Tuesday, September 30, 2014

R.E.M. - Fall On Me

R.E.M.'s song about acid rain (according to Bill Berry) or oppression (according to Michael Stipe) was the first single released from their 1987 Lifes Rich Pageant LP (and yes, the lack of an apostrophe is intentional on the band's part).  The record continued R.E.M.'s progression away from folk rock towards a more mainstream sound, a transition that would lead to significant success in the 1990's.

At the time it was released, Lifes Rich Pageant became the highest-charting R.E.M. album, as it reached #21 on the charts.  Of course, the group would go on to have two #1 and three #2 albums later in their career.  "Fall on Me" was not a big hit, but it did chart, reaching #94.

The video for "Fall on Me" was directed by lead singer Michael Stipe, and consists of words (mostly from the song's lyrics) that flash over upside down footage of a quarry in Indiana.  For extra points, one word in the video is famously misspelled; see if you can identify it without resorting to Google.

Note that R.E.M.'s first single "Radio Free Europe" was posted on ERV back in September 2011, when the band officially broke up.


Friday, September 26, 2014

Madness - House of Fun

While American readers may view Madness as a one hit wonder (they actually had 2 top 40 hits in the U.S. -- "Our House" and "It Must Be Love"), the group were superstars in their native Britain.  Between 1979 and 1983, every single that they released broke the top 10, except "Cardiac Arrest," which hit #14.  That translates to 15 hits during that period.  Additionally, they (along with The Specials) were the face of the 2 Tone ska revival of that time.

The group formed in London in 1976, and were called The North London Invaders and Morris and the Minors before changing their name to Madness in 1979.  The name came from a Prince Buster song; he was also the topic of their first single, 1979's "The Prince."  The band's songs were infused with humor, but it was their strong pop-influenced ska that truly made them stars.  However, at their 1983 peak, keyboardist and songwriter Mike Barson abruptly quit, leaving the industry in order to spend more time with his family.  The band soldiered on for a few years, with less success, before breaking up in 1988.  As with many 1980's acts, Madness has re-formed in recent years, and continues to perform and record as of this writing.

For the blog, we opted for the 1982 non-album single "House of Fun."  It was the group's only #1 hit in the U.K., though the song did not chart in the U.S.  We particularly like the contrast between the whimsical music and the coming-of-age lyrics.  The low-budget but appropriate video was primarily filmed in three locations -- the joke shop and chemist were in London, while the roller coaster was in Great Yarmouth.  I believe that the clip received some airplay on MTV back in the day, but it did not go into heavy rotation.



Cool trivia fact #1:  "House of Fun" charted a second time in 1992 when it reached #40 in the U.K.

Cool trivia fact #2:  The song was originally titled "Chemist Facade" and did not have the chorus, which was quickly written (by Mike Barson) and recorded.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Outfield - Say It Isn't So

When we started ERV in August 2011, the Outfield were one of the first bands to go in the bullpen, and they have been patiently waiting their turn ever since.  This is somewhat typical of the group -- they weren't avant-garde, or loved by critics, and they did not develop a large cult following over time.  What they did do, however, was produce a bunch of strong power pop songs, led by a #6 hit with one of the best opening lines of the decade:  "Josie's on a vacation far away..."

The Outfield's original lineup of Tony Lewis (bass and vocals), John Spinks (guitars), and Alan Jackman (drums) formed around 1983 in London.  The group was originally called The Baseball Boys, a name inspired by the Baseball Furies gang from The Warriors movie (a great flick that gets a thumbs up from ERV).  When the group signed with Columbia/CBS in 1984, their manager suggested that the name might be too campy.  After a discussion, the group renamed itself the Outfield.

Unlike most British acts, the Outfield were much more popular on this side of the Atlantic, where they had 5 top 40 hits and 4 charting albums.  (In the U.K., the group had 2 charting singles, but no top 40 hits).  I supposed that their sound, with soaring vocals and strong guitar lines, fit better into the American music scene of the time.

For the blog, we went with "Say It Isn't So," the lead single from their 1985 breakthrough, Play Deep.  While the song didn't chart, the next three singles from the LP did, and the record ultimately peaked at #9 on the album charts.  Sadly, the Outfield would never match the success of their debut album, though they continued to be moderately successful until the grunge era.

Although they never officially broke up, the Outfield took an extended break for most of the 1990's.  They have performed sporadically since then, but have been more active since 2009 (when the original lineup with drummer Alan Jackman re-formed).  Sadly, it is unclear what the current status of the band is, as guitarist (and primary songwriter) John Spinks passed away from cancer in 2014.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Cure - Pictures Of You

By 1989, The Cure had become big stars in the U.K. with four consecutive top 10 albums, and they had even broken through in the U.S. (1987's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me broke the top 40 on the album charts).  However, frontman Robert Smith was depressed about turning 30 and concerned that the band's music had become too commercial.

As a result, 1989's Disintegration was broody and somewhat downbeat -- to the point that the label was concerned that the record could be considered commercial suicide (a phrase that turns up a lot when discussing this record).  But a funny thing happened on the way to the discount bins -- Disintegration became a huge hit, and received no small amount of critical acclaim as well.  It turns out that the songs' melancholy vibe had just enough pop sensibilities to appeal to a broad audience, and the sound was unlike anything in pop music at the time.

Although there are many strong cuts on the album, we have always been partial to "Pictures of You."  The song was supposedly inspired by a Myra Poleo story called The Dark Power of Ritual Pictures ... except that there is no such story or author.  Cure fans have pointed out that Myra Poleo is an anagram for Mary Poole (Robert Smith's wife), for what it is worth.  Smith has also stated that the inspiration for the song came after a fire damaged his house, and left him looking through old photographs from his wallet.  Whatever the source, "Pictures of You" remains a haunting, sad and romantic song.

Disintegration would go on to reach #12 on the U.S. album charts (#3 in the U.K.), while "Pictures of You" would hit #71 in the U.S. (#24 in the U.K.).



For a slightly more upbeat Cure song, "In Between Days" was featured on ERV in April 2013.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers - If We Never Meet Again

Your basic bar band made good (almost), Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers came onto the music scene in 1988 with their major label debut, Rumble.  Sounding like a mix of Bruce Springsteen and George Thorogood (with some 1950's rock and roll thrown in for good measure), the band was definitely cutting against the musical grain of the time.

The group formed in Philadelphia in the mid-1980's and released an independent record (Walking on the Water) in 1986.  They were signed to Columbia Records in 1988 and released two major label LPs before being dropped by the label.

"If We Never Meet Again" is off their 1988 major label debut.  The song picked up some radio play, though I do not recall seeing the video at the time.  The single never charted, while the Rumble album peaked at #103 on the charts -- the group's only charting record.

Conwell and The Young Rumblers disbanded soon after they were dropped by Columbia.  Conwell remained in the music business for a number of years, but never broke through.  In more recent years, he has taught third grade, was a DJ on WYSP (a Philadelphia rock station) and most recently is in the family's fence business.  He and the Young Rumblers continue to periodically perform, typically in the Philadelphia area.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rod Stewart - Infatuation

Unlike most established rock stars, Rod Stewart embraced music videos, and he made several great ones during the 1980's.  Unfortunately, his music was not the strongest during this time (something that even he has admitted in recent years).  Even so, there are a few clips that stand out, and "Infatuation" is foremost among them.

The song comes off Stewart's 1984 Camouflage album.  The LP peaked at #18 in the U.S., while "Infatuation" hit #6.  It is not a terrible song, and is typical of the lightweight, somewhat commercial pop material that Stewart was recording in the 1980's.  However, the video is something else.

The music video was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who is probably best-known for his 1988 film, The Accused.  Mostly taking place in an apartment complex (as a homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window), the vid features Stewart as a voyeur infatuated with a mobster's girlfriend (played by Kay Lenz).  Character actor Mike Mazurki rounds out the cast as the mobster's enforcer or bodyguard.

Shot primarily in black and white, the storytelling, camera shots, and connection to the song's lyrics made this a truly exceptional video, in your author's opinion.  Several scenes really jump out, including the intro in the pool, the goldfish feeding, and the scenes where Stewart dances in front of the oversized picture of the object of his affection.  And it has Jeff Beck, who brings his sizzling guitar with him.

Stewart would go on to have a long and successful career in the music business, though he did transition to something of a crooner in the 1990's.



Cool trivia fact:  There were two version of the video made.  In the one above, the mobster rides off with the girl.  In the second version, below, Stewart gets the girl (or maybe it is just in his head).

video

Cool trivia fact #2:  There is a solid interview with actress Kay Lenz at Noblemania.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mötley Crüe - Live Wire

Loud, brash, and borderline out-of-control, Mötley Crüe created the pop metal mold.  The band formed in 1981 in LA (of course), and were led by bassist Nikki Sixx (given name: Frank Feranna).  The original band consisted of Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee (given name: Thomas Lee Bass) and guitarist/singer Greg Leon.  When Leon left, Sixx and Lee replaced him with guitarist Mick Marrs (given name: Robert Deal) and singer Vince Neil (given name: Vincent Neil Wharton) and just like that, Mötley Crüe was born.

By combining hard rock with glam metal, Mötley Crüe stumbled upon a marketable formula.  This was helped by their solid hooks; some critics have compared the band to Cheap Trick, although I see a lot of Kiss influences as well.  The music and strong live shows would likely have made Mötley Crüe successful in any era, but the visuals proved to be a huge advantage in the MTV-led 1980's.  Unlike older hard rock bands (and even the New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts), Crüe embraced videos and became big stars as a result.

While the 1983 "Looks That Kill" video really propelled the band to hard rock stardom, we opted for their first major video, 1981's "Live Wire."  The band is not as polished as it would be in later efforts, but the vid shows a young, energetic band with some nice licks and a real understanding of visuals -- something that was often lacking in hard rock acts of the early 1980's.

Mötley Crüe would go on to sell 80 million units and have 6 top 10 LPs.  They would also have 6 top 40 hits during the 1980's, although "Live Wire" was not among them (it did not chart).  As of this writing, the band intends to go on a final tour and call it quits in 2015 or so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Whispers - Rock Steady

The Whispers are an old school R&B act that formed in Los Angeles in 1964.  The band began regularly charting on the R&B charts (and occasionally hitting the singles charts) in 1969.  Their fortunes took a turn for the better in 1979, when the disco-influenced "And the Beat Goes On" went to #1 on the R&B charts and broke the top 40 at #19 on the singles charts.

"Rock Steady" was from the group's 1987 LP, Just Gets Better with Time.  This was the Whispers eighteenth studio album, and it became the second highest charting album of their career at #22  - only the band's self-titled 1979 album charted higher, at #6.

The video is a pretty standard performance piece, although the mustaches of Wallace (Scotty) and Walter Scott are prominently featured.  Sadly, "Rock Steady" was the last big hit of the Whispers' career, although they continue to record and perform to the present day.


Cool trivia fact:  "Rock Steady" was co-written by L.A. Reid and Babyface, who also produced the Just Gets Better with Time album (it was one of their first projects together).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fay Ray - Modern Lovers

Originally from Bangor, Wales, Fay Ray were a new wave act who made one really solid album before things went south.  The band was named after one of photographer William Wegman's Weimaraner dogs and was fronted by Sheila McCartney.  Other members of the band were John Lovering (guitar), Owen Hughes (drums), Tony Travis (bass), and Jeff Taylor (sax).

Fay Ray were sometimes lazily compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees, another British new wave band with a female lead singer.  However, they sounded quite different from Siouxsie, with a strong pop sense folded into their new wave sound.  This could have made them quite successful, had things broken their way a bit more.

The band released their debut album, Contact You, in 1982, but it did not chart.  They did make a couple of videos, and even picked up a bit of airplay on MTV.  However, Elektra/Warner dropped the band after the recording of their second LP, and refused to release the master tapes (!).  Fay Ray broke up soon afterwards, although they have re-formed in the early 2000's and are still occasionally active as of this writing.

"Modern Lovers" was off Contact You, and is a great driving new wave song with a cheap and colorful video to boot.  File this one under rare and really good.

video

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yes - Love Will Find A Way

There is little doubt that the 1980's were tough times for progressive rock acts.  In retrospect, rock audiences likely viewed the sound as dated; it certainly was out of synch with the major musical trends of the decade.

Yes bucked the trend, but at a cost; they more or less abandoned their art rock roots and turned into an arena rock band.  This is especially evident on the hugely successful 1983 album 90125 which scarcely sounds like a Yes record.

This change in style and personnel created a difficult working environment and Big Generator (the follow up to 90125) took 4 years to record.  The result is an album that is stylistically similar to 90125, even though producer Trevor Horn left early in the project.

"Love Will Find A Way" was the first single off Big Generator, and was written by Trevor Rabin.  Interestingly, Rabin wrote the song for Stevie Nicks, but when drummer Alan White heard it he convinced Rabin to keep it for Yes.  The result was a #30 hit, the penultimate Yes top 40 single ("Rhythm of Love" at #40 was the last one).

The musically differences that plagued Yes continued after Big Generator, as the group's next album (1991's Union) also took 4 years to record.  Since then the group has continued to record and tour in different permutations, and many members of the band have also participated in other musical projects.