Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Stone Roses - She Bangs the Drums

By the end of the 1980's, the music industry seemed to be at an inflection point.  The trends that had held for much of the later half of the decade seemed to have run their course, and many critics (and even some fans) were looking for something new and fresh.  (This eventually led to the grunge scene of the early 1990's, though that was not on anyone's radar in 1989).

In Britain, the trend that seemed to have the best chance of being "The Next Big Thing" was the Madchester scene.  Based in Manchester (of course), this music was a combination of 1960's power pop and electronic dance, with elements of rock thrown in for good measure.

While there were several bands thats became associated with the Madchester scene, the Stone Roses were the poster children.  They formed in 1983, and by the late 1980's the lineup had become settled with Ian Brown (vocals), John Squire (guitars), Mani (bass), and Reni (drums).  The group's debut album was released in 1989, and slowly gained traction during that summer.  By 1990, the band had become a bonafide sensation in the U.K., with 4 top 40 hits, and a #5 album.  In contrast, the  Stone Roses never really broke through in the U.S., as neither their singles nor their album broke the top 40.

Sadly, after their breakout in the U.K., the band slowly fell apart.  Egos, lawsuits and the rock lifestyle delayed their second album until the end of 1994.  Although the appropriately named Second Coming did well in their home market, it was viewed as a weaker album by critics.  The strains of touring in support of their second LP proved to be the nail in the coffin and the group officially broke up by the end of 1996.  However, the group did re-form in 2011 and appear to be together as of this writing.

For the blog, we went with "She Bangs the Drums."  The song was released in July 1989 and became the group's first top 40 hit.  It remains as our favorite (favourite if you are reading this in the U.K.) song from the band.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Little Heroes - Young Hearts

When we started ERV, we originally envisioned posting only really rare videos (such as "Young Hearts"), as a way of highlighting some of the (mostly) unknown music from our favorite decade.  However, it soon became apparent that this would likely result in a blog viewership of two, including your humble author.  As a result, we expanded our playlist, but continue to mix in some really rare music on the blog.  We hope that many readers will take the time to meander through the site, uncovering forgotten and rare gems along the way.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that "Young Hearts" is a really rare song and video, particularly for our non-Australian readers.  It is by The Little Heros, a Melbourne band that formed in 1980.  The group was comprised of veterans of the Melbourne pub rock scene and was led by guitarist/singer Roger Hart-Wells, along with an ever-changing lineup around him.

The band released their self-titled debut in 1981, but it was their second LP, 1982's Play By Numbers that helped them break out in their native Australia. That album featured two successful singles, "One Perfect Day" (#12) and "Young Hearts" (#42).  Unfortunately, while the LP reached #37 in their home market, it did not generate any real traction in other markets.

The Little Heroes released a follow-up album in 1983 (Watch the World), which performed worse than its successor, and broke up the following year.  Roger Hart-Wells would go on to become a writer and meditation coach, and most of the other members of the group likewise left the industry.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ratt - You're In Love

There is no right way for a band to become successful, but there is a wrong (or hard) way: burst onto the scene with a huge first album before a strong fan base has been established.  While it is not the kiss of death, successful first albums can lead to oversized expectations and pressure that can be hard to live up to.  This likely hurt the careers of The Knack, The Outfield, The Hooters, and Young MC among many others.

Viewed from this perspective, Ratt didn't do half bad.  True, their first album (1984's Out of the Cellar) was their commercial peak, but they were able to maintain a significant amount of success all through the eighties, helped by the popularity of pop metal and their generally solid music videos.

The origins of Ratt go back to the mid 1970's when Mickey Ratt was formed by singer Stephen Pearcy.  The band went through a series of lineup changes, and eventually became regulars on the LA Sunset Strip scene.  Ratt's 1983 independent EP sold well, which led to a major label contract, a video with Milton Berle, and no small amount of success.

"You're In Love" was the second single of the group's 1985 LP, Invasion of Your Privacy.  The video features mostly live footage, and was filmed at shows in Mississippi and Louisiana in August 1985.  The single only reached #89 on the charts, while the album peaked at a strong #7.

Ratt maintained its string of successful albums through the 1980's, before breaking up in the early 1990's.  There have been several reunions since the late 1990's, but none with the classic lineup.  (Sadly, original lead guitarist Robbin Crosby died of a drug overdose in 2002).  A version of the group appears to be together as of this writing.

Coll trivia fact:  Ratt was very nearly a one hit wonder.  While "Round and Round" hit #12, the band's only other top 40 single was "Lat It Down," which reached ... #40.

Cool trivia fact #2:  Jake E. Lee (later of Ozzy Osbourne and Badlands) and Marq Torien (BulletBoys) were both briefly members of Ratt in the early 1980's, while Michael Schenker was briefly a member in the early 1990's.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The System - Don't Disturb This Groove

By combining two seemingly disparate musical styles -- synth pop and soul -- The System created some very interesting music in the 1980's and pointed the way forward towards the modern dance and electronic era.

The duo formed in New York in 1982 and was comprised of Mic Murphy (vocals and guitars) and David Frank (keyboards).  The group's interesting musical style and strong production values caught the attention of many industry insiders (especially in the dance segment), but failed to break through to the general public.  In fact, The System only had two charting singles -- 1983's "You Are in My System" (#64) and "Don't Disturb This Groove," which went to #4 on the charts (yes, that makes The System an official one hit wonder).

Although their success as a band was modest, Murphy and Frank remained active in the New York studio scene as performers, and Frank transitioned to helping with arrangements and production.  [Frank contributed to Chaka Khan's "I Feel For You," Phil Collins' "Sussudio," and Mtume's "Juicy Fruit."  He also worked on Scritti Pollitti's Cupid and Psyche 85 LP.]

In 1989, The System went on hiatus, and Frank moved to LA and opened the Canyon Reverb recording studio, which became quite successful.  He is perhaps best known as the co-writer and co-producer of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle."  Murphy briefly pursued a solo career in the early 1990's.

The System has also periodically re-formed in the ensuing years, and has released material in 2000, 2009, and 2013.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Featuring Stevie Nicks - Insider

Long time readers will recall that we love a good rock & roll story at ERV and "Insider" totally fits the bill.  Eighties music fans will also remember that Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks had a smash hit with their other duet (done around the same time), "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."  That song (the 25th video ever played on MTV) would go on to reach #3 on the charts making it anything but a rare song or video.

The collaboration between Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty began while Petty was recording his 1979 breakthrough LP, Damn the Torpedoes.  Nicks was in the early stages of putting her first solo album together and asked Petty to write a song for her.  Although Petty didn't respond at first, Nicks was persistent and eventually got Petty to agree around a year later, as he and the Heartbreakers were working on the follow up to Damn the Torpedos.

Here's where it gets really interesting.  The song that Petty wrote for Nicks was "Insider."  After it was recorded (in post-production, I imagine), Nicks realized that Petty really loved the song and gave it back to him for his album.  In response, Petty offered Nicks a different song, one that he (and guitarist Mike Campbell) had written earlier called "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around."  The rest is history.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers 1981 album eventually was named Hard Promises after a line in "Insider."  While the song never became a hit, it is a great song, in our humble opinion and a rare video, too.

Cool trivia fact:  "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" was the highest charting single ever for both Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty.

Cool trivia fact #2:  The working title of Hard Promises was Benmont's Revenge, named after keyboardist Benmont Tench, who was mentioned in our salacious post on Feargal Sharkey's "A Good Heart" and "You Little Thief".

Note that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers "Change of Heart" (directed by Cameron Crowe) was posted on ERV in October, 2013.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers - I'm Not Your Man

Last September, we put up "If We Never Meet Again," a solid pop/rock song by Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers.  This was a surprisingly difficult decision, as the band had two strong cuts off their 1988 major label debut, with "I'm Not Your Man" as the other. [In fact, it was the rareness of "If We Never Meet Again" that finally broke the tie.]

"I'm Not Your Man" shows the bar band in fine form, and was a solid choice as the first single off Rumble (the aforementioned 1988 debut LP).  Interestingly, while the song picked up a significant amount of radio airplay at the time, the single only reached #74 on the charts.  "If We Never Meet Again" somehow managed to reach #48 on the singles chart with less airplay.

Rumble did not break to top 100 on the album charts, and when the act's 1990 Guitar Trouble LP didn't chart, that was it for the band.  [Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers actually recorded a third album, but Columbia Records chose not to release it; it has been made available in recent years.]

Conwell remained in the industry for years but was unable to break through and eventually moved on.  However, he continued to periodically perform reunion shows to the present day.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Country - Fields of Fire (400 Miles)

This is Big Country's second appearance on ERV, as "Look Away" was posted on the blog last August.  While U.S. readers will remember the band for their eponymous single (the group's only top 40 U.S. song), "Fields of Fire" was the first of 15 top 40 singles in their native U.K.

Similar to "Look Away," "Fields of Fire" is a grand anthemic rock song, punctuated by the bagpipe-like guitar sound that was Big Country's trademark.  It is also my favorite Big Country song.  The video, with the train, bagpipe player and toys generally works quite well (although the WWI scene seems a bit forced to me).  The song peaked at #10 in the U.K. and #52 in the U.S., and helped launch the band's debut LP, The Crossing (which would hit #3 in the U.K. and #18 in the U.S.)

From an American perspective, the band faded from view after The Crossing, although they remained popular in the U.K. for the remainder of the decade.  As was mentioned in the previous Big Country post, the group remained together until lead singer Stuart Adamson's suicide in 2001.  They have re-formed in recent years, although ex-Alarm singer Mike Peters departed the band in November 2013.  It appears that the current lead singer is Simon Hough and the group remains active as of this writing.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

David Lee Roth - Goin' Crazy!

For my money, David Lee Roth's 1985 departure from Van Halen was a real musical tragedy.  Led by Diamond Dave's showmanship and Eddie Van Halen's guitar licks, Van Halen had become superstars by the mid-1980's.  Both factions seemed to suffer after the breakup, and it is hard not to wonder what they would have produced together.  In fact, the parties involved also seem to have (eventually) realized this as there have been several reunions since 1996.

But in 1985, these reunions were very far away.  Inspired by the success of his Crazy From the Heat EP, Roth put together a group to rival Van Halen.  Guitarist Steve Vai, bassist Billy Sheehan and drummer Gregg Bissonette were all outstanding musicians, but the songwriting and chemistry just did not seem to click as much as they had in Van Halen.

On the other hand, Roth's campy and slightly insane worldview remained front and center -- and was well-suited for MTV.  As an example, the video for "Goin' Crazy!" has a nearly three minute intro (skip to 2:36 if you would just like to see the song).


"Goin' Crazy!" reached #66 on the charts, while the Eat 'Em and Smile LP hit #4 and went double platinum.  While 1988's Skyscraper was a hit, Roth's fortunes then faded; by the early 1990's he was no longer a major star.  Van Halen saw a similar trend, and the group has reunited with Roth several times since 1996.  The most recent incarnation of Van Halen has included DLR since 2006 or so, and even released an album (A DIfferent Kind of Truth) in 2012.  They appear to be together as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  "Goin' Crazy!" was originally intended to also be the theme of Roth's movie of the same name, but the project was shut down.

Note that Van Halen's cover of "Pretty Woman" was posted on ERV in January 2012.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Prince - Uptown

"Uptown" is the answer to a great trivia question -- it was the first single released off Prince's classic Dirty Mind album.  The song was named after the bohemian uptown neighborhood of Prince's hometown (Minneapolis) and touches on themes of tolerance and bigotry, which would be recurring concepts for Prince.

Long time readers will recall that we have previously posted videos of "Dirty Mind" and "Controversy" on ERV, as these videos may also be less well-known to our readers.  Due to the fact that Prince was not an overnight success, his early material did not get the exposure that it deserved, in our humble opinion.  As an example, "Uptown" certainly qualifies as a rare video and I don't recall ever seeing it on MTV back in the day.

The "Uptown" video appears to have been shot at the same time as "Dirty Mind," using the same set and audience.  This was a common occurrence in the days before MTV, when videos were used as promotional tools.  From a sound perspective, "Uptown" is more of a straight up dance number, in contrast to the electric funk of "Dirty Mind."  Again, this is typical Price, as his ability to write songs in different musical styles really differentiates him from most other artists.

Released in September, 1980, "Uptown" was not a huge hit, but did chart, reaching #101 on the singles charts.  This was also sadly typical of Prince in this period, as he only had one top 40 single (1979's "I Wanna Be Your Lover") prior to the 1999 album.  Of course, that LP changed everything, and catapulted Prince into superstardom for the remainder of the decade (and beyond).

Ladies and gentlemen, for your audio and video pleasure ... His Purpleness.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Roger Hodgson - Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)

Any discussion of Roger Hodgson has to begin with his time in Supertramp, as he co-fronted the band (with Rick Davies) from its 1969 founding until 1983.  Over time, he began to feel less comfortable in the bad (a sadly common occurrence) and this seems to have been exacerbated by his move to Northern California in 1981 (the remainder of Supertramp was based in LA).  As a result, Hodgson left Supertramp in 1983 to spend more time with his family.

However, Hodgson continued to write and record (with the aid of a home studio) and in 1984 he released his first solo album -- In the Eye of the Storm.  While the album garnered favorable reviews, it did not perform well, reaching #46 on the album charts, while "Had a Dream (Sleeping with the Enemy)" only hit #48 on the singles charts.  It is likely that the fading popularity of art rock and the lack of name recognition combined to hurt sales.

Three years later, Hodgson's second solo LP was released (Hai Hai), but it performed even worse than its predecessor.  Compounding the issue, Hodgson fell and broke both wrists, which prevented him from touring.  He then seems to have semi-retired from the industry for a time, although he has performed more in recent years (he did release a third solo album in 2000, as well).

In spite of the lack of commercial success, "Had a Dream" sounds like a classic Supertramp song to my ear (in a very good way).  The upbeat song and progressive, quirky lyrics lend themselves to the video, including the juxtapositioning of marching bands and military parades.  We view the song and video as something of a forgotten classic.