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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Larry Craig's Dance Machine!

Live from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport Men's Restroom, it's Senator Larry Craig's Dance Machine!

"Good evening, everyone. Let's get this party started with a big favorite where I'm from...The B-52's "Private Idaho"! I know it gets this Idahoan's privates movin'! You might even say it's a real toe tapper!

"And how do you know when you've made it big in the '80s dance world? When Bobby O rips you off blind, that's how! Here's his studio creation, Barbie & The Kens' wholesale thievery of 'Private Idaho', retitled 'Just A Gigolo', and you know that's fine by me! Except I don't like to pay.

"So wave your hands under a stall in the air! Senator Larry Craig's Dance Machine will return right after this press conference!"

"Private Idaho" peaked at #74 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1980.
"Just A Gigolo" peaked #45 on the Billboard Club Play Singles Chart in 1981.

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posted by John, 11:28 PM | link |

"being an island / shying from trying / seems the easy way / such an easy way"

I've said it a few times before...don't get me started gushing about The Human League's Dare, quite possibly my favorite album of the '80s. No matter how many times a track from the 1981 masterpiece pops up in my iTunes, I can never bring myself to hit the "skip" button.

Forced to nail down a favorite track (no, not that one...), I'd probably pick the widescreen beauty of the ABBA-licious "Open Your Heart". From its en media res opening, picking up Phil Oakey's internal (?) monologue in progress, to the soaring synth chords over the verses, from the shiny, chrome Martin Rushnet production, to the optimistic hope in the lyrics:

And so you stand here with the years ahead
Potentially calling
With open heart or with a spirit dead
You walk on

Lies the reason
Faith or treason
Playing a part
End concealing
Try revealing
Open your heart

..."Open Your Heart" just gets me each time. And the video is a shot on tape, New Romantic, meaningless symbolism hoot and a half:

If you like this site and you don't already own it, please, I'm begging you here, get yourself a copy of Dare. It's even been re-mastered with the long out of print Love & Dancing instrumental EP tacked on as a bonus, and the music is more relevant today than ever. Plus, through the magic of iTunes, you can even delete...that song.

That much is true.

"Open Your Heart" was not released as a single in the States.

Get Human League music at Amazon or on The Human League

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posted by John, 3:02 PM | link |

Thursday, August 23, 2007

"i want to go / i want to leave / i want to grow / i want to breathe"

The tail end of the '80s saw a small explosion of female-fronted jangle-pop bands from the UK like The Sundays, Transvision Vamp and The Darling Buds cut a psychedelic, sugary swath thru the charts. The catchiest and most succinct of the group was The Primitives, who received a glowing endorsement from none other than Morrissey himself.

With the exception of Suede, usually a Moz endorsement meant the kiss of death (Bradford or Gallon Drunk, anyone?), but in this case, the quiffed one was quite right - The Primitives were pure pop perfection. Led by vocalist Tracey Tracey, the group soaked up the shimmering guitar jangle of The Smiths, added the chug of The Ramones, and topped it off with '60s girl group melodies, all in neat little two-and-a-half minute gems.

"Crash" was the single that broke the band in the States and is probably the best summation of their sound. While it made waves on Modern Rock radio, it wasn't until years later that it would cross over.

The original "Crash" from Lovely:

The band released their second album, Pure, in 1989, a short year after their first. Pure found the band cranking up the guitars and aggression a bit, but not so much the pop sheen was lost. While the album saw three singles hit the U.S. Modern Rock Chart, it's still seen as a bit of a failure compared to the first, a notion I disagree with. The band merely had the misfortune of being on the RCA label in the U.S., a fate nearly as bad as being championed by Morrissey. "Secrets" is another pop treasure that saw plenty of airplay on MTV's 120 Minutes:

But it's personal fave "Way Behind Me" that still gets plenty of play from me, with its finger-snapping beat and cold diss lyrics:

I don't remember what you said
I'm gonna leave the past behind me
all those lies inside your head
took my hand and lead me blindly

I'm gonna try my best move
I'm gonna leave you way behind me
I'm gonna try my best move
I'm gonna leave you way behind me

The Primitives released a final album, Galore, in 1991 to a much colder reception and the band called it a day a year later. But in one of those strange rock resurrections, "Crash" found new life in 1995 when a remixed version appeared on the Dumb & Dumber Soundtrack in 1995 and Top 40 took notice. Funny thing, though...while the remix featured more guitars, keyboards and backing vocals, The Primitives had nothing to do with it. The song lives on to this day...a remake by Matt Willis is featured in the new Mr. Bean movie Mr. Bean's Holiday.

"Crash" peaked at #3 on the Modern Rock Chart in 1988.
"Secrets" peaked at #12 on the same chart in 1989.
"Way Behind Me" peaked at #8 on the same chart in 1989.

Get Primitives music at Amazon. Both CDs are out of print, but there are plenty of used copies to be had. For some strange reason, the band's work is not available on iTunes. Good job, RCA.

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posted by John, 11:35 PM | link |

Monday, August 20, 2007

When New Wave Happens To Old Artists - Robert Plant

If Led Zeppelin fans were taken aback at the increasing number of synthesizers on the final proper Zep album In Through The Out Door, a product of vocalist Robert Plant and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones huddling together at the exclusion of guitarist Jimmy Page, they may have completely revolted when faced with Plant's early '80s solo output. Awash in keys, synth flourishes and even some drum machines, Plant's solo work edged closer and closer to New Wave with each release, culminating in 1985 with a straight-ahead synthpop single, "Little By Little", complete with club mixes.

Ever the trailblazer, Plant dabbled in Emo way back in 1984

But first (there's my Julie Chen impersonation for you!), Plant had a breakthrough on the Top 40 charts with a couple of singles from 1983's (Best Year for Music Ever!) The Principle of Moments, starting with the plodding, Zeppelin-ish "Big Log", but it was the lazy-sunshine-y, sublime, synth-soaked "In The Mood" that made non-Zep fans' ears perk up. As a black-hair-dyed in the wool New Waver, I normally wouldn't be caught dead with a Led Zep LP, but "In The Mood" made me buy a cassette of Principle... and crank it in my Walkman daily during my paper route.

And the rest of the album didn't disappoint. Far from squealing bluesy guitar workouts, the disc is full of evocative mood pieces like a particular favorite, "Thru' With The Two Step", which swings from a dark synth intro to an AOR guitar ballad to a near waltz within 5:32, all held together by a enjoyably restrained Plant performance. It's quite a feat.

Plant went even further into New Wave territory with his next album, Shaken & Stirred, but that's another story for another time...

"In The Mood" peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #4 on the Mainstream Rock Charts in 1983.
"Thru' With The Two Step" was an album track.

Get Robert Plant music, all recently re-mastered, at Amazon or on Robert Plant

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posted by John, 4:46 PM | link |

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"dancin' the night away / everything is going right / when you hold me close & tight"

If Disco was dead by 1981, no one bothered to tell Canada.

When even the Village People had denied Disco and gone New Romantic by that time, Voggue, a studio creation fronted by Chantal Condor and Angela Songui, kept the mirrored ball spinning and had a number one dance hit with the not wholly original title of "Dancin' The Night Away". While the track was huge in the clubs and enjoyed a mild charting in the UK, it was far too unabashedly disco for crossover success in the States, even with a serverly chopped radio edit.

In one of the more blatant examples of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", "Dancin's" follow-up, "Love Buzz" is a nearly note-for-note carbon copy of Voggue's first hit, excepting minor melody and lyric changes. When you sing along, make sure you sing it "Love. Buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz." like the girls.

"Love Buzz" did okay on the dance charts, but again, no dice on crossing over. Chantal went on to some minor solo success as a dance act in Canada for the remainder of the '80s. Voggue live on, however, as their debut CD is still in print, and their singles still get airplay on stations such as Sirius' Strobe dance classics channel.

Of course, after I wrote all this and uploaded the tracks, I did a Google search for lyrics and discovered Joe.My.God. wrote about these songs over two years ago, echoing many of the same thoughts. Great minds?

"Dancin' the Night Away" peaked at #1 on the Billboard Club Play Singles Chart in 1981.
"Love Buzz" peaked at #16 on the same chart in 1982.

Get Voggue music at Amazon.

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posted by John, 12:13 PM | link |

Friday, August 10, 2007

Vinyl Record Day

Hey, did you know Sunday, August 12th is Vinyl Record Day? Me neither, until I was invited by the lovely jb over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin' to participate in a "blogswarm" to mark the occasion. Any regular reader of this site knows the amount of time I spend getting my fingers nice and dirty flipping thru old, musty album covers at a variety of used record shops nationwide, so how could I resist? (By the way, always bring Purell when record shopping.)

So, where do you find the good vinyl? Depends on what you're looking for...if you have a specific want list, you can't go wrong with good 'ol eBay or GEMM, but it's gonna cost ya. If you're patient and you enjoy the thrill of the hunt, there's a used record shop or thrift store in just about every town. Since I'm lucky(?) enough to live near Los Angeles, trips to Amoeba Records are a regular monthly thing for me.

As you can see from this shot taken from the DVD-centric second floor, Amoeba LA is huge. Huge. This very hugeness also results in huge crowds, competing for the same scarce vinyl goodies. While the selection here is immense (and is just as big at their Berkeley and San Francisco/Haight locations), it does tend to be much of the same stuff, mostly mainstream, not too tough to find things like, say, the original 12" of Bronski Beat's "Hit That Perfect Beat" as opposed to a 12" of "Why". That said, I don't think I've ever paid more than $3.00 for a single album from Amoeba, so they definitely beat auctions for value.

Plus, you can find things like the second English-language Nena album:

...or a classic from Homo Picnic (I dunno, either):

I prefer to treasure hunt in more obscure Mom & Pop record stores, which seem not only to have survived this post-Napster/file-sharing music biz, but are thriving. Some are pretty shoddy - records filed any which way with no rhyme nor reason, lazy clerks who glare at you for interrupting their texting session, etc. But there are some gems, like Dizzy on Vinyl in Long Beach (my hood!), where the owner, whom I know only as "Hey, guy!" keeps a snappy, well-organized shop, complete with separate "80s" and "80s 12-inches" sections. Talk about playing to the crowd. I'd link to his site, but he doesn't have one, he's so old school!

It's at Dizzy on Vinyl where I can get lost for hours, flipping thru bin after bin of vinyl, wearing my knees out from squatting down to flip thru milk crates of records on the floor. And it's in these less-traveled locales, you'll find unparalled treasures like the electro-hip-hop classic from 1986, "Vanity, I Want To Be Your Bodyguard":

Yes. Oh, yes. Find THAT anywhere else. And yes, it's exactly what the title says it's about. A guy (credited as Fabulous Freddie Star on the label) with a hard-on for Vanity. It may be safe to assume that will never make it to CD. Viva vinyl!

Speaking of never making it to CD, Dizzy on Vinyl is where I also found this little diamond:

That's right, Garrett Morris' 1980 debut LP, Saturday Night SuiteSweet. I say "debut" jokingly, since there was never a follow-up. One listen reveals why. On this coke-y, freebase-driven trainwreck Garrett "sings" over a variety of already-dated disco, lame-ass funk and even reggae with fucking BURNING SPEAR (seriously) as his backing band. The coup de grace is a "funny" song called "I Wanna Be A Cowboy (But I'm Too Short)" that's about...well, wanting to be a cowboy, but being too short. Take that, Boys Don't Cry! It's essentially Garrett rambling about the song's premise repeatedly for seven minutes and forty-one seconds. I dare you to get through it. It's sad and hilarious all at once. What's sad is the one song that Garrett has writing credit on, "Secret Place", a jazzy torch number, isn't bad at all. You have to wonder why he didn't write more of the LP, as it barely edges out Chevy Chase's LP from the same year in overall awfulness (which I own as will have its time here, trust me). The entire second side is taken up with something called "The Saturday Night Suite (In Four Movements)", where Garrett is scarcely present amongst the instrumentals. I would have been careful with the using of the word "movement" when referring to this stinker.

I can't tell you about Saturday Night SuiteSweet without sharing it in its entirety. I believe suffering is lessened by numbers:

"I Wanna Be A Cowboy (But I'm Too Short)"
"Secret Place"
"Garrett's Theme Pt. 1"
"Different Is Not Better"
"In Your Own Space"
"Garrett's Theme Pt. 2"

All those deaf people offended by Garrett's "News For the Hard of Hearing" bit on SNL were thanking their lucky stars for their affliction when this was released.

Other blogs participating in Vinyl Record Day include:

AM, Then FM


The “B” Side


Echoes in the Wind

Flea Market Funk

Fufu Stew


Good Rockin’ Tonight

Got the Fever

In Dangerous Rhythm

It’s Great Shakes


Py Korry

Retro Remixes

The Snack Bar

The Stepfather of Soul

Three-Sixty-Five 45s

Collect 'em all!

"Hit That Perfect Beat" peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart in 1986.

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posted by John, 3:34 PM | link |

Thursday, August 09, 2007

"i like / when they talk real loud, try to tell you what they know"

Montreal's Men Without Hats have an unfair reputation as one hit wonders ("Men Without HITS! Har!"), but people tend to forget they had another fair-sized hit in 1987 with "Pop Goes The World", a fantastic candy concoction just as catchy as "The Safety Dance". Brothers Ivan (he of the booming voice), Stefan and (occasionally) Colin Doroschuk teamed with an ever-revolving lineup for four albums and two EPs in the '80s, and their catalog is surprisingly strong on hooks.

After "Safety Dance" conquered the charts, the band went with "I Like" as the follow-up single, a move I never quite got. While it's a fun song, it's much more an album track to my ears. I would have gone with "I Got The Message" instead, but hey...

The band tried their best to ride the "Safety Dance" momentum by bringing back the little jester and medieval wench who were so memorable in that video to co-star in the clip for "I Like":

...but it didn't help. Not a lot of people liked "I Like".

The Men pressed on and scored another minor club hit a year later with "Where Do The Boys Go?", then it was some dry times until "Pop Goes the World" hit in 1987. Two years later, the band released "Hey Men", a suprisingly guitar-based, T-Rex-ish glam rocker with some very enlightened lyrics. It was a more mature sound, and while it got some radio play on the more progressive radio stations like San Francisco's KITS, "Hey Men" ultimately failed to spark a return to the charts for the group. I dig the tune, but it's a little disconcerting to see them all with bandanas, mullets and guitars:

The band struggled on for one more import-only album, Sideways, which was even more guitar-oriented than its predecessor, before calling it a day. The Men returned in 2003, however, with a another new album, No Hats Beyond This Point, which marked the band's 20th anniversary.

Not bad for a "one-hit wonder".

"I Like" peaked at #84 on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart in 1983.

Get Men Without Hats music at Amazon or on Men Without Hats

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posted by John, 3:57 PM | link |

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"and walk away! / from the greatest lover you have ever known!"

Before Hairspray, the musical...before Hairspray, the movie...Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine, aka John Waters' original muse, was best known for eating dog poop.

But we're not here to talk about Divine's unparralleled (still!) cinematic acheivements (although Female Trouble beats Pink Flamingos any day), but rather Divine's surprisingly successful music career.

¿Que?, you say? That's right. Divine always did a bit of dancing and singing in his movies, including performing the theme song to the aforementioned Female Trouble, but he never cut an album or single until 1979, when he released the single "Born to be Cheap" on the Wax Trax label (yes, that Wax Trax, home to Ministry, Front 242, etc. It was the label's second ever release). It was another three years until Divine hit the dance charts by teaming up with notoriously sonic-sticky-fingered producer Bobby O to release the single "Native Love". A year later, Bobby O performed another one of his acts of musical thievery for Divine, completely ripping off New Order's "Blue Monday" to create "Love Reaction". New Order didn't sue, but in fact once covered "Love Reaction" live. Here's Divine, some cavemen and a monkey in a junkyard - enjoy:

"Love Reaction" solidified Divine as a gay disco mainstay (imagine that), so when it came time to follow up, Divine partnered with a fledgling young production trio known as Stock/Aiken/Waterman. The result was "You Think You're A Man", which sounds like it could have been a Bobby O ripoff of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)", only that came out a year after Divine's single with the S/A/W team at the helm. Hmmm...CATFIGHT!

"You Think You're A Man" was a smash overseas, hitting #16 in the UK charts, bringing Divine ever closer to the mainstream, even performing on Top of the Pops. Divine and S/A/W followed that up with "I'm So Beautiful", another dance floor stomper that may have been a little too self-knowing and winking to be as successful as "You Think...". Divine kept recording for a year or so afterwards to diminishing returns before reuniting with John Waters for Hairspray. He died shortly after, the night before he was to start as a regular on Married With Children. We still miss you, Dawn Davenport!

Here's a bonus - John Candy as Divine from The Dusty Towne Sexy Holiday Special on SCTV:

"Love Reaction", "You Think You're A Man" and "I'm So Beautiful" did not chart.

Get Divine music at Amazon or on Divine

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posted by John, 4:36 PM | link |