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

Monday, February 23, 2009

"did your mother ever tell you / that the joyful are free?"

Bowie hearts Iggy.

This we already know. David Bowie’s musical life was changed when he first heard the Stooges perform in the early ‘70s and entered into a long friendship with Mr. Osterberg, a/k/a Iggy Pop. A few years and failed albums later, Bowie tracked the struggling, newly sober Pop down in a sanitarium, er, “hospital”, and convinced him to begin a solo career after the Stooges’ implosion. The happy couple relocated to Berlin and recorded some of the most important albums in rock (and New Wave) history; Bowie’s “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger” and Iggy’s “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life”. After that, Iggy went his own way and lost the plot. Ever seen the movie “Velvet Goldmine”? It was sorta like that, but not really.

As Iggy floundered in the early 80s, Bowie, well…you know. “Let’s Dance” was humungous, if safe, and Dave also had a huge hit with “China Girl”, a song co-written and originally recorded by…Iggy Pop. Bowie wanted Iggy to have some royalty money, so the story goes, so David recorded the song as sort of a favor. When it became a Top Ten hit, Bowie threw the money on his already teetering pile and moved on, while Iggy probably paid his rent by its due date for the first time.

Bowie was flush with cash and he wanted to help his old mate out. So together, Bowie and Pop collaborated on what was meant to be Iggy’s big Top 40 breakthrough album, Blah Blah Blah. The idea was to create an accessible album that would finally let Iggy live comfortably, and since Bowie was at his highest commercial apex since the Ziggy days, he was the man to do it.

“Cry for Love” was the first single and was so bland, AOR-by-numbers and inconsequential, I’m not even going to bother posting or discussing it. Bleh. Moving on. Trust me here.

The second single was a remake of “Real Wild Child (Wild One)”, a song first made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis. You know this one, since it’s been used in so many commercials years after its release, but at the time, it failed to chart. MTV played it a bit here and there, but it wasn’t anywhere near a hit. Strike two for Blah Blah Blah.

The albums’ third attempt is the real reason I’m writing this post – I absolutely adore “Isolation”, because it’s the most pure sounding Bowie/Pop collaboration on this set. The production is a bit dated, but Iggy’s delivery is impassioned and the Bowie backing vocals give the affair a real Sixties/Righteous Brothers groove amid all the drum machines and synths (Bowie is not credited with backing vox on the insert, but just listen and you tell me). And the “I need some lovin’/like a fastball needs control” metaphor is hysterical. Just a great track all around.

Another favorite, if a little too long, is “Shades”, another ballad a la Iggy. This was another of the few new Bowie/Pop co-written efforts, and featured a spirited “Woo hoo!” backing hook that makes me smile each time I hear it. If Blah Blah Blah had sounded more like these two tracks, it may be a little more fondly remembered than it is.

As it stands, Iggy’s true commercial breakthrough finally happened four years later, when “Candy”, a duet with the B-52s’ Kate Pierson, hit the Top 20. A few years later, “Lust For Life” was first used in the soundtrack for the movie Trainspotting, then began popping up in commercials for banks and cruise lines (not bad for a song about kicking junk). Then, “Real Wild Child” got its day in the commercial sun, as it also made the advertising soundtrack rounds.

I imagine Iggy has no problem paying his rent/mortgage these days, and the man deserves that.

”Isolation” did not chart. “Shades” was an album track.

Get Blah Blah Blah at Amazon or on
Iggy Pop - Blah-Blah-Blah

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posted by John, 6:03 PM | link |

Monday, February 16, 2009

"no, no, no, no, no, no / i don't want you to go / no, no, no, no, no / i don't want to lose your love"

Now, I realize it may seem that way, but I don’t mean to be hating on Blancmange. In fact, I’m pretty much a fan. Just not of that remake. How about I prove it with some Blancmange love?

”Lose Your Love” was from the synthpop duo’s final album, Believe You Me, and if memory serves me, it was their first for Sire Records. I get the feeling Sire had big plans for the twosome, who had spent the previous few years garnering some MTV play and underground dance hits with their instantly catchy melodies paired with some seriously histrionic vocals (“Blind Vision” anyone?). But with this album, Neil Arthur toned down the yelps and hysteria and we got a more polished vocal delivery, perhaps in preparation for mainstream success in the States, while instrumentalist Stephen Luscombe abandoned much of the third world flourishes that adorned previous releases for a more straight-ahead synthpop sound not unlike another keyboard based duo, Erasure. Basically, Believe You Me smoothed off any edges that made Blancmange, well, Blancmange. It flopped.

That doesn’t stop “Lose Your Love” from being undeniably catchy, if not a bit repetitive near the end. But if you think your patience is being taxed near the end of the four minute song, try the 12” mix, clocking in over 10 minutes. That’s right…ten minutes. It’s a bit of an endurance test, to be sure. The video, however, is hilarious, recalling the Art of Noise’s “Close (To The Edit)” (was it by the same director, Zbignew Rabzinski (sp)?):

The duo tried to salvage Believe with a second single, ”What’s Your Problem”, which ended up sounding like an Erasure outtake. I’m not sure why Sire wanted two Erasures on their label at the same time, or if Blancmange intentionally went out of their way to ape their sound, but the proof is there on wax (or digital numbers on aluminum, since Believe actually made it to CD for a brief period). Unfortunately, even with Erasure’s commercial clout during that period, it didn’t help matters any and the single and album sank. Shortly after, Blancmange called it a day.

Hmm…let’s see. I prove my love for Blancmange by posting two of their lesser singles from a final, derivative album that took away all that made them unique, all in the pursuit of a hit.

I really need to work on showing affection.

”Lose Your Love” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Dance/Club Play Chart in 1985.
“What’s Your Problem” did not chart.

Get Blancmange music at Amazon.


posted by John, 8:37 PM | link |

Monday, February 09, 2009

When New Wave Happens To Old Artists - Alice Cooper

The 80s were a weird period for Alice Cooper, and that’s saying something.

In the 70s, Alice’s musical journey had wound through catchy, extremely underrated “shock rock” like “School’s Out” and “I’m Eighteen” to borderline adult contemporary hits such as “Only Women Bleed” and “How You Gonna See Me Now”. But as the 70s waned, so did Alice’s hits. Alice’s career needed a jumpstart. So, why not rip off Gary Numan?


That’s right – in 1980, Alice teamed with the famous Roy Thomas Baker (the producer best known for putting the New Wave chrome sheen polish on The Cars’ first three albums), ditched the horror costuming and eye make-up and became “Alice Cooper ‘80”, releasing Flush the Fashion, a full-tilt New Wave album very much in the synth-based Gary Numan vein. And it wasn’t half bad.

Now the title, Flush the Fashion, could be seen as an ironic statement, since Alice was certainly embracing current fashion, or perhaps Alice was sincere in that statement in an effort to hold on to his existing fan base, who might have blanched at such genre-hopping. He shouldn’t have bothered – that was going to happen regardless once those fans heard the first single.

“Clones (We’re All)” was written by songwriter David Carron and brought to Alice via Baker, who thought it would make a terrific single, with its menacing tale of clones taking over human society, only to discover the loneliness of being just like everyone else. Baker was right – “Clones” is an excellent song, a tight, hook-filled number with just enough guitar crunch to offset the synthesized proceedings. It also became Alice’s first hit in two years, just squeaking into the Top 40. There was even a video that ripped on Numan's fog-filled affairs (which in turn were a rip on Bowie's Thin White Duke period, but still...). The video is neat in that Alice sings a live vocal over the track, but boy, the booze made him look a little rough:

Follow-up single, “Talk Talk” was another cover, this time an updating of an old garage classic from The Music Machine. You wouldn’t know it from the Numan-isms all over Alice’s version. “Talk Talk” was another well-crafted New Wave blast, but unfortunately flopped. The Flush the Fashion album soon dropped off the charts right behind, but Alice didn’t quite give up on New Wave yet. As his alcoholism spiraled out of control, Cooper’s next three albums, Special Forces, Zipper Catches Skin and Dada grew more wildly experimental, and some would argue, unlistenable. An eventual stint in rehab followed, after which Alice retreated back to his standard horror schtick, mascara intact, hiding beneath faux-hair metal shlock like “Poison”.

Of course, he returned to the Top Ten.

Alice’s New Wave legacy was legitimized years later when The Smashing Pumpkins covered “Clones” as a b-side, doing justice to a great single.

”Clones (We’re All)" peaked at #40 on the Billboard Top 40 and at #69 on the Club Play Singles Chart in 1980.
“Talk Talk” did not chart.

Get Alice Cooper music at Amazon or on
Alice Cooper


posted by John, 8:28 PM | link |

Monday, February 02, 2009

"your hands are tired / your eyes are blue / i'm keeping you right here"

A quickie today:

The Go-Betweens were one of those college-rock-y bands you used to see here and there on MTV’s “120 Minutes” ten minutes before 2 a.m. The Australian band was led by songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, and released a stream of albums until they broke up in 1989, only to reform in 2000. Unfortunately, McLennan died fairly recently. Back in the 80s, I’d see a video of theirs every so often, but nothing really grabbed me until I saw “Right Here,” a cute song with an equally cute (and sometimes disturbing!) video.

Flash forward to about 15 years later – I’m digging thru some old VHS tapes, finding out which ones to toss in preparation for a move, and I find some old “120 Minutes” episodes, one featuring this video. Reminded of this great song, I purchase a then-recently remastered and re-released “Tallulah”. I listen to “Right Here” over and over again, put it on the iTunes and shelve the rest.

So, howzabout it, Go-Betweeners? Am I missing some great stuff here? What portion of this album or the rest of their work should I explore next?

EDIT: I hate hitting "Publish Post", then suddenly remembering stuff - I forgot that one of my favorite bands, Ivy, covered the Go-Betweens' "Streets Of Your Town", a song I love. Sigh. I need to break this album out this weekend, don't I?

”Right Here” did not chart.

Get Go-Betweens music at Amazon or on
The Go-Betweens


posted by John, 8:12 PM | link |