immediately ran to the hardware store for some spray paint:

Taking my lead, my good friend and fellow musical outcast Mike spray painted his boots...then his girlfriend did hers...then her friend...

King's second single, "Won't You Hold My Hand Now" was more straightforward dance rock, with a nice groove to go along with Paul King's vocal histrionics. It didn't make a dent in America. The "Heavy Times Mix" didn't help matters much, turning the song into a lesson in endurance.

The Steps In Time album is out of print now, but goes for about $90 on Amazon - file this one under "who knew?" alongside my re-flex CD.

Oh yeah, two short years later, I traded my painted combat boots for real ones as I entered Army Basic Training. What a way to get a new pair of boots.

"Love & Pride" peaked at #55 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in 1985.
"Won't You Hold My Hand Now" failed to chart.

Get King music at Amazon.

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posted by John, 4:51 PM | link |

Monday, April 02, 2007

"what a great world we all live in / even better - what a time to be here!"

In those long-gone days before iPods and burned CDs, when you wanted a nice assortment of songs to take on the road with you, you got your little 90-minute TDK cassettes and made yourself some mix tapes. And one of the inherent flaws of being constricted to 45 minutes per side was finding just the right amount of songs that fit, without clipping the end of the last song or leaving far too much empty hissing space you'd be forced to listen to or fast forward.

That's when you reached for your copy of Sire Records' "Just Say Yo" CD compilation and threw on A House's "Call Me Blue". At 2:12, "Call Me Blue" was just the right fit for many a mix tape of my youth...I must have used it more times than I can recall.

And hey, there's a video!

I have never heard another song by A House. And they were together thru 1996! Who, ooo, ooo, ooo - ooo,

"Call Me Blue" peaked at #9 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Chart in 1988.

Get A House music at Amazon.

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posted by John, 4:39 PM | link |