Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cameo - Candy

So here's a handy tip from your friends at ERV:  If you see an eighties video and it features a red codpiece, then you're probably watching something by Cameo.  (This is especially true if the song is funky.)

We previously featured Cameo's smash "Word Up," which was the group's breakthrough song.  The second single off the Word Up LP was "Candy," and it would be the only other Cameo song to break the top 40 at #21.  In contrast, the band had a string of charting R&B songs from 1976 through the early 1990's.  Cameo had a remarkably long and interesting career, and managed to change with the times during the 1970's and 1980's.  It's a shame that they didn't have more crossover success, but that's the way it goes, sometimes.

The video for "Candy" was directed by Zbigniew RybczyƄski, using Times Square, New York (circa 1986) as the backdrop.  It was technically advanced for the time, with multiple images appearing one after another.  And yes, many of the images are wearing a red codpiece, starting 9 second in.  In our view, the video captures the energy, funkiness and strangeness of Cameo; we're fans of it.

As we mentioned on the "Word Up" post, Cameo had continued R&B success until the early 1990's, then faded from view.  Frontman Larry Blackmon remained in the industry as an A&R executive, though there have been occasional Cameo releases in recent years.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fischer-Z - So Long

Fischer-Z (named after two of Ronald Fisher's statistical formulas) was a quirky British new wave act.  The group had the potential to be akin to Talking Heads, even if Americans didn't pronounce the name correctly (Fisher's Zed, not Fisher Zee).  Mixing new wave, reggae and rock with interesting lyrics, the act became somewhat successful in Europe, but never enjoyed more than cult status in the U.K. and U.S.

The band was formed in London in 1978 by John Watts (vocals, guitars) and Steve Skolnik (keyboards), but it was really Watts' band from the get go.  They quickly signed to United Artists and released their debut album in 1979.  Their second LP, the wonderfully named Going Deaf for a Living (1980) built on their success in Europe, and the "So Long" single even reached #72 on the U.K. charts.

Skolnik quit after Going Deaf for a Living, but Watts released a strong follow up (1981's Red Skies Over Paradise) before deciding that he did not want to be constrained within a band.  (Even if it was his band).  Watts released three solo records before resurrecting the Fischer-Z name in 1987; he seems to have used both names during most of the ensuing years.

The video for "So Long" is awesome, in a totally 1980 sort of way.  Shots of the band playing are mixed with vintage cars and a Humphrey Bogart look-alike private eye (no relation to Hall & Oates).  The results are ... well, see for yourself:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sandy Stewart - Saddest Victory

Best-known for her collaborations with Stevie Nicks, Sandy Stewart is a singer/songwriter who could have become a successful pop star if the pieces had fallen into place.  The fact that she ended up as more of a musical footnote says more about the vagaries of the industry than her talent.

Stewart grew up in Houston, and met Stevie Nicks through a mutual friend when Stewart was trying to break into the industry.  Initially, Stewart was seeking some help writing lyrics for a song, but she soon partnered with Nicks and co-wrote three songs for Nick's 1983 LP, The Wild Heart. Two of those songs, "If Anyone Falls" (#14) and "Nightbird" (#33) broke the top 40.

Unsurprisingly, this led to a recording contract and Stewart's debut solo album, Cat Dancer, came out the following year.  Although "Saddest Victory" picked up a bit of airplay on MTV, neither the song nor the album charted.  A collaboration with Nile Rodgers for the soundtrack of White Nights followed in 1985 ("This Is Your Day").

In 1987, Stewart co-wrote the Fleetwood Mac song "Seven Wonders" (with Stevie Nicks), which would reach #19 on the charts.  While that was it for her major hits. Sandy Stewart remained in the industry, and has collaborated with Stevie Nicks several times in the intervening years.  Most recently, Stewart has been involved with the Purple Songs Can Fly organization, which helps pediatric cancer patients through music and songwriting.

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 countries.

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.