Monday, July 27, 2015

The Housemartins - Happy Hour

The Housemartins were the rock band equivalent of a shooting star.  In Britain, they enjoyed some mainstream success, with 7 top 40 singles between 1986 - 1988.  However, the band barely made a ripple in the U.S., though they did pick up a modicum of airplay on college radio in the mid 1980's.

The group formed in Hull (U.K.) in 1983 and jokingly referred to themselves as the fourth best band in town (after Red Guitars, Everything but the Girl, and the Gargoyles).  However, their seductive combination of upbeat guitar hooks and cutting lyrics endeared them to critics and fans alike.  John Peel (the influential DJ) became an early supporter, and the Housemartins' first album, 1986's London 0 Hull 4 became a surprise hit, reaching #3 on the U.K. album charts and going platinum.  Our pick for the blog, "Happy Hour" was the big hit off this album, and reached #3 on the U.K. singles chart.

While 1987's The People Who Grinned Themselves to Death (yes, that's really what they called their sophomore effort) did not do quite as well, it still reached #9 on the charts, and their non album single "Caravan of Love" (a cover of the Isley-Jasper-Isley song) became a #1 smash in the U.K.  However, inside the band, things were not going well at all.  Singer Paul Heaton was interested in sophistipop, while bassist Norman Cook was more interested in club and dance music.  As a result, the band amicably called it a day in 1988.

For most of the acts on ERV, that would be the end of the story (except for the reunions).  However ... Paul Heaton along with drummer Dave Hemingway and roadie/bassist Sean Welch formed The Beautiful South, who would go on to have massive success in the U.K. through 2007.  Not to be outdone, Norman Cook also became a big success; you may know him by his pseudonym, Fatboy Slim.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Joe Satriani - Satch Boogie

How prevalent were rock guitarists in the 1980's?  So much so that even Michael Jackson inserted a blistering solo into "Beat It" (with Eddie Van Halen, no less).

However, even among guitar heroes Joe Satriani stood out as a king among kings.  His effortless technical prowess, use of multiple styles and abilities as a teacher made him a living legend in the hard rock scene of the 1980's.  Surprisingly, a combination of great musicianship, good timing, and a bit of good luck led to some commercial success, in spite of the fact that his work was entirely instrumental.

Satriani was born on Long Island and gained local notoriety as a player and teacher.  In the late 1970's he moved to California to pursue a career in music, which eventually led to a gig in the Greg Kihn Band (seriously!)  After former student Steve Vai joined David Lee Roth's solo band, Satriani became better-known, and he eventually released his second solo LP in 1987.

Surfing With the Alien became a surprise hit that same year, reaching #29 on the charts, and the title cut and "Satch Boogie" both hit the Mainstream Rock Charts, due to FM radio play.  The video for "Satch Boogie" is relatively basic, but this is definitely a 'let the music do the talking sort of song.'

 Joe Satriani's  commercial success faded somewhat in the 1990's, be he remains a working musician, and seems to enjoy performing with other guitarists.  (For example, G3, a working group that originally comprised Satriani, Steve Vai, and Eric Johnson has continued in various version to the present day).

Cool trivia fact:  Satch is Joe Satriani's nickname.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Styx - A.D. 1928 / Rockin' the Paradise

Long time readers will recall that videos which were played during the first day of MTV (August 1, 1981) have a special place in our hearts at ERV.  Is this rational?  Probably not. (Especially since we did not get MTV on our cable system until the following summer).  But there you have it.

Which brings us the Styx' "A.D. 1928 / Rockin' The Paradise," the 10th video played on MTV (yes, ever).  "A.D. 1928" is the piano and keyboard intro, while "Rockin' the Paradise" begins with the guitars (around 1:10 below).  The song is a good example of the band combining different musical styles, while the live (ish) video highlights the band's showmanship.

Styx are an interesting band and an unlikely success story.  The group formed in Chicago in the late 1960's and officially became Styx when they signed their first recording contract in 1972.  Originally a prog rock act, the band's style become progressively more pop rock during the 1970's, leading to their 1977 breakout, The Grand Illusion.

"Rockin' the Paradise" was off the group's 1981 Paradise Theater album, a concept album based on the opening and eventual closing of a theater in Chicago.  By this point, the tension between guitarists Tommy Shaw / James Young (who were more rock oriented) and keyboardist Dennis DeYoung (who was more pop ballad focused) was nearing a breaking point.  The conflict would eventually boil over during the 1983 Kilroy Was Here album and the group would break up the following year.

In spite of this, the Paradise Theater album would reach #1 on the charts, although "Rockin' the Paradise" surprisingly did not chart.  However, "The Best of Times" (#3) and "Too Much Time on My Hands" (#9) would both break the top 10.

Styx re-formed in 1989 (without Tommy Shaw, who was in Damn Yankees at the time), broke up in 1992, and reformed in 1995.  They remain together (with some personnel changes) as of this writing.

Tommy Shaw's solo video for "Girls With Guns" was posted on ERV in September 2013.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Katrina & The Waves - Do You Want Crying?

Although casual listeners may view Katrina & the Waves as an overnight success story and a one hit wonder, the truth is that they were neither.  In fact, this is the second time that they have been featured on ERV without their signature hit, 1985's "Walking on Sunshine." [The first time was when we posted The Bangles' cover of "Going Down to Liverpool," complete with Mr. Spock.]

The group formed in London in 1981 and was fronted by American ex-pat (and army brat) Katrina Leskanich.  Guitarist Kimberley Rew (the group's primary songwriter), Vince de la Cruz (Bass) and Alex Cooper (drums) rounded out the lineup.  Signed in Canada, the band released two records there before they finally scored a major deal with Capitol in 1985.

As a result of their previous work, the act's self-titled major label debut consisted primarily of reworked material - making it something of a greatest hits record.  The album would go on to become a major success, reaching #25 on the charts, led by the ever present (in the summer of 1985) "Walking on Sunshine," which peaked at #9.  However, "Do You Want Crying?" would also break the top 40 at #37, as would 1989's "That's the Way" (#16).

While Katrina & the Waves continued recording and touring in the 1990's, they did not have much in the way of major commercial success ... until a surprising win at the 1997 Eurovision song contest with "Love Shine a Light," which would go on to be a #3 smash in the U.K.  Sadly, this second period of success did not last, and the group broke up in 1998, though there have been occasional reunions in recent years.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

J. Geils Band - Come Back

ERV regulars will recall that we posted "Love Stinks" back in July 2012.  And our Facebook readers will note that we would have prefered to post "Just Can't Wait" here, but alas, no video appears to have been made for that song.  Fortunately, our second choice is still quite solid indeed.

"Come Back" is J. Geils at their danciest (not totally sure that this is a word, but let's go with it).  The song is clearly influenced by the popularity of Disco, and I suspect that means that lead singer Peter Wolf had a particularly large impact on the songwriting -- though officially virtually every song on the Love Stinks LP was co-written by Wolf and keyboardist Seth Justman.

"Come Back" ended up becoming the highest charting single off the Love Stinks album, reaching #32 (the title cut hit #38, while "Just Can't Wait" peaked at #78).  However, the video was not played as much as the insanity that is "Love Stinks," making this a bit of a rare one.

As many readers will know, the J. Geils Band story is a bit sad.  The band toiled as an overgrown bar band, gradually becoming a major act, before finally breaking out with 1982's Freeze Frame.  Success seemed to ruin the group, as Wolf left in 1983 to embark on a solo career.  The remaining member released one album (1984's You're Gettin' Even While I'm Gettin' Odd) before breaking up the following year.  However, there have been periodic reunions in recent years.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cinderella - Gypsy Road

When we posted Cinderella's "Shake Me" (back in December, 2011), we pointed out that the group was not a typical hair band.  While they looked the part, their sound was more bluesy hard rock than pop metal.  This became even more evident on their second LP, 1988's Long Cold Winter.

In spite of this, the strong songwriting (and general popularity of hard rock) led to continued success.  The album reached #10 on the charts, while 3 singles cracked the top 40.  Sadly, "Gypsy Road" was not one of them -- it peaked at #51.

The video for "Gypsy Road" was filmed in Yucatan, Mexico and features footage of the Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá (who says you can't learn anything from 1980's videos).  Although there is no direct connection between the song and Mexico, the video does a nice job of highlighting the vibe of the song.

Cinderella released one further platinum record (1990's Heartbreak Station) before changing musical tastes relegated the group to working band status.  They remain together to the present day -- with the original lineup, as drummer Fred Coury rejoined the act in 1996.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Rolling Stones - Undercover of the Night

The 1980's were tough on the Rolling Stones.  The group had been around for twenty years by the early part of the decade, an eternity in the music industry.  In addition, the punk, new wave, and metal scenes made their music seem old fashioned to many younger listeners.

To complicate matter further, Mike Jagger and Keith Richards had a fundamental disagreement over songwriting.  Jagger wanted to move in a more current dance/pop direction, while Richards wished to stay true to the roughed up blues sound that was the Stone's signature.  (For more on this, please see our earlier post for Keith Richards solo video, "Take It So Hard.")

The result was disjointed and mostly disappointing, though there was some solid material mixed in.  Sadly, much of this material was composed by either Richards or Jagger, due to the difficulty that they had in working together.

Which brings us to "Undercover of the Night," the lead single off the Stone's 1983 Undercover album.  The song was all Mick; supposedly Keith just showed up and played some guitar lines.  Jagger has since said that the concept for the song came from the William Burroughs novel Cities of the Red Night.

The video for "Undercover of the Night" was the first full-on production that the Stones released.  Directed by Julien Temple, the story was dark and violent -- in fact, Temple has said that he didn't believe that the band would use it.  MTV would only air an edited version of the vid (and only at night), but this did not seem to hurt sales.  The single would go on to hit #9 on the charts, while the album reached #4 (breaking a string of eight consecutive LPs to hit #1).  By the by, due to the violent imagery of the video, the band cut a second version, which is below.

As of this writing, the Stones remain mostly intact (bassist Bill Wyman left the group in 1993) and continue to  sporadically tour, although they have not released a new album since 2005's A Bigger Bang.

In the interests of completeness, here is the B version video of "Undercover:" (Not nearly as good as the original clip, in our opinion).

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ric Ocasek - Emotion in Motion

Back in September 2011, we posted Ric Ocasek's cool, quirky "Something to Grab For," off his first solo LP, 1982's Beatitude.  Four years later, Ocasek released his second solo album, This Side of Paradise. To my ear, this record sounds a bit tired (as in exhausted).  Of course, by this point the Cars had released five albums and the band was slowly coming undone.

Additionally, Ocasek and the Cars had transitioned from eccentric new wave songs to a more traditional pop sound.  The music wasn't bad at all, and it was lushly produced (no surprise, as Ocasek would go on to become a successful producer in the 1990's.)  However, it wasn't as sharp or interesting as their early material. (The first two Cars records are simply sensational in our opinion).

"Emotion in Motion" is the strongest cut off Ocasek's album, and it would go on to become his only top 40 hit as a solo artist (#15).  To be fair, The Cars also had 13 top 40 singles (and 3 #41s), so it's not like he didn't have a ton of success with his band.

The Cars released Door to Door in 1987 before breaking up.  Ocasek has remained in the industry and has released five albums since then, but has had little in the way of commercial success.  The Cars never did have a full reunion prior to Ben Orr's untimely death in 2000.

Note that The Cars "Since You're Gone" was posted on ERV in May 2014.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

U2 - A Celebration

Many years ago (before the internet), I was involved in a conversation where the topic of rare songs came up (shocking, I know).  One of the women at the gathering (whose name I never knew) stated that she had heard that there was a U2 song that the band had pulled for some reason or other.  I remember thinking that it sounded odd, and forgot all about it until we started ERV ... and I soon discovered that not only did this rare song exist, but that there was a rare video to go with it.

"A Celebration" was a non album single, recorded in 1982, between the October and War LPs.  U2 liked it enough to record a video for it, and played in regularly at concerts through 1983.  It then fell off the face of the earth -- the band didn't play it or support the song or video, and it did not even appear on any U2 compilation albums until 2004.  Note than in the days before digital music, leaving the song off an album was the kiss of death.

The reason for all of the controversy was due to a misinterpretation of the lyrics.  The lyrics "I believe in a third world war.  I believe in the atomic bomb." were meant to be darkly humorous, but they were apparently taken seriously, particularly in Europe.  In response and to avoid any confusion about where they stood, the band pulled the song, making it and the video rare (and therefore ideal for this blog).

The video for "A Celebration" was shot in the Kilmainham Jail in Dublin, and it shows the band in fine early form.  (And man, do they look young).  The song actually charted in the U.K. at #47, prior to the controversy, but it did not chart in the U.S.

Note that U2's "I Will Follow" was posted on ERV in August, 2014.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

L.A. Guns - The Ballad of Jayne

Best known as half of the inspiration for the Guns N' Roses name, L.A. Guns was a fixture on the Los Angeles hard rock scene in the 1980's, but never crossed over to big time mainstream success.  Lineup changes, and a sound that was more hard rock bar band than glam metal likely had something to do with this.

The band formed in 1983, and an early version of the group had Tracii Guns (born Tracy Ulrich) on guitar and W. Axl Rose on vocals.  Rose would leave to sing for Rapidfire and Hollywood Rose, before rejoining L.A. Guns, and the group was later renamed Guns N' Roses.  However, after a fight with Rose, Tracii Guns left Guns N' Roses and reformed L.A. Guns.  (Quite a tangled web, huh?)

L.A. Guns released their first major label record in 1988, and the LP did well, reaching #50 on the charts.  However, 1989's Cocked and Loaded did better, and hit #38 on the charts.  "The Ballad of Jayne" became the group's only top 40 hit at #33, making the band an official one hit wonder.

While 1991's Hollywood Vampires broke the top 50 on the album charts, the rise of grunge effectively ended any chance of L.A. Guns breaking out.  The band has continued as a working band  (with a ton of personnel changes) to the present day.  In fact, for much of the early 2000's, there were two version of L.A. Guns (one with Tracii Guns and one without).  In 2013 Tracii Guns broke up his version of the group, but I believe  that the second version is active as of this writing.

Cool trivia fact:  "The Ballad of Jayne" is about actress Jayne Mansfield, who was killed in a car accident in 1967.