Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Greg Kihn Band - Reunited

Greg Kihn followed up the success of 1983's "Jeopardy" (featured on ERV during our 2013 All Hallows Even extravaganza) with another catchy pop/rock song, "Reunited."  Unfortunately, the song and video did not gain traction on our favorite music video channel.  In fact,  "Reunited" did not break the top 100, while the Kihntagious album stalled at #121.

In retrospect, this is less surprising, as MTV was continuing to look for the next new thing, and Kihn's brand of straight up rock and roll may have seemed too basic.  However, "Reunited" is a totally solid song, and the video was an entertaining remake of The Wizard of Oz.

Without MTV's support, Kihn's success waned, although his 1985 LP, Citizen Kihn did reach #51 (led by the #30 single "Lucky").  However, that was his last charting alum.  Kihn continued to release albums on a regular basis through the 1990's (releases have been less regular since then), and became a DJ on San Jose's KFOX radio station for 12 years, ending in 2012.

As an extra bonus, we found a short feature on the making of "Reunited"


Cool trivia fact:  Joe Satriani was briefly a member of the Greg Kihn Band (in 1986) before he left to embark on a solo career.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Information Society - What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)

Information Society could have easily become big stars if things had broken their way just a bit more.  The band's sound was early 1980's synth pop meets late 1980's techno, which could have made them the perfect dance band to transition into the 1990's.  However, things didn't work out that way, and they ended up having a brief period of success in the late 1980's before fading from view.

The group formed in Minneapolis and the core consisted of James Cassidy, Paul Robb, and Kurt Harland (Valaquen).  The band's name came from Ingsoc (newspeak for English Socialism) from the Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.  In fact, the band's debut EP was called The InSoc EP (and came out in 1983).

However, it was Information Society's self-titled 1988 LP that catapulted them onto the scene, led by "What's on Your Mind."  The song plays like an updated early 1980's synth pop gem and became a huge hit, reaching #3 on the charts, while the album hit #25.  Surprisingly, "Walking Away" also broke the top 10, though I only vaguely remember it.  By the by, the band also had a third top 40 hit with 1990's "Think."

After the group's big breakthrough, their popularity steadily waned in the 1990's and they officially broke up in 1997, before reforming in 2006.

Cool trivia fact:  As many readers will know, "What's on Your Mind" sampled two Star Trek lines, including Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) saying "It's worked so far, but we're not out yet!" in the intro and (of course) Mr. Spock's (Leonard Nimoy's) "Pure energy" line used in the chorus.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AC/DC - Flick Of The Switch

As regular readers know, sometimes outside events influence ERV, and sadly today is one of those days.  Earlier today, AC/DC announced that longtime guitarist Malcolm Young would be taking a break from the band due to illness.  Considering that Malcolm and his brother Angus have been the only constant members of the band since its 1973 founding, this is likely to be bad news.  So this clip goes out to Malcolm, his family and the boys in the band with our thanks.

AC/DC built a career on straightforward, anthemic rock.  While some albums were stronger than others, the basic formula and style of the band has remained relatively constant since its founding.

The group formed in Australia in 1973, with Malcolm Young on rhythm guitar and his brother Angus on lead guitar.  Singer Bon Scott, bassist Mark Evans and drummer Phil Rudd rounded out the lineup.  From the start, AC/DC was a powerful live act whose songs were minimalist and power chord driven.  Over time, the band refined their songwriting which led to several strong albums, most notably 1980's Back in Black, one of the highest selling LPs of all time.

For the blog, we went with a rarer clip -- the title song from the band's 1983 LP, "Flick of the Switch."  This is the first album with Simon Wright on drums (Phil Rudd was fired during the recording sessions due to drug and alcohol problems but rejoined the band in 1994).  The only other change from the original lineup was Brian Johnson on vocals (Bon Scott died in 1980).

The clip was made during rehearsals for AC/DC's 1983 Flick of the Switch tour.  The video was filmed in an airplane hanger while the band was really rehearsing -- the group gave the film crew total access, on the condition that the shoot was finished in one day.  The result is a simple, effective video that fits well with the music.

Although the Flick of the Switch LP was considered something of a disappointment, the album hit #15 on the charts and went platinum.  While the group never topped Back in Black, they have remained a popular act long after most of their contemporaries have faded from the scene.  As one example, their last album (2008's Black Ice) hit #1 on the album charts and sold 2 million units in the U.S.  Not too shabby for a band that had been around for 35 years at that point.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Huey Lewis and the News - Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)

This one goes out to long time reader Sam, who recommended it when we posted the last Huey Lewis and the News video, for "Workin' For A Livin'" in December 2013.  (We have also posted "Heart and Soul" in October 2011 as part of our first All Hallows Even celebration.)

"Some of My Lies Are True (Sooner or Later)" was off the 1980 self titled debut for Huey Lewis and the News.  The album was released just after the band changed its name (from Huey Lewis and the American Express) after Chrysalis Records expressed concern over the threat of lawsuits from the financial services company.  Sadly, neither the album nor the single charted, although I think that things turned out just fine for Huey and the band.

To my ear, this is the most new wave-influenced song from the band, and I don't think that they had quite found their sound.  However, I really like it.  Huey Lewis and the News always had a strong pop sensibility, but I especially enjoyed the songs where they showed their bar band roots and just rocked out a little.

The video is a classic and rare early clip, with the band playing on a beach (in Northern California, I presume).  I particularly like that the folks at MTV put the wrong song down (for "Don't Ever Tell Me That You Love Me," which was a different song off the same LP).

I also found an alternate version of the video (and song), for folks who are interested.

Cool trivia fact:  A remixed version of Some of My Lies Are True" was released in 1986 as the B side to the "Hip to Be Square" single, and generated a bit of airplay at that time.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Patty Smyth - Never Enough

In some ways, it is surprising that Patty Smyth didn't become a big star in the 1980's.  Of course, ERV is littered with talented bands who never became big, big stars due to bad timing or just plain old back luck.  In Smyth's case there is unsurprisingly some of each.

Patty Smyth got her start in Scandal, who were featured on ERV for the "Love's Got A Line On You" video (and demo) in November, 2013.  Scandal flirted with success, but only recorded one top 40 single prior to breaking up in 1984.  Smyth then passed on joining Van Halen as the replacement for David Lee Roth, as she was pregnant with her first child (with then-boyfriend Richard Hell).  She did sing on the Hooters 1985 LP Nervous Night (on "Where Do the Children Go") before finally releasing her first solo album in 1987.

The Never Enough album reached #66 on the charts, while the single of the same name climbed to #61.  Smyth's 1992 eponymous second album did somewhat better, helped by two top 40 singles ( "Sometimes Love Just Ain't Enough" [with Don Henley] and "No Mistakes.")  After the 1992 album, Smyth wrote a few songs for movie soundtracks before fading from view.  In recent years, she has been a bit more active, and there was even a Scandal reunion in 2004 (and a new album in 2008).

The video for "Never Enough" is pretty standard fare, but it is still totally enjoyable.  In addition, it's a (reworked) cover of a song by Baby Grand.  (Baby Grand?)  Baby Grand featured Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman (who would go on to form the Hooters in 1980).  The group released two LPs in the 1970's but obviously did not break through.  Here is the Patty Smyth version:


And the Baby Grand original:


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Whodini - Magic's Wand

Brooklyn rappers Whodini were pioneers in the emerging New York rap scene, and are especially notable for their musical approach, which combined R&B with rapping.  As a result, many critics credit the band with laying the groundwork for the New Jack Swing genre that took off at the end of the decade.

The group consisted of Jalil Hutchins and Ecstasy (John Fletcher).  From 1986 on, the act also included DJ Grandmaster Dee (Drew Carter).  The group originally formed when DJ John "Mr. Magic" Rivas asked an intern (Jalil Hutchins) to write a song for the Rap Attack show (originally on WHBI, then on WBLS in New York).  Hutchins wrote and recorded a song, but decided that he needed another voice, and asked Ecstasy (a rival rapper) to join him.  "Magic's Wand" became the theme song for the Rap Attack show and eventually led to a recording contract for Hutchins and Ecstasy.

The act was named Whodini due to the single "Magic's Wand".  Interestingly, Thomas Dolby co-produced the band's debut record on Jive Records -- Dolby had become interested in rap, as many early artists used electronic music, and Dolby had sent a demo recording to Jive Records, who proceeded to hook him up with Whodini.  Small world, huh?

The video for "Magic's Wand" was one of the first rap videos made, but did not receive much airplay on MTV.  Along the same lines, the group picked up airplay on urban stations but never crossed over, and saw their popularity decline during the 1980's, hurt by management and label changes.  While Whodini's output dropped over the years, they remain together and still perform as of this writing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Altered Images - Happy Birthday

Altered Images were shooting stars in their native Britain, but barely made a dent in the U.S. market.  The Scottish new wave act released 3 top 30 LPs in the U.K. between 1981 - 83 and scored 9 charting singles, including 6 top 40 hits.  However, in the U.S., I don't believe that they had a charting song or album -- the closest thing the band had to a hit was 1982's "I Could Be Happy," which reached #45 on the Dance charts.

The group formed in 1979 and was led by frontwoman Clare Grogan, who also acted (more on that later).  The band was helped by two influential U.K. artists --   Siouxsie and the Banshees (who received a demo tape and liked it enough to have the band open for them on a few dates) and John Peel (the famous Radio One DJ) who had them on his show a couple of times, which led to an Epic Records recording contract.

"Happy Birthday" obviously caught someone's attention on MTV, as the video did manage to pick up some airplay on the channel.  Interestingly, the song is somewhat atypical of the band's music, as most of the songs on the group's debut album (also called Happy Birthday) are a bit darker.  Still, it comes off as a decent new wave/pop song, and one of the better rock birthday songs recorded.

Although Altered Images remained successful, multiple lineup changes seemed to wear on Grogan, and the band broke up in 1983.  Grogan would go on to have a successful career in acting, appearing mostly in British TV shows (notably Red Dwarf and EastEnders).  Some readers may also recall that she had a starring role in the 1981 Scottish coming-of-age film Gregory's Girl, a film that gets ERV's stamp of approval.

Cool trivia fact:  Altered Images are named after the Dutch design firm that did the artwork for the Buzzcocks 1978 "Promises" / "Lipstick" 45 (Single, for our younger readers).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Georgia Satellites - Battleship Chains

This is the Satellites second appearance on ERV, as the band's one big hit "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" was featured in July 2012.  "Battleship Chains" was the second single off the group's debut LP and it became a minor hit, reaching #86 on the charts.  The song was written by Terry Anderson, who was not a member of the group.  Interestingly, Anderson also wrote "I Love You Period" which hit #26 in 1992, becoming Dan Baird's only solo top 40 hit (Baird was the lead singer and guitarist for the Satellites).  Unlike most of the Satellites' songs, "Battleship" featured guitarist Rick Richards on lead vocals instead of Baird.

In contrast to "Keep Your Hands to Yourself," "Battleship Chains" is further up the rock spectrum, more Stones than Skynyrd.  In fact, that is one of the impressive aspects of the band -- they produced self-consciously retro music that was also fresh, and encompassed musical influences as diverse as the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin.  While their music was viewed as something of a curiosity in the 1980's, it has aged better than many of their contemporaries.

The black and white video starts with a scratchy record into and then intersperses shots of pawn shops and pools halls with the band.  It is damn near pitch perfect, in our humble opinion.  This is a band that should be listened to at a BBQ joint with some ribs and cold beer.  Sadly, this cutting against the grain approach made it hard for the band to maintain a high level of commercial success, and they broke up in 1990, after two follow up LPs failed to gain traction (See the "Keep Your Hands to Yourself" post for more info on the band's history.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Utopia - Feet Don't Fail Me Now

The story of Utopia is intertwined with Todd Rundgren, but the band evolved over time to become more than just an outlet for Rundgren's more adventurous music.  Fresh off his pop successes, Rundgren formed Utopia (originally called Todd Rundgren's Utopia) in 1973 to perform progressive rock.  By 1977, the band membership stabilized with Rundgren (guitar), Kasim Sulton (bass), Roger Powell (keyboards) and Willie Wilcox (drums), and this lineup would remain until the group disbanded.

The consistent lineup helped Utopia to become a real group, and by the early 1980's they had a sound that was somewhat distinct from Rungdren's, helped by the fact that other members wrote and sang material.  Unfortunately the group had label problem, which likely limited their commercial success.  It also didn't help that they were viewed as a progressive rock band at a time when that segment was seen as out of date.

In spite of these issues, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" was a minor hit for the band, charting at #82, while the self-titled album peaked at #84.  The song and album were undoubtedly helped by the video, which went into heavy rotation on MTV for a while, due to its avant garde (at the time) vision of the band members as insects.

Unfortunately, Utopia was not able to really break through, and Rundgren broke up the band in 1986, though there have been periodic reunions since then.

Note that Todd Rundgren made an appearance on ERV for his underrated 1982 solo single, "Hideaway."

Cool trivia fact:  The song title refers to the "feets don't fail me now" catch phrase that dates back to the early 20th century vaudeville and chitlin' circuit performances, but its exact origins are unknown.

Cool trivia fact #2: Utopia is an official one hit wonder, as only 1980's "Set Me Free" (#27) broke the top 40 on the singles charts.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Lenny Kravitz - Let Love Rule

I think of Lenny Kravitz as a 1990's artist, but like Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, his first album came out in 1989.  Unlike Nine Inch Nails, Kravitz' music has a definite retro vibe; he has basically made a living with updated late 1960's/early 1970's rock and funk.  As a result, critics have panned his music as derivative.  While there is an element of truth to this, it is also unfair -- Kravitz' music has classic rock influences, but there are also modern touches, something that led to significant commercial success in the 1990's.

"Let Love Rule" was from Kravitz debut album of the same name, and it became his first charting single, at #89.  The album peaked at #61 and remains (as of this writing), Kravitz' only non-top 40 album of his entire career.  Interestingly, Kravitz has only had 4 top 40 singles, and "Are You Gonna Go My Way" was not one of them (it somehow failed to break the top 100 in the U.S.).

The video for "Let Love Rule" was directed by Lenny Kravitz' then-wife, Lisa Bonet (they divorced in 1993).  The home movie feel and use of kids was highly effective in my view and presented Kravitz as a modern hippie -- something that he didn't really shake until the success of 1993's "Are You Gonna Go My Way."

While "Let Love Rule" was a modest hit in the U.S., it really launched Kravitz in Europe, and he remains the rare artist who is probably more successful outside of his home country.

Cool trivia fact:  The video for "Let Love Rule" was nominated for MTV's best new artist award, but he didn't win -- Michael Penn did for "No Myth," which was featured on ERV in November 2012.