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

Monday, August 31, 2009

"the night we met i knew i needed you so / and if i had the chance i'd never let you go"

I'll cop to it - I watch American Idol here and there. I mean, it's not like there's any aggressive counter-programming going on, and I can only watch my Kath & Kim DVDs so many times. But each time one of the female contestants gets up to screech and wail (Hey! If you get near a melody, sing it!), I can't help but time travel in my mind back to 1981 and think that a 17-year old Rachel Sweet would absolutely demolish them all.

...Then He Kissed Me was Sweet's third album and her first for major label Columbia Records after releasing two albums on legendary UK New Wave label Stiff Records. Sweet's Stiff releases started out with a country twang and veered more towards guitar-based New Wave near the end, all wrapped in a Lolita Jailbait presentation, but ...Then He Kissed Me blended current Top 40 sounds with classic 60s girl group trappings. This came to a head with the album's big hit single, a remake of "Everlasting Love", re-imagined as a duet with Rex Smith (urgh). Columbia's plan to break Sweet in America was reaching its shmaltzy fruition.

Things were much more pleasing on the follow-up single - hey, if a remake worked, let's release TWO of them as a medley! - a melding of the Phil Spector classics "Then He Kissed Me/Be My Baby". Imagine seeing this on "American Idol":

Simon would be arrested for statutory rape within minutes. Unfortunately, the second single didn't match the success of "Everlasting Love", even with the Rex factor removed. Columbia must have had faith in those heady days of artist development, when a label would work an album even if a single flopped, since a third single was sent to radio stations, this one an original composition by D.L. Byron (Rachel gets a co-writing credit here that I haven't seen anywhere else) - a little Jim Steinman-eque ditty called "Shadows Of The Night".

Yes, that "Shadows Of The Night". A full year before Pat Benatar made it a huge hit and it won the 1982 Grammy for Best Song.

Sweet's version of "Shadows Of The Night" (subtle, but telling lyric difference - in Sweet's version, she and her lover are running "thru the shadows of the night", not "with" them as in Benatar's version) is nowhere near as bombastic and overblown as Benatar's, and maybe that's why it didn't click with Top 40. It is, however, a bit more honest and heart-rending than Pat's, and definitely stands on its own merits. The rest of the album is a keeper, too.

Sweet went on to record a final album for Columbia, which we'll get to at some point. These days, she's behind the scenes, working as a producer for television shows like "The George Lopez Show". But just imagine if "Idol" was around in 1981...

Neither song charted.

Get Rachel Sweet music at Amazon or on
Rachel Sweet


posted by John, 7:07 PM | link |

Monday, August 24, 2009

"AM/PM, pyramid, roxy, mudd club, danceteria / the newest club is opening up"

This week's hottest reissue has to be Nina Hagen's 1983 classic "Fearless", coming to CD for the very first time. "Classic" in the sense that very few other batshit crazy, UFO-believing, Teutonic punk-rock goddesses have matched it.

"Fearless" was Nina's second full-length English album, this one produced by Giorgio Moroder and Billy Idol/Simple Minds producer Keith Forsey. Wrapping Hagen's alternately hiccup-y and operatic vocals with early hip-hop and dance beats did the trick quite nicely, as single "New York New York" got Miss Freak on MTV and in hipper dance clubs everywhere. The video was even more deliciously insane as Hagen performed a completely live vocal, matching and surpassing all the studio phrasing:

While nothing else quite matches the sanitarium awesomeness of "New York", the rest of the album isn't too shabby, particulary "What It Is", written and performed by a not-quite-famous-yet Red Hot Chili Peppers, and "Zarah", which has to be heard to be believed.

"You have disturbed me almost to the point of insanity. There...I am insane now."

"Fearless" came out on Tuesday, and you can buy it at Amazon. Highly recommended! Now if we could just get her final English album "Nina Hagen in Ekstacy", featuring her other dance hit, "Universal Radio", I'd be a happy Hagen-ite.

"New York New York" peaked at #7 on the Billboard Hot Club Play Dance Chart in 1983.
"Universal Radio" peaked at #39 on the same chart in 1985.


posted by John, 6:27 PM | link |

Monday, August 17, 2009

Prince Proteges Month - The Family

So close, yet so far.

The story of the Family is one of missed opportunites boiled down to its most basic - Good Decisions vs. Bad Decisions. Let's start at the beginning - after Morris Day left The Time in 1984, Prince tapped "St. Paul" Peterson as his replacement, causing guitarist Jesse Johnson to hit the road as well. Left with a drummer, a bass player and a valet ("Now, now, Jerome!"), Prince had Revolution guitarist Wendy's sister, Susannah Melvoin join the band, and rounded out the strange quintet with saxophonist Eric Leeds.

Good Decision #1: Changing the band's name from The Time to The Family. No one would have ever accepted St. Paul as a replacement for Morris Day. I mean, really.

Bad Decision #1: Trying to maintain some of the same funk The Time was famous for, most notably on songs like "Mutiny", making The Family come off as more of a dry run for Wa Wa Nee.

Good Decision #2: Creating a unique "Family" sound for their self-titled LP, drenched in strings and minor keys on songs like "River Run Dry" and the first single, "Screams of Passion" represented here in its 12" version.

The Family Screams of Passion

Bad Decision #2: Picking "Screams of Passion" as the first single when you had, wait for it, the original version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" sitting there nice and all polite-like on Side Two. This even more melodramatic and provocative version could have been a major hit six years earlier than when Sinead O'Connor's take on it took it to the #1 position.

Bad Decision #3: Pulling the plug on the whole thing without recording a second album or playing more than one live date. The Family, for all its Prince-ness, was a fairly unique corner of the Paisley Park empire - it would have been interesting to see what a second album would have brought.

Maybe we'll get that chance, since The Family, all five members, have announced they're reuniting for a tour and new album. Is this a Good Decision or a Bad Decision? Time (heh) will tell. At least Jerome's involved! A Family reunion without Jerome would be like a Happy Mondays reunion without Bez.

And so ends Prince Proteges Month. Don't worry - there are tons more we can talk about in the future. I didn't even get to Jill Jones, Mazarati, Apollonia 6, Jesse Johnson's Revue, et al. Stick around. We have a few years to get to 'em.

"Screams of Passion" peaked at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100, #9 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles and #10 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play charts in 1985.

"The Family" is out of print.

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posted by John, 8:30 AM | link |

Monday, August 10, 2009

Prince Proteges Week - Vanity 6/Vanity

Nasty Skank Alert!

I think the people at the late, much lamented BlairMag (linked above) summed up best what was so damn appealing about a trio of barely-talented girls in their underwear, dancing slightly out of time. While Vanity 6 (renamed from their original moniker The Hookers in a rare case of Princely restraint) were ostensibly built around Vanity aka Denise Matthews, it was white trash dynamo Brenda who stole the show, along with your wallet. And your heart!

I mean, take Brenda's starring turn in the truly bizarre "If a Girl Answers (Don't Hang Up)". It's vicious, cutting, concise and hilarious.

Poor Susan didn't get much play, thanks to her razor-thin "singing" voice, which was basically her talking in a "sexy" whisper. Even in her one spotlight tune, "Drive Me Wild", watch Brenda in all her gum-snapping glory steal the show, literally from behind Susan's back:

Brenda, however, got the straight-ahead New Wave treatment for her lead vocal tune, "Bite the Beat". A real Flying Lizards meets The Nails "88 Lines About 44 Women" vibe permeates the song, showcasing Prince's obvious love for New Wave at the time. Bite the beat, indeed.

Meanwhile, all the coke must have gone to poor Denise/Vanity's head, because she split from the Paisley camp, turning down the female lead in Purple Rain, instead choosing to sign to Motown and star in The Last Dragon, which gave us this mess:

Oooh, Vanity must'a done bumped her head. Speaking of messes, Motown was able to give Vanity something that Prince couldn't, namely a single that actually charted, the not-subtle-at-all "Pretty Mess", a song that interestingly enough, never surfaced during all the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky brouhaha.

Brenda and Susan soldiered on with Vanity-Lite Apollonia, who, despite being purified in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, was a little short on the charisma meter. One album and gone. Now if BRENDA had gotten a solo album, we'd all be writing blog posts to this day dissecting her influence on an entire generation of bastard-bearing, Cheetos-eating, barefoot-bathroom-going-in-7-11s girls. Hey, Britney! Remake "Nasty Girl!" There's your comeback advice.

You're welcome. Can ya dig it? Click.

"Pretty Mess" peaked at #75 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #13 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play Chart in 1984.
None of the other songs charted.

Vanity 6 or the Jill Jones 1987 CD are pretty much the Holy Grails of out-of-print Prince items. You can find Vanity 6 on Amazon, but you're gonna pay.

NEXT: The most inessential reunion ever.

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posted by John, 8:59 AM | link |

Thursday, August 06, 2009

John Hughes, RIP

Read my thoughts on the passing of the other John Hughes at Popdose.
posted by John, 10:50 PM | link |

Monday, August 03, 2009

Prince Protege Month - Sheila E.

The post title says it all, doesn't it? Will your favorite purple protege be featured? Stick around all week and see.

Kicking things off is Miss Escovedo, who Prince discovered in 1983 playing in her father's latin-fusion band Azteca. The tiny terror promptly put Sheila to work, having her provide the guest vocals on his classic b-side "Erotic City" (not Vanity nor Apollonia, as is commonly mistaken). A short year later, Sheila had a contract with Warner Brothers and a Top Ten hit with her debut album's title track, "The Glamorous Life".

As catchy as "The Glamorous Life" was, I, naturally, was all about the follow-up, the New Wave-ish, synth-based "The Belle of St. Mark". The squiggly synth hook and balloon-popping snare accent were keepers, but the lyrics and even title of the song begged question. The Belle of St. Mark is a frail but passionate creature, and is referred to as "he" throughout. Then why the feminine "Belle"? And these classic lines never fail to crack me up:

His Paris hair, it blows in the warm Parisian air
That blows whenever his Paris hair is there

That's just gold, people. I suppose we could blame Prince, but Sheila E. has sole writing credit on that one, so...

Prince did, however, share writing credit on the first single from Sheila's follow-up LP, Romance 1600. "Sister Fate" is quite reminiscent of "The Glamorous Life", just enough to be a hit, but different enough to still be enjoyable. Alas, it was not meant to be, as "Sister Fate" died immediately upon release, putting a pall over Romance 1600 right out of the gate. What turned off Top 40 radio to this tune? Was it the ahead of its time latin percussion or perhaps it was the haughty, faux-Brit spoken word section where Sheila intones:

There's a nasty ruMAH
That's going-guh rrrrrround...

...before ending it in a bizarre, out-of-left-field cartoon voice. What's that all about?

Speaking of bizarre, the album was saved by its second single, "A Love Bizarre", which was mostly a Prince featuring Sheila E. recording. Being prominently featured in the movie Krush Groove didn't hurt its chances, either. And no Sheila E. post would be complete without including the incredibly awesome and cringe-tastic "Holly Rock", made famous by Sheila in Krush Groove:

"The Belle of St. Mark" peaked at #34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #68 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles Charts in 1984.
"Sister Fate" peaked at #102 on the Billboard Bubbling Under, #36 on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Singles and at #26 on the Hot Dance/Maxi-Singles Sales Charts in 1985.

Buy Sheila E. music at Amazon or on
Sheila E

NEXT: Vanity 6 whore it up and cause your monitor to require penicillin.

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posted by John, 6:47 PM | link |