Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Jam - Town Called Malice

The Jam were a popular, influential, and interesting band in Britain, but couldn't get arrested in America.  Between 1977 and 1982, the group had 18 top 40 U.K. singles and 6 top 25 LPs without any real success in the U.S.

The band formed in Woking (England) in the early 1970's, and burst onto the scene in 1977.  While their early work fit into the punk scene, they had a stronger melodic sense and more obvious 1960's soul influences than many of their contemporaries.  Over time, this soul sound became more pronounced, though they remained popular throughout this transition.

At peak of their popularity, singer/guitarist/songwriter Paul Weller decided to disband The Jam in order to form a full-on soul band, which led to the creation The Style Council in 1983.  When The Style Council's popularity faded, Weller ended that group in 1989 and has remained a solo artist to the present day.

"Town Called Malice" was off The Jam's last studio LP, 1982's The Gift.  The title was inspired by Nevil Shute's 1950 novel A Town Like Alice, though the content was not.  The contrast between an upbeat melody and more downbeat lyrics (reflecting the mood in Britain at the time) made the song a huge hit; it reached #1 on the British charts.

The video is all 1982 goodness, and shows the cool, mod-revival style that led to Weller's nickname "The Modfather."  We're particularly partial to the soft ultra-white lighting.

Cool trivia fact:  Not only did every Jam single break the top 40 in the U.K., but two import singles also charted (1981's "That's Entertainment" at #21 and 1982's "Just Who Is the 5 O'Clock Hero?" at #8).

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Bruce Cockburn - If I Had a Rocket Launcher

"If I Had a Rocket Launcher" was one of the more political songs to hit the charts during the 1980's.  The song was written by Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who built a successful career in his home country, but saw little mainstream success south of the Canadian border.

Cockburn was born in Ottawa and entered the music business in the late 1960's.  His big breakthrough was 1979's "Wondering Where the Lions Are" which led to an extended period of chart success in Canada.  Between 1979 and 1997, Cockburn had 8 top 40 singles (and another 12 songs that charted but did not break the top 40).  In contrast, only  "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" and "Wondering Where the Lions Are"  broke the top 100 in the U.S.

Interestingly, prior to 1984's Stealing Fire, Cockburn was not considered an unusually political songwriter, though his humanist and pacifist leanings were known to his fans.  However, an Oxfam sponsored trip to Central America underscored the troubles there, and led to much of the material on his album.  "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" was inspired by an actual event, where Cockburn saw Guatemalan refugees fired on by helicopters.

Although there was some controversy around the song -- particularly the last lyric, Cockburn has said that it is not a call for violence, but a cry for help.

"If I Had a Rocket Launcher" peaked at #88 in the U.S., while the Stealing Fire LP would reach #74.

Cool trivia fact:  Bruce Cockburn is a one hit wonder in the U.S.; only 1979's "Wondering Where the Lions Are" (#21) broke the top 40.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tora Tora - Walkin' Shoes

Tora Tora (named after the Van Halen song, not the movie) was a Memphis blues rock band that came close to a major breakout at the end of the 1980's.  The group consisted of Anthony Corder (vocals), Keith Douglas (guitar), Patrick Francis (bass), and John Patterson (drums).

After recording an independent EP, Tora Tora generated some local buzz, which led to a recording contract with A&M.  The band's debut LP, 1989's Surprise Attack reached #47 on the charts, while the single "Walkin' Shoes" hit #86, thanks in part to some airplay on MTV.  The band also landed a song ("Dancing With a Gypsy") on the soundtrack to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

However, Tora Tora's second album did not come out until 1992, right as grunge was changing the rock scene.  That album (Wild America) did not break the top 100, turning Tora Tora into more of a working band.  They were subsequently dropped by their label in 1994, after recording their third album (which was not released until 2011).  After losing their recording contract, the band broke up.

The group re-formed in 2008 and have been performing and releasing material since that time.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Commodores - Lady (You Bring Me Up)

A nearly perfect 1981 time capsule (right down to the short shorts and high socks), "Lady (You Bring Me Up)" captures the Commodores at the end of the Lionel Richie era, when they were still one of the biggest acts in pop/funk.

The group formed while at the Tuskegee Institute in the late 1960's, and signed with Motown Records in 1972.  They quickly rose to become one of the most popular acts in 1970's and early 1980's pop/funk; between 1975 and 1981 they had 10 top 30 LPs and 15 top 40 singles.  As many reader will know, the Commodores sound evolved over time, becoming more pop and less funk.  This migration to pop was driven by singer/songwriter Lionel Richie, which created tension in the band and ultimately led to Richie leaving in 1982.

In the aftermath of Richie's departure, the Commodores soldiered on as a working band, but without a ton of major commercial success.  Lionel Richie would of course go on to become a major pop star, before going into semi-retirement in 1987.

"Lady (You Bring Me Up)" became a #8 hit in 1981, while the In the Pocket LP would peak at #13.

Cool trivia fact:  The Commodores had great difficulty picking their name, and ultimately chose it by picking a name out of the dictionary.  This led the band to joke that they almost became known as the Commodes.

Cool trivia fact #2:  The group is looking at a Billboard magazine at the start of the video, and eagle eyed readers may notice the back page advertisement for Van Halen's Fair Warning album (our favorite Van Halen LP), which was released in April, 1981.

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) were 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.