Friday, October 24, 2014

Alice Cooper - He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)

What better way to continue our Halloween celebration than with Alice Cooper.  Cooper (born Vincent Furnier) emerged on the scene in the 1970's with the band of the same name (in fact, Cooper took the band's name on as his own).  As a cool aside, the name Alice Cooper supposedly came to the group during a session with a Ouija board.

After the act broke up in 1974, Cooper continued as a solo artist, although his success waned during the late 1970's and early 1980's due to weaker material and alcohol abuse.  By the mid-1980's, Cooper had cleaned up his act, and revitalized his career by providing a song for the Friday the 13th, Part VI movie soundtrack.  "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" also appeared on Cooper's 1986 Constrictor LP.  The single went to #56 on the charts, while the album reached #59.

This success helped to re-establish Cooper as a flamboyant rock star, and he has continued to record and perform to the present day.  He also expanded into movies and radio -- his syndicated radio program, Nights With Alice Cooper has been on the air since 2004 and is well worth a listen (or three).

The video below highlights Alice Coopers showmanship.  This, combined with clips from the movie, make it a superb holiday treat.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ray Parker, Jr. - The Other Woman

Well, it's that time of year again at ERV, when we kick back and jam on some Hallloweeny videos, including the awesome rare clip below.  Regular readers will recall that we love Halloween at ERV, and post a trio of videos each year that capture the holiday spirit, without resorting to to the laziness of "Thriller" or "Ghostbusters."

Speaking of "Who ya gonna call," Ray Parker, Jr. kicks of the All Hallows Even videos this year with his underrated funk pop song, "The Other Woman."  Ray Parker's early success was with his band Raydio, who had four top 50 LPs and 5 top 40 singles between 1978 and 1981.  The group was texbook pop funk, and are recommended by ERV.

Raydio broke up in 1981, as Parker wanted to go out of his own, and "The Other Woman" was his first solo single, off the 1982 album of the same name.  The song was a hit, reaching #4 on the charts (I have to admit that this surprised me; I did not think that it had done this well).  While Parker scored a #1 hit with "Ghostbusters" in 1984, in general his solo career was uneven, and he faded from view after 1990.  However, he remains in the industry is appears to be active as of this writing.

The video for "The Other Woman" fits perfectly into our theme, with vampires, skeletons, graveyards, a spooky saxaphone player, and the ubiquitous Frankenstein butler.  Oh, and there is definitely a Blacula reference (how freaking cool is that?)  The video may not make a ton of sense, but it gets a thumbs up from us.  It's also a great way to start this year's All Hallows Even celebration -- we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Animotion - Obsession

We continue our series of songs that you didn't know were covers with Animotion's 1985 hit, "Obsession."  This song was originally written by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight (more on them in a moment).

Animotion was a San Francisco-based band that was mainly comprised of former members of the Sci-Fi rock band Red Zone.  The six member band was also notable for having co-lead singers -- Astrid Plane and Bill Wadhams.  Their 1985 self-titled debut LP reached #28 on the charts, led by "Obsession," which would go on to become a #6 hit for them.  Unfortunately, lineup changes and weaker material would hurt the band, though they did release three major label albums before their 1989 break up.

The video for "Obsession" is a nice set up for our forthcoming All Hallows Even celebration; it looks like a cool mid-1980's costume party in California.  MTV loved the vid and it went into heavy rotation for quite some time in 1985, which no doubt helped the song.



As previously mentioned, the original version was written and performed by Michael Des Barres and Holly Knight and was featured in the 1983 movie A Night in Heaven.  By the by, Holly Knight has been previously mentioned on ERV (we now have a tag for her) as a big time songwriter.  There is more on her on the posts for John Waite's "Change" and  Lou Gramm's "Just Between You and Me" ... and yes, she wrote both of those songs too.



Cool trivia fact:  Animotion is not a one hit wonder, as 1985's "Let Him Go" (#39) and 1989's "Room to Move" (#9) both broke the top 40.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

House Of Lords - I Wanna Be Loved

House of Lords was actually the continuation of keyboardist Gregg Giuffria's solo band (creatively called Giuffria).  Giuffria actually had a modecum of success, including a #15 hit in "Call to Your Heart" and two additional charting singles -- "Lonely in Love" and a cover of Mink Deville's "I Must Be Dreaming."

In spite of their modest success, the band was without a recording contract after their second LP.  The demos intended for the third record caught the ear of Gene Simmons (of KISS fame), who signed the group with two conditions:  that the band's name and lead singer be changed.  Hence, Giuffria became House of Lords and singer James Christian took over for David Glen Eisley.

To my ear, House of Lords sounds a bit heavier than Giuffria, although they remained solidly in the commercial pop metal segment.  "I Wanna Be Loved" sounds very Whitesnake-influenced, which might not have been the worst sound to go for in 1988.  In any event, the song would go on to chart at #58, while the band's debut album would reach #78 on the charts.

The video mimics the sound of the band, and is pretty typical pop metal stuff -- not terrible, but not groundbreaking either.  House of Lords would go on to release two additional records before breaking up in 1993.

The group has re-formed several times since 2004, mostly without Gregg Giuffria, who seems to have more or less left the industry.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Knack - I Want Ya

Rock and roll's equivalent to a shooting star, the Knack burst onto the scene in 1979 with their massively successful debut, Get the Knack.  That album went to #1 for 5 weeks and reached double platinum status.  However, in spite of their success (or perhaps because of it), the band quickly fell out of favor with the listening public and broke up just two short years later.

The group formed in Los Angeles in 1978 and were led by singer/guitarist Doug Fieger.  Guitarist Berton Averre, bassist Prescott Niles, and drummer Bruce Gary rounded out the original lineup.  Although the Knack were lazily compared to the Beatles, they were a pure power pop group, closer to Badfinger.  There was nothing fancy about the Knack; the wrote straight up songs (mostly about sex), but they were really good pop rock tunes.  In retrospect, their immediate success meant that many listeners viewed them as a fad, but the Knack created a catalog of strong material, much of it after their debut record.  Unfortunately, egos, stress, and just bad luck torpedoed their career.

The Knack reunited for the first time in 1986, and worked together on and off through 2010.  They even released another solid album in 1991, Serious Fun.  Sadly, in 2006 Doug Fieger became disoriented during a show and it was eventually determined that he had brain cancer.  Fieger passed away in 2010, marking an official end to the band.

For the blog, we went with "I Want Ya" off 1980's ... But the Little Girls Understand (named after a line from Willie Dixon's "Backdoor Man.")  I don't believe that the song was released as a single, and the album reached #15 and went gold, which was considered a disappointment after Get the Knack.  "I Want Ya" is classic Knack; fun, well-crafted, and eminently listenable.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Morris Day and The Time - Jungle Love

With his larger-than-life persona, humor, and style Morris Day was the perfect frontman for The Time.  He was also a tremendous foil for Prince in Purple Rain, but had a tough time translating that to continued commercial success.

The Time began as a Prince side project and provided an outlet for some of his funkier music as he transitioned to rock and pop.  He created the group in 1981, and filled it with talented members of the Minneapolis funk scene, including Morris Day, a childhood acquaintance (who also co-wrote "Partyup" on the Dirty Mind LP).  Most of The Time came from a preexisting R&B act called Flyte Time, which included Jellybean Johnson on drums, Jimmy Jam and Monte Moir on keyboards, and Terry Lewis on bass.  With Morris Day and Jesse Johnson (guitars), the group was complete.

Though The Time released three top 50 albums in the early 1980's, there were issues with Prince from the start.  First, Prince played all of the music on their albums and required that Morris Day sing the songs note-for-note as Prince intended.  There were also problems concerning the pay and the treatment of the band; by 1984 The Time had broken up.

"Jungle Love" may be The Time's best-known song; it reached #20 on the singles chart in 1984.  It is a straight up funk jam that is captured quite well in Purple Rain.  Though it is not the rarest of the rare, it has become something of a forgotten classic.

There have been several Time reunions, starting in 1990 for the Graffiti Bridge movie soundtrack.  The group is currently together, and has been working under the name The Original 7ven since 2001.

video


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.