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

Monday, April 28, 2008

"keep up the good love for Chaka..."

You got your Chaka Khan in my Scritti Politti!

Well, you got your Scritti Politti in my Chaka Khan!

Mmmm…hey! This is pretty good!

Chaka Khan was cooling off in 1986 after a major hot streak. Coming off a huge smash cover of Prince’s “I Feel For You”, she was back in the Top 40, but following such a big single ended up being a bit of a problem, as songs like “(Krush Groove) Can’t Stop the Street” and “Own the Night” struggled to even hit the Top 50. Even “Through the Fire,” a song that just about everyone knows now thanks to Kanye West’s sampling, peaked only at #60. Chaka needed a little boost back to the top.

Meanwhile, fey art-funksters Scritti Politti had finally broken thru the States the year prior with “Cupid & Psyche ’85,” an album that sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did twenty years (holy shit) ago. The technology and recording tricks that lead Scritti Green Gartside employed blew pop music wide open with this release, and homeboy does NOT get enough credit for that. “Perfect Way” hit #11 in the States and Scritti Politti were plotting their next move.

Why not write and produce Chaka Khan’s next single?


A bizarre collaboration that honestly sounds horrid on paper, but in practice works out quite nicely. I’m not quite sure who had this idea, Chaka, Scritti or their shared label at the time, Warner Brothers, but the results were inspired. Green pushed Chaka into a poppy, glossy, new wave-ish realm and Chaka pushed back with a stellar (as usual) vocal. Plus, you had Chaka referring to herself in the third person in the chorus which is always a slam dunk move. What could have been cringe-inducing came out sounding like a hit.

Only it wasn’t.

“Love of a Lifetime” did some considerable damage in the clubs, but petered out at a paltry #53 on the Hot 100. The rest of the accompanying album, “Destiny,” was produced by others, and the more rock sound of the remaining tracks shows this. There are portions of the album that make one think emulating Tina Turner’s comeback was the goal, and put next to the innovations of the single, the rest of the album lacks punch. A couple other singles from the disc hit the R&B charts, but after that, “Destiny” sank like a stone. It’s currently out of print in the States.

The video is a hoot and half, with Chaka obviously clueless of what the lyrics were, lipsynching like a drag queen at last call, clad in an indigo and cheetah print boot ensemble, surrounded by dancers clad in horrific spandex bike shorts, and is that Jan Hooks in the video?


Barring a sped-up sample on Kanye West’s “Through the Wire,” Chaka never returned to the Top 40.

”Love of a Lifetime” peaked at #7 on the Billboard Dance Singles Sales Chart, at #11 on the Dance Club Play Chart, #21 on the R&B Singles Chart and at #53 on the Billboard Hot 100.


posted by John, 3:41 PM | link |

Monday, April 21, 2008

"Girl Fight Tonight! / blood and mascara will run / we’ll see how long your tan lines last / when you’re in a body cast!"

While MTV has launched many a career, it could be argued that Julie Brown (the white one, as she called herself) was the network’s first home-grown superstar. By the time MTV was thru with her (or she was thru with MTV), Brown was a triple threat – a recording artist, television personality and movie headliner.

Oh, Julie!

Julie Brown started out with some bit parts on sitcoms and movies in the early ‘80s, but found her true calling when her novelty song “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun” hit radio morning shows nationwide in 1985. The song was comedy genius and features one of my favorite lyrics ever - "The cops fired a warning shot that blew her off the float." A full-length LP, “Goddess In Progress” followed and MTV picked up the video for the single. Thus, a relationship was born.

Julie began making frequent appearances on the channel, becoming a sort of defacto VJ, cracking everyone up with her commentary on the bands and biting the corporate hand that fed her. MTV responded by giving her an entire half-hour, the classic “Just Say Julie,” where she predated “Beavis & Butthead” by inserting herself and her caustic comments into horrible videos by the likes of Rod Stewart (“Oh, I want him. I want him badly,” she’d faux moan).


Riding this momentum, Julie signed to Warner Brothers for her major-label debut album “Trapped In The Body of a White Girl” (“Goddess” was on then-indie Rhino). Paired with some stellar talent (hitmakers Steinberg & Kelly co-wrote the single “Girl Fight Tonight”), the album had sort of an identity crisis, where some older songs like “I Like ‘Em Big and Stupid” were re-recorded in all their novelty glory, and newer songs were not quite as jokey and almost half-serious sounding without the accompanying video (like the title track). The result was a watered-down version of Julie that didn’t chart.

The album has some bright spots, though, especially “Girl Fight Tonight” with its girl group trappings and hilarious delivery (“Shoo-be-do-bop and a shoo-bop-a run away”). It’s long out of print, but you can buy copies directly from Julie at her website.

Julie has continued acting, most notably on the TV series “Clueless” and her soap parody “Strip Mall” which sadly, Comedy Central cancelled without resolving the second season cliffhanger (did Tami – pronounced Tuh-ME – survive being tossed out of an airplane?).

Oh, and look at that….here’s the video for
“Trapped In The Body of a White Girl”!

Neither single charted.
“Goddess In Progress” peaked at #168 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums Chart.


posted by John, 9:24 AM | link |

Monday, April 14, 2008

"my eyes look so heavy / i'm feeling in the past tense, i'm hardly aware"

Cut from the Loverboy mold of rocking gently and non-offensively (which sounds like an insult, I realize, but isn’t really), Niagra Falls, Canada’s Honeymoon Suite (get it? GET IT?!?) got their big break when their self-produced single “New Girl Now” won a radio contest, attracting the attention of Warner Brothers Records in 1984.

New Girl Now

“New Girl Now” is a nearly perfect slice of 1984, from the shiny synth chords laid over a pristine guitar crunch, to the low-budget video featuring our hero, The Lead Singer, trying his best to dump his girlfriend who bears more than a passing resemblance to Imogene Coca. The fact that he’d want to ditch this chick is understandable, given her propensity to call him at all hours and throw bricks thru his window, but why then is his New Girl Now “a lot like you”? Some guys never learn…or they just crave psycho strangestrange.

This song was another of my secret guilty pleasures back then, the 45 tucked away between my Smiths and Echo & the Bunnymen albums, lest I lose my punker cred. Back then, my friends and I would listen to it in an ironic fashion, mockingly air guitar-ing along to the solo and pumping our fists at the “SHE’S JUSSS LAHK YOO!” part at the end. Today, I love it unabashedly and without shame. I mean, 3:37…intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus to end. Perfect.

Honeymoon Suite went on to have a slightly bigger hit two years later with a single called “Feel It Again”, but that DIY AOR feeling was gone. The band had quite a few hits up north, but limped along in the States. They’re still together, apparently, releasing a new album in 2002.

But for now, imagine it's 2008, Friday night, June, summertime, hot summer night…storm clouds in the air – get in the car, roll down the windows, and blast this tonight. You’ll thank me Monday.

Purchase Honeymoon Suite's debut.

”New Girl Now” peaked at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.

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posted by John, 4:13 PM | link |

Monday, April 07, 2008

“and if I can’t get an angel / I can still get a boy / and a boy would be the next best thing to an angel…”

Goofy lyrics? Overwrought production? Histrionic vocals? Undeniable hooks?

Yes, we’re talkin’ Jim Steinman today, kids.

Would you really be surprised if I told you the writer/producer of such irresistibly schlocky classics like Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” album and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” started out writing musical theater? Me neither.

boner juice!

Would you be surprised if I told you Jim had a hit of his own from an album called “Bad for Good”, which was originally written for Meat Loaf? “Rock 'n Roll Dreams Come Through” was a minor hit nationally, but HUGE regionally, especially in the Midwest. WGCL and CKLW played the crap out of this song. And why not? It sounds like a Meat Loaf song, only sung by a guy who can’t really sing. And a Boris Vallejo album cover? What’s not to like? But seriously…please don’t pay attention to the lyrics. You’ll hurt yourself.

Three years and a few bigger hits written for others (including Air Supply – cringe freely here) later, Steinman went back to his obvious first love…an overblown, bombastic rock musical, this one called “Streets of Fire”. The soundtrack had a huge hit with Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You”, but the true cheese was Steinman’s studio creation , Fire Inc., over-emoting for more than six minutes (the average Steinman song running time) on “Tonight Is What It Means to be Young”. Diane Lane does a good job lipsynching this in the flick, but the real vocalist was named Holly Sherwood, who got the privilege of working with Steinman again in 1989 on a new project called Pandora’s Box that sold about 43 copies.

I kid the Steinman, but you know what? I own both CDs, so what does that say about me?

Yes, I am gay.

Jim Steinman’s “Rock ‘n Roll Dreams Come Through” peaked at #32 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Fire Inc.’s “Tonight Is What It Means to be Young” peaked at #80 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Buy Bad for Good .

Buy the Streets of Fire soundtrack.

EDIT/ADDENDUM: I can't believe I did a whole post on Jim without giving him total props for his epic production on the Sisters of Mercy's "This Corrosion" and "Dominion/Mother Russia" - two examples of where bombast not only works, but excels.

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posted by John, 11:11 AM | link |