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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers - If We Never Meet Again

Your basic bar band made good (almost), Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers came onto the music scene in 1988 with their major label debut, Rumble.  Sounding like a mix of Bruce Springsteen and George Thorogood (with some 1950's rock and roll thrown in for good measure), the band was definitely cutting against the musical grain of the time.

The group formed in Philadelphia in the mid-1980's and released an independent record (Walking on the Water) in 1986.  They were signed to Columbia Records in 1988 and released two major label LPs before being dropped by the label.

"If We Never Meet Again" is off their 1988 major label debut.  The song picked up some radio play, though I do not recall seeing the video at the time.  The single never charted, while the Rumble album peaked at #103 on the charts -- the group's only charting record.

Conwell and The Young Rumblers disbanded soon after they were dropped by Columbia.  Conwell remained in the music business for a number of years, but never broke through.  In more recent years, he has taught third grade, was a DJ on WYSP (a Philadelphia rock station) and most recently is in the family's fence business.  He and the Young Rumblers continue to periodically perform, typically in the Philadelphia area.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Rod Stewart - Infatuation

Unlike most established rock stars, Rod Stewart embraced music videos, and he made several great ones during the 1980's.  Unfortunately, his music was not the strongest during this time (something that even he has admitted in recent years).  Even so, there are a few clips that stand out, and "Infatuation" is foremost among them.

The song comes off Stewart's 1984 Camouflage album.  The LP peaked at #18 in the U.S., while "Infatuation" hit #6.  It is not a terrible song, and is typical of the lightweight, somewhat commercial pop material that Stewart was recording in the 1980's.  However, the video is something else.

The music video was directed by Jonathan Kaplan, who is probably best-known for his 1988 film, The Accused.  Mostly taking place in an apartment complex (as a homage to Hitchcock's Rear Window), the vid features Stewart as a voyeur infatuated with a mobster's girlfriend (played by Kay Lenz).  Character actor Mike Mazurki rounds out the cast as the mobster's enforcer or bodyguard.

Shot primarily in black and white, the storytelling, camera shots, and connection to the song's lyrics made this a truly exceptional video, in your author's opinion.  Several scenes really jump out, including the intro in the pool, the goldfish feeding, and the scenes where Stewart dances in front of the oversized picture of the object of his affection.  And it has Jeff Beck, who brings his sizzling guitar with him.

Stewart would go on to have a long and successful career in the music business, though he did transition to something of a crooner in the 1990's.

Cool trivia fact:  There were two version of the video made.  In the one above, the mobster rides off with the girl.  In the second version, below, Stewart gets the girl (or maybe it is just in his head).


Cool trivia fact #2:  There is a solid interview with actress Kay Lenz at Noblemania.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mötley Crüe - Live Wire

Loud, brash, and borderline out-of-control, Mötley Crüe also created the pop metal template.  The band formed in 1981 in LA (of course), and were led by bassist Nikki Sixx (given name: Frank Feranna).  The original band consisted of Sixx, drummer Tommy Lee (given name: Thomas Lee Bass) and guitarist/singer Greg Leon.  When Leon left, Sixx and Lee replaced him with guitarist Mick Marrs (given name: Robert Deal) and singer Vince Neil (given name: Vincent Neil Wharton) and just like that, Mötley Crüe was born.

By combining hard rock with glam metal, Mötley Crüe stumbled upon a marketable formula.  This was helped by their solid hooks; some critics have compared the band to Cheap Trick, although I see a lot of Kiss influences as well.  The music and strong live shows would likely have made Mötley Crüe successful in any era, but the visuals proved to be a huge advantage in the MTV-led 1980's.  Unlike older hard rock bands (and even the New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts), Crüe embraced videos and became big stars as a result.

While the 1983 "Looks That Kill" video really propelled the band to hard rock stardom, we opted for their first major video, 1981's "Live Wire."  The band is not as polished as it would be in later efforts, but the vid shows a young, energetic band with some nice licks and a real understanding of visuals -- something that was often lacking in hard rock acts of the early 1980's.

Mötley Crüe would go on to sell 80 million units and have 6 top 10 LPs.  They would also have 6 top 40 hits during the 1980's, although "Live Wire" was not among them (it did not chart).  As of this writing, the band intends to go on a final tour and call it quits in 2015 or so.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Whispers - Rock Steady

The Whispers are an old school R&B act that formed in Los Angeles in 1964.  The band began regularly charting on the R&B charts (and occasionally hitting the singles charts) in 1969.  Their fortunes took a turn for the better in 1979, when the disco-influenced "And the Beat Goes On" went to #1 on the R&B charts and broke the top 40 at #19 on the singles charts.

"Rock Steady" was from the group's 1987 LP, Just Gets Better with Time.  This was the Whispers eighteenth studio album, and it became the second highest charting album of their career at #22  - only the band's self-titled 1979 album charted higher, at #6.

The video is a pretty standard performance piece, although the mustaches of Wallace (Scotty) and Walter Scott are prominently featured.  Sadly, "Rock Steady" was the last big hit of the Whispers' career, although they continue to record and perform to the present day.

Cool trivia fact:  "Rock Steady" was co-written by L.A. Reid and Babyface, who also produced the Just Gets Better with Time album (it was one of their first projects together).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fay Ray - Modern Lovers

Originally from Bangor, Wales, Fay Ray were a new wave act who made one really solid album before things went south.  The band was named after one of photographer William Wegman's Weimaraner dogs and was fronted by Sheila McCartney.  Other members of the band were John Lovering (guitar), Owen Hughes (drums), Tony Travis (bass), and Jeff Taylor (sax).

Fay Ray were sometimes lazily compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees, another British new wave band with a female lead singer.  However, they sounded quite different from Siouxsie, with a strong pop sense folded into their new wave sound.  This could have made them quite successful, had things broken their way a bit more.

The band released their debut album, Contact You, in 1982, but it did not chart.  They did make a couple of videos, and even picked up a bit of airplay on MTV.  However, Elektra/Warner dropped the band after the recording of their second LP, and refused to release the master tapes (!).  Fay Ray broke up soon afterwards, although they have re-formed in the early 2000's and are still occasionally active as of this writing.

"Modern Lovers" was off Contact You, and is a great driving new wave song with a cheap and colorful video to boot.  File this one under rare and really good.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Yes - Love Will Find A Way

There is little doubt that the 1980's were tough times for progressive rock acts.  In retrospect, rock audiences likely viewed the sound as dated; it certainly was out of synch with the major musical trends of the decade.

Yes bucked the trend, but at a cost; they more or less abandoned their art rock roots and turned into an arena rock band.  This is especially evident on the hugely successful 1983 album 90125 which scarcely sounds like a Yes record.

This change in style and personnel created a difficult working environment and Big Generator (the follow up to 90125) took 4 years to record.  The result is an album that is stylistically similar to 90125, even though producer Trevor Horn left early in the project.

"Love Will Find A Way" was the first single off Big Generator, and was written by Trevor Rabin.  Interestingly, Rabin wrote the song for Stevie Nicks, but when drummer Alan White heard it he convinced Rabin to keep it for Yes.  The result was a #30 hit, the penultimate Yes top 40 single ("Rhythm of Love" at #40 was the last one).

The musically differences that plagued Yes continued after Big Generator, as the group's next album (1991's Union) also took 4 years to record.  Since then the group has continued to record and tour in different permutations, and many members of the band have also participated in other musical projects.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Tourists - Don't Say I Told You So

The Tourists formed in 1975 and were originally a three member band called The Catch.  By 1977, they had become a five piece act and renamed themselves as The Tourists.  Although the group would release three top 75 LPs in the U.K and have four top 40 hits between 1977 and 1980, they would never quite break through.

Part of the issue was the band's sound, as they were viewed by fans and critics alike as a 1960's-influenced  power pop band.  Additionally, there were significant artistic differences among the band's members that would lead to the act's demise after only a few short years.

In the U.S., The Tourists barely made a dent in the market -- although their 1979 cover of "I Only Want to Be with You" did chart at #83.

"Don't Say I Told You So" was off the group's 1980 album, Luminous Basement, and was the third (and last) album that the band recorded.  The song reached #40 on the U.K. singles chart (the last charting single by the band), while the album peaked at #75.  The album was clearly influenced by the emerging new wave scene, but the band's pop image was likely one reason for the breakup.


And in the interests of burying the lead, it should be pointed out that The Tourists were particularly noteworthy as the group that Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox were in before they formed Eurythmics.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Owen Paul - My Favourite Waste of Time

Rare video (especially in the U.S.) - check
Cover of a song by a great, underrated songwriter - check
Solid pop song with a great hook - check

And with that, let's check out Owen Paul's cover of "My Favourite Waste of Time."  Paul ended up as a U.K. one hit wonder; while this song went to #3 on the charts, he did not have another charting single.  Sadly, both Paul and this song are mostly unknown outside of the U.K.

Owen Paul (born Owen Paul McGee in Glasgow, Scotland) reportedly decided to go into the music business after hearing the Sex Pistols.  How that path led him to well-crafted power pop is anybody's guess.  At any rate, he released several singles after "My Favourite Waste of Time," none of which charted and eventually became a producer in the later part of the decade.  In 1989, he produced the Taboo album for the Japanese rock group Buck-Tick.  During the marketing efforts for the album, he got into a dispute with the record label, and left the industry for 15 years.

Since 2002, Paul has returned to recording and performing, mostly in the U.K. and Europe.


As was alluded to above, "My Favourite Waste of Time" is a cover of a Marshall Crenshaw song.  Crenshaw is a seriously underrated songwriter who should have become more successful in my opinion.  This song was a demo recording that was used as the B side of Crenshaw's one hit, 1982's "Someday Someway."

In recent years, "My Favourite Waste of Time" has been covered by Freedy Johnston, Bette Midler, and Ronnie Spector.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Billy Squire - Rock Me Tonight

Eighties Rare Videos is filled with rare and semi-rare videos of great bands that never quite made it.  But we also like a great story, and the tale of how Billy Squier supposedly ruined his career with a terrible video is just too good for us to pass up.

Billy Squier, the pride of Wellesley, Massachusetts, had a long road to rock stardom.  He began performing in bands in 1969, and finally signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist in 1980.  His breakthrough came on his second LP, 1981's Don't Say No, which went triple platinum and peaked at #5 on the U.S. album charts.

By 1984, Squier was a well-established rock star, with two top 5 LPs and 3 top 40 hits ... which makes the "Rock Me Tonight" video all the more inexplicable.  To be honest, I just thought of it as a terrible music video, but in recent years, it has become legendary in scope (and has been requested more than once by our readers).  The story really took after after it was featured in the 2011 Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks book, I Want My MTV.  During their research for the book, they found that the video was generally viewed as the worst major video ever made, and that it essentially ruined Billy Squier's career.  In fact, they devote an entire chapter of their book to "Rock Me Tonight."

In reality, the video was not played much on MTV, as the station realized what Squier's management and label didn't (namely, that is was effeminate and suckie).  Ironically, the song ended up being the highest charting single of Squier's career at #15, and the album also did well at #11.  While Squire had 4 more charting singles and two top 75 albums in the 1980's, his period of major commercial success was over.  In my view, the video didn't help but probably was not the major cause for Squier's fall in popularity (in general, rock stars have a limited shelf life).

However, "Rock Me Tonight" is a genuinely terrible (and unintentionally hilarious) video:


Billy Squire continued recording albums through the mid-1990's and remains occasionally active as a performer as of this writing.