Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Smashing B-Side Covers

The first time I heard the paranoiac cover of The Cars' "You're All I've Got Tonight" was in the movie The Saint, in a car chase scene, where it, all three seconds of it, was heard blaring in the bad guys' SUV, while hunting down Val Kilmer and a square, yet buxomy Elizabeth Shue. I had no inkling it was a Pumpkins cover, until I scanned the soundtrack credits at the flick's end.
Not bad.

Covers are pretty much hit or miss. Usually the latter. But once in a blue moon, there's that one cover that actually works. Of the grunge-era bands that came and went, I still share an affinity to a handful. The late lamented Alice In Chains, though more rock in a traditional sense, "Rooster" still holds water to this day (which is why I surmise its inclusion in Terminator Salvation). Of course, the pre-podium preaching Eddie Vedder-led Pearl Jam (only up 'til Vs., the rest all goes downhill), and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Usually filler material, or bonus tracks, if you wish, covers are merely spur-of-the-moment jams the band unconsciously compelled out of the blue; at times, they're conscious efforts, sometimes to great effect, and sometimes, not.
Corgan and company saw it fit to cover The Cars, Alice Cooper ("Clones (We're All)"), even Missing Persons' "Destination Unknown" and The Cure's "A Night Like This" as bonus tracks to their "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" single from their double album Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness.

To compare the covers with their originals is moot point, and an exercise in futility; as the former almost always pales in comparison to the latter. But once in a while, there are the exceptions to the rule.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Man Who "Saved" Fleetwood Mac

"He's the guy who saved Fleetwood Mac," said lanky drummer and usually jovial Mick Fleetwood once in the 70's. Naysayers will digress and disagree, but at a certain point in its history, Bob Welch may have achieved just that. After the Peter Green-helmed blues-based band named after its drummer and bassist respectively ran a spell of misfortunes, such as member departures, and member dillusions, in stepped Welch to save the day. Though fleeting, he had made his mark, for the Mac, as well as for himself.

Bob Welch's French Kiss was one of '77's delightful surprises.
Snazzing up an already classic ballad, Welch proceeded to "Sentimental Lady" a refreshing shot-in-the-arm, so to speak; the once languid hit was now given some Pop sheen, with a little production chores help provided by former Mac bandmates Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, offering a brittle soundwash and crystalline production sparkle.
Earcandy perfection.

Save for the hit single, and an evocative "Ebony Eyes," French Kiss traversed between semi-hard rock and disco-ish pop, an album originally slated for release as Welch's third offering under the name Paris, Welch's previous band after leaving Mac.
With enough muscle to duke it out with other bands of that time such as Boston, and pop sense to keep the competition at bay, French Kiss is definitely one for the ages.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Crawl, don't run

Transplanting herself from her native tumbleweed town of Akron, Ohio to the burgeoning blast that was the up and coming London Punk scene in the late 70's, Chrissie Hynde was, as the saying goes, in the right place, at the right time. Tiring of her journalistic chores behind a typewriter, and behind the scene, she did the next best thing and formed her own band named after an old American doo-wop group, and became part of the explosive Punk scene.

The Pretenders struck a nerve in the melee of a mostly alpha male-dominated scene, hooking up with the talented Brit guitarmeister James Honeyman-Scott, bassist Pete Farndon, who both lamentably have left us for the great gig in the sky, and drummer Martin Chambers, to produce some of the most off-kilter, yet thoroughly engaging sometimes Poppish, with a nervous Punk edge-like sound, that divulged a talent beyond the usual three-chord approach of their snarly, piss-drunk peers.

Having gotten past the passing of Jimmy and Pete, Hynde trooped on with pick-up sessioners Billy Bremner, Rockpile guitarist and of Brinsley Schwarz fame, and Big Country bassist Tony Butler, filling in temporarily; until Chrissie finally settled on guitarist Robbie McIntosh and bassist Malcolm Foster, rounding out the Pretenders line-up for 1983's Learning To Crawl.

Doing away with the weird and wirey time signatures that gave those early Pretenders cuts from their first("The Phone Call" and "Tattooed Love Boys") and second ("The Adultress") albums that frenetic, oft times, paranoid appeal, Hynde concentrated on a more conventional and personal, method of songwriting for Crawl.

Showing off a different angle to her talent, Chrissie, together with Bremner and Butler, churned out two scintillating cuts that showcased this new approach, featured succinctly on "Back On The Chain Gang," with Bremner's resounding guitarwork ringing and chiming, with Butler's solidly elastic basswork grounding "My City Was Gone" right in the gut.

McIntosh and Foster contribute equally as magnificent as their predecessors, rocking out on "Middle Of The Road," Chrissie's ode to pre-midlife crisis ("I'm not the cat I used to be, I got a kid, I'm thirty-three, baybehhhh..") as well as rave-ups like "Thumbellina" and the straight low-brow rocker "Time The Avenger." Her choice of cover, The Persuaders' "Thin Line (Between Love And Hate)," featuring Squeeze's Paul Carrack on piano, showed a newfound maturity borne out of motherhood, and her stormy relationship with head Kink Ray Davies.

But the most engaging cut on Crawl has got to be "Show Me," a heartfelt ode to her newborn, that's both cautionary tale and hopefully inspiring prayer.

Welcome to the human race
With its wars, disease and brutality
You with your innocence and grace
Restore some pride and dignity
To a world in decline

There's been tons of creative output from Hynde that followed, yet Learning To Crawl was a sort of starting point; a touchstone for a unique talent yet flourishing in brash, fruitful abandon.

Cheeky Bastards

It was the worldwide thump; the resounding kick in the ass to the music scene that heralded the rise of Punk. Minus all the complacent and bloated excess of rockstardom, with all the chewed-up fat trimmed off, and just barebones rhythm and sheer, belligerent power, the way rock n' roll's supposed to be, the Sex Pistols were the shite.

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols was not exactly the purported death knell for Rock, as we knew it; it merely jogged our senses, presented possibilities, and brought everything back to its roots, a combined sort of evolution/devolution, if there was one, or such a thing.

The Pistols, singer/sneerist and King of the staredown Johnny Rotten (John Lydon), guitarist/sometime petty thug (now celebrated LA DJ) Steve Jones, bassist (and big Beatles fan) Glen Matlock and drummer Paul Cook, not only kicked in the doors of the Rock establishment, but trashed the entire edifice in the process. Bollocks lived up to its name, not for its lack of scope nor direction, but because it was so full of itself, and of potential promise; a twisted, yet inspiring beacon of sorts for other bands to follow, in true if-they-can-do-it-so-can-we Punk ethos.

Borne from years of urban dissent, poverty and just plain boredom, the late great Punk impressario Malcolm McLaren saw it fit to put together, Frankenstein-style, a ragtag bunch that would spew the chaotic bile of piss and vinegar, with equal amounts of shock value and the necessary hype, to shove it along the way. Shunned by record labels, hated by the press, and barred from the pubs, the Sex Pistols were on their way.

Bollocks seethed with all the trappings of youth dissent ("Holiday In The Sun") and hateful disdain for the Royals ("God Save The Queen") on the eve of its anniversary, at that. It also touched on typical urban concerns like abortion ("Bodies"), poverty ("Problems") and the detachment attached (or detached) it spawns ("No Feelings").
Their fuck-all attitude never endeared them to The Man ("EMI"), nor the other way around ("Anarchy In The UK"), but the word was definitely out.. never mind you, me, the government nor anybody else, to paraphrase the geezers, ".. except for myself, my beautiful self.."

And in the wake of Pistols ex-manager McLaren's recent demise, it is only now that most realize how vital Malcolm's legacy truly stood for. He may have gone for the cash for chaos, and the cries of "no future" from his former squires, but beyond all the hype and the misconception of the majority.. the Pistols were true to their words.
Until now.

"..We mean it, maaaan!"

Monday, April 12, 2010

Disco Very

One of the first purveyors of melding live orchestral music with rock n' roll, the Electric Light Orchestra immediately comes to mind.
Big Beatle fan Jeff Lynne got things rockin' and rollin' (pun intended) with "Roll Over Beethoven" in '73. With their trademark interlacing of soaring keyboards and lush orchestrations, ELO electrified the music scene with hits like "Can't Get It Out Of My Head," 1975's "Evil Woman" (a portion of which was sampled for a Pussycat Dolls song), 1976's "Living Thing" (remember the end credits to the flick Boogie Nights?) and a string of 1977 hits with the lively "Turn To Stone,""Sweet Talkin' Woman," and "Mr. Blue Sky," (a song shamelessly swiped by upstart band Panic At The Disco not too long ago).

Which brings us to 1979.
It is the height of Disco dominance.
When in Rome, as they say..
Major players like Rod Stewart (via the dancey "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy), Kiss ("I Was Made For Loving You") and the Rolling Stones ("Miss You") play along and remain visible throughout; as do ELO.

ELO reaches their creative peak with Discovery. With five hit singles culled from within, Lynne, Rich Tandy and Bev Bevan have definitely outdone themselves. From the opener "Shine A Little Love," the mood is apparent. Not only are the hit singles worthy fare, but so are the album cuts.
"Confusion" is clearly difficult to misconstrue, with its snappy synth snatches between lyric lines. Speaking of synths, "On The Run" is heightened to another level with Richard Tandy's "Baba O' Riley"-inspired fingerboard work. Even the ballads ("Wishing" and "Need Her Love") offer promise; as does a long-surviving ELO gem (in "Midnight Blue") that's still heard on local radio to this day.

Sure, the disco-flavored element dominates Discovery (thus the clever wordplay on the title courtesy of keyboardist Tandy), evident in the catchy "Last Train To London," (again, another song sampled by Atomic Kitten) but admittedly, Electric Light Orchestra churned out a definite classic with this release. One that even they would be hard-pressed to match or surpass after the fact.

Friday, April 09, 2010

One Good Reason

A nondescript release from '87 from a talented singer-songwriter, musician.
Paul Carrack has the dossier thick enough to sow envy amongst fellow contemporaries.
From the get-go, Carrack pierced the scene with his group Ace in 1975, with the memorable hit "How Long." Played keyboards for Manifesto, the '79 reunion album of Roxy Music. Joined Squeeze in '81, sang their hit "Tempted." Left the band a year later, then joined up with Nick Lowe in a band called Noise To Go.
Did backup for other musicians like Frankie Miller and John Hiatt, also adding keyboard embellishments to the Pretenders' Learning To Crawl album. In the mid-80's, he became a mechanic, singer to be exact, for Genesis' Mike Rutherford's side project Mike + The Mechanics. (That's Paul on "Silent Running")
Which brings us to where we are, with One Good Reason.

Carrack's unmistakably recognizable tenor rings throughout Reason,
from the Squeeze-ish title track opener, and the effervescent, reggae flavored "Button Off My Shirt." Even on his take of Jackie DeShannon's "When You Walk In The Room."

But Carrack saves the fire for the album's hit single "Don't Shed A Tear."
Penned by one equally talented Eddie Schwartz (more on him in a future entry),
with baleful lyrics and its clever hammer-on guitar hook, Paul woes scornfully at the hands of a lover's betrayal, yet declaring " life won't end without you.." seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

It is a joy to discover that Paul Carrack is still very much active on the touring circuit, when not performing with Mike + The Mechanics.
Good talent should not go to waste.
Besides, it's hard to keep a good man down.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Unsung Genius

The excitable boy.
A dark cynic with a cult following.
Poster boy for the drab.
An unsung genius.
All this, and Warren Zevon, too.

When you say the name Warren Zevon, it's usually followed by an audible yelp of "Awwwoooooo..Werewolves Of London.." quoting Zevon's most popular hit from 1978.
No sophomore slump for this golden boy of the gruesome, sometimes drab view of life.
Excitable Boy put this transplanted Californian-by-way-of-Illinois on the musical map. Being roomies with (future Mac stars) Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, had its benefits, as well as being chummy with the likes of Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and the Eagles, who all contributed to his first major label debut.

But things finally came to fruition for Warren (Zivotovsky in real life) with Excitable Boy. Noir-ish tunes like "Lawyers, Guns And Money" exuded a "dark side," while tongue-in-cheek-erry was the order of the day with "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" and "Johnny Strike Up The Band."
I know a good friend of mine'll raise hell if I don't make mention of his fave "Nighttime In The Switching Yard" as well. (right, Edwin?)

Of course, we can't deny the penultimate track "Werewolves Of London."
Undeniably Warren Zevon at his most humorously macabre, bar none.
Though his untimely demise leaves a seemingly unfillable void, the wealth of music left behind by Zevon is enough to last us for our, if not, all time.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Quintessential Winwood

If Steve Winwood sat down and composed a resumé, for certain it would look more like a book manuscript, or one of those call center account learning manuals. Think of it.

The Spencer Davis Group with brother Muff at the tender age of 14.
Co-wrote the classics "I'm A Man," and "Gimme Some Lovin'"
Left SDG to form Traffic, with (the late) Jim Capaldi, Dave Mason and Chris Wood.
Did a one-off group with Eric Clapton, as Eric Clapton's Powerhouse.
Backed up stellar musicians like Joe Cocker (that's him playing the organ on JC's excellent take of the Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends), and Toots & The Maytals, as well as on the Howlin' Wolf Sessions.
Formed the brilliant, yet shortlived Blind Faith, with Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech, then Ginger Bakers Airforce. A brief Traffic reunion ensued, which imploded due to artistic differences, which led Stevie Boy to go the solo route in 1977.
Which brings us up to speed.. so far.

Steve Winwood's unique rise to rock stardom was not one fueled by its glitz and glamor, but rather with its distinct and quintessential musicianship. Whoever it was that Winwood would be performing with, whether as the forerunner, or as backup; chances are, it was nothing short of brilliant.

The new decade seemed to have spelled impending doom for most aging rockers, but Steve Winwood saw his renaissance with Arc Of A Diver.
Taken within the context of his heavy roots in the Blues and R&B-inspired rock, Arc is not exactly the epitome of these influences, rather an evolved offshoot, wherein Winwood conjures an all-new, all-encompassing hybrid, turning something aged (as opposed to old) into something new and refreshing.

Arc Of A Diver is Steve Winwood's finest solo work; literally, as well as objectively. After all, he did play all the instruments, engineering and mixing chores notwithstanding. The breakthrough single "While You See A Chance," in so many words, soared. Its lifting synth intro, awash with melancholic overtones and a sense of hope, helped bring the song as high as #7 on the Billboard Charts.
The title track is a celebration of love, its pitfalls and protestations, yet holding hope near, in the face of jealousy and doubt.
Album tracks are exemplary (the spritely "Spanish Dancer" and brooding "Night Train"), worthy of note. It's certainly a step up from where he left off on Talking Back To The Night.
Uplifting. Inspirational.
Winwood par excellance.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Maintaining Balin-ce

After tumultuous years of turbulence and troubles within the ranks of Jefferson Airplane nee Starship, founding member Marty Balin, fed up with the strife, finally bailed out and took a solo flight in 1981, not to too much clamor nor applause, but moreover, a breath of fresh air and music.

Released in May, 1981, Balin's self-titled solo debut hit the ground running, punching a much-needed "hole" in the charts, with the maudlin midtempo ballad "Hearts." It's your typical post-breakup how-ya-doin' tune, weaving (not weeping) through the pratfalls of a failed romance in an upbeat manner, yet heartfelt nonetheless. Backed by some stellar session players such as keyboardist Neil Larsen and backup vocals from Bill Champlin, Balin bounces from sentient prose ("You Left Your Mark On Me") to lively semi-rockers ("Elvis And Marilyn") to promising effect.

Most noteworthy is "Atlanta Lady (Something About Your Love)," a song not written by Balin (penned by Jesse Barish) yet one of the set's most poignantly memorable, with Marty breathing in the Bay Area breeze, setting them all to words and music.
Methinks the album's closer, "Music Is The Light" says it the best..

You know music is the light
Shining through the night
Ain't funny how the feelin' goes away
Movin' right along
List'nin' to the song
Ridin' with my baby

Lighthearted yet enduring.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Hearing Double

What began as a journeyman's conglomeration of Limeys and Yanks, Foreigner fused musically into a formidable contender in the late 70's Rock arena amongst giants like Kiss, Boston, and Cheap Trick.

But one can't possibly begin to fathom Foreigner's claim to fame, without first focusing on their spotlight-grabbing eponymous debut album from 1977, with AOR
gems such as "Feels Like The First Time" and the now-classic "Cold As Ice."

Fast forward a year later, and Foreigner are up to their old tricks with the sophomore release Double Vision, which not only showcased more of the same svelte corporate rock, featuring equal parts flash, and muscular vocals and guitar riffs that pulsated, evident in the fever pitch frenzy of "Hot Blooded," which seethed and sizzled with atonal leads from Foreigner leader Mick Jones. Even the title track, with its snappy start-stop verses, left us all cross-eyed, yet painless.

Throw in some album cuts ("Blue Morning, Blue Day") that need not pander to an AOR Program Director's taste, most notably the should've-been-a-hit "Back Where You Belong," and some bittersweet ballads (singer Jones' "You're All I Am" and the sentimental "I Have Waited So Long") and an instrumental ("Tramontane") for good measure, and you've got the perfect foil for an AOR classic.

They're not bloody tourists.. they're Foreigner.

Four Kisses Are Better Than One

Happy Easter!

Since the Holy Week break got me cloistered over the weekend, methinks a creative catch-up is in order; hence, it's befitting to feature four.. count them, FOUR albums of the day, courtesy of Kiss.

Four times the fun broke forth back in September, 1978.
Solo albums from Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss.
Only a band at the height of their nadir would have the brusque audacity to
flex their non-collective chops, as well as their well-placed dictative powers on Casablanca, to kowtow to simultaneous releases.

It's four sides of Kiss that the world had not yet heard.
Gene Simmons' guest artist-laden solo included cameos from Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, Bob Seger, even Cher, to name a few, with a diverse mix of Rock, Pop and what-have-you. Paul Stanley's schmaltzy "Hold Me, Touch Me (Think Of Me When We're Apart)" was designated hit single of his solo set, while Ace Frehley's cover of the 1975 hit "New York Groove" by UK's Hello gave the Kiss spaceman equal limelight and airplay time. Only drummer Peter Criss' diversified release differed exponentially from the rest, favoring a more R&B-ish approach.

Four KISS-es are definitely better than one.

Friday, April 02, 2010

THE ALBUM OF THE DAY: Flora in fauna

To the indulgent prog-jazz fan, Brazilian-Ukranian singer Flora Purim is a name that's said in the same breath as stellar musicians such as Airto Moreira, the Chick Corea-led Return To Forever, even mainstream greats Gil Evans, Dizzy Gillespie, and Stan Getz, to name a few. But Purim's brush with the local mainstream came with this one.

Nothing Will Be As It Was.. Tomorrow spawned "Angels" on the uplifting and able back-up wings of EWF's Al Mackay and Verdine White. Local beauty pageants aplenty utilized this upbeat instrumental in '77 ad nauseum. The album's other gem was "Bridges," a song most associate with the more commercial version by Sergio Mendes, much to the chagrin of loyal Flora fans.

Though not her most noteworthy work, which may be found on early Return To Forever albums (the eponymous debut and Light As A Feather), as well as her debut solo album Butterfly Dreams, Purim remains one of the most unique female voices of our time.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Love Still Flows

Great music was not limited to just genres of the "rock"-ier persuasion.
With an incessantly steady diet of "boses pusa" burnout Bee Gees hits, more than
we wanted to hear or muster, it's unsurprising that all bent and bowed yet again to
"Gibb-itis," swept away by Flowing Rivers.

Andy Gibb, the youngest Gibb sib, just wanted to be our everything, and actually succeeded; of course, with some regulation help from his falsetto bros.
Flowing Rivers may have been stamped Barry Gibb all over it, but in the vocals, as well as charm department, it was all Andy.

Andy scholars would contest this album's stature with its more successful
follow-up, Shadow Dancing, which I would, myself; but the writing's on the wall.
Flowing Rivers gets points for breakthrough, and (for Barry) songwriting cred.

And though Andy was untimely snatched away from our midst, who was all prepped to become the fourth Bee Gee, we've always got the music he left us, to cherish.

My favorite Flowing Rivers trivia bit happens to be.. during the album's recording sessions at Criteria Studios in Florida, the Eagles were recording in the next door studio, and Eagles axeman Joe Walsh happened to stick his head in, just to say hi.
Well, one thing led to another, and Walsh was asked if he'd like to lay a guitar solo on a song they were working on; which, of course, he did.

Check out the guitar break on "(Love Is) Thicker Than Water" to hear ol' Joe's slinky slide work. Definitely one for the ages.


Slammed as "dinosaur rockers" by young guns, including one Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten ("..Mick Jagger white nigger.."), The Stones rolled on into the brink of the 70's with new guitarist Ronnie Wood, whose six-string talent merged perfectly with Keith Richards' own unique open-tuning-heavy stylings. This was the nadir of the Stones canon to date.

Playing their cards right, keeping with the times in a if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-them stance, with the disco-ish "Miss You," featuring harpist Sugar Blue, whom Jagger purportedly spotted busking for coins around Paris, impressed nonetheless, and swiftly having him session on the said track.

Nevertheless, Some Girls is not without its share of rockers, from the midtempo "When The Whip Comes Down," the steamrolling "Respectable" to the Keef-helmed "Before They Make Me Run," and even a nifty leftfield pedalsteel-powered C&W ditty (courtesy of new addition Woody) "Faraway Eyes," and a balance of ballads ("Beast Of Burden" and the title track) aplenty.
Even a regulation cover (Whitfield-Strong's "Just My Imagination"), and of course, the perfect album closer in "Shattered" that leaves the competition exactly as such.

Thrown in a die-cut album cover with an interchangeable inner sleeve
with Stones mugs made up as (some) girls, what more could you ask for?
It's never too late to catch up on what you missed out on the first time around back in the day in '78.

America Invades Japan!

"Awwwright, Tokyo.. would you please welcome Epic recording artists.. Cheap Trick!"

Dateline 1978: While the disco kids were getting off on Foxy and lovers were strolling down the mellow memory lane, reminiscing with LRB, a Yank band was making a name for themselves on Japanese shores. With three previous album releases that didn't quite get them to where their ambitions intended, Cheap Trick did what the US Army didn't get to do in WWII; invade Japan, which they hatched with At Budokan.

Two cuties, in lead singer/guitarist Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson, and two bozos,
the CPA-like drummer Bun E. Carlos and the clown prince of CT, Rick Neilsen.
The perfect foil for a rock n' roll band.
Chalk up some stellar songwriting and great musical chops,
how could this combo go wrong?

I had never heard of Cheap Trick, not even their three releases before this one, so it's safe to say that this album took me by storm, and literally blew me away. It was complete surrender, from start to finish. Brisk, powerful Pop bombast from the get-go ("Hello There"), a menacing presence in a live setting ("Big Eyes"), whether it was a cover (their take of Fats Domino's "Ain't That A Shame") or their own (the snappy synapse of "I Want You To Want Me"), Cheap Trick had the kawai girls eating out of their sweaty calloused-fingered palms, giving theirselves away, in uhm well, total surrender.

Though Cheap Trick's popularity waned as the years wore on, At Budokan's no mean feat chronicled and cemented this flippant foursome's place in the annals of Rock N' Roll history.

"Mommy's all right.. Daddy's all right.. they just seem a little weird.."

Note of interest:

A 30th Anniversary Edition, Budokan! was released on November 11,
2008, as a four-disc set. In addition to the two-disc "Complete
Concert" (released in 1998),
it includes a DVD and CD version of the concert from April 30,
1978. The filmed concert had originally been shown on Japanese TV, and
was not previously commercially available. 
The original vinyl album is also to be reissued in conjunction with the 30th anniversary.

Earthquake Music

The obvious choice would've been Carole King's Tapestry, if only for "I Feel The Earth Move," but I never did dig on that King classic; and I always have preferred to root for the underdog, so Phoebe Snow wins this toss-up. The perfect rockin' aftershock foil for the here and now. Usually, "Poetry Man," (a song Snow purportedly wrote for Jackson Browne) is said in the same breath as Phoebe Snow. But like I said, I go for the underdog hit.. "Shakey Ground."
For obvious reasons.

If we go.. might as well go out rockin' and rollin'!

A Classic Model

One of my all-time fave articles from (the now lamentably defunct) Jingle Magazine was entitled Five Gears In Reverse, which featured then-breakout artists that defied the disco fever/schlock pop swill that swirled around the cesspool scene; artists like Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, and bands like The Police, The Clash and of course, The Cars.

Streamlined and on-the-aerodynamic, The Cars cruise controlled their way to popularity with bare-bones Rock N' Roll with equal amounts of crisp Pop flourish and enough bite, balancing out a refreshingly new sound. Ric Ocasek's dark baritone set a foreboding countenance, as dark as his sunglasses, while guitarist Elliot Easton's tasty guitar fills (as in the snappy "Just What I Needed" and "My Best Friend's Girl) were rootsy yet tingly to the ear, while (the late) Ben Orr's solid bass and occasional lead vocal chores, coupled with drummer Dave Robinson, kept the unit intact.. and let's not forget the squiggly sounds from keyboardist Greg Hawkes, who added the proverbial icing to the cake.

Like a sleek, black sedan, The Cars were no mere assembly line band. Theirs was a breath of fresh air, blowing us all away, with the top down. It must mean something when a seminal 80's teen movie utilizes the album track "Moving In Stereo" as the background music for a (wet) dream sequence between a topless Phoebe Cates and a hard-up Judge Reinhold; now that's iconic.

Sometimes you have to travel in reverse, in order to move forward.

The Epitome Of Cool

While everyone was going apeshit, "swinging" and acting like monkeys on the dancefloor, running a saturday night fever, few took notice of the great stuff coming out of the wayside. Former Steelers Wheel-er (with no less than Joe Egan) Gerry Rafferty, flirted briefly with the hitlist in '73 with "Stuck In The Middle Of You," (which gained renewed popularity, thanks to QT's Reservoir Dogs), hit paydirt in '78 with a song about singing for coppers in the tube.

City To City lifts and soars spirit-like, with great musicianship and songwriting to boot. Aside from the ubiquitous gargantua-hit "Baker Street," made memorable by the song's sax hook by one Raphael Ravenscroft (not to mention the searing guitar solo of Hugh Burns), the album also includes "Right Down The Line," laced with equally entrancing guitarwork (which figured in an old Palmolive soap ad back in the day, if you're old enough to remember).

For the obssesive compulsive listener, there's a lot of additional trivia info on
"Baker Street" that the untrained (or less anal-retentive) ear might have missed out on; stuff like.. the original album version is 6:01 minutes long.

The single version released in the U.S. is 4:08 minutes long and its tempo was greatly accelerated for commercial radio time allotments.

In 1988, when City To City was released on CD for the first time,
the album version was itself sped up a bit, perhaps by error in the mastering process.
An alternate, uncut and remixed version (in Right Down The Line: The Very Best of Gerry Rafferty) a 1989 compilation CD, contains about thirty seconds more of end-material not in the original 1978 version. In this new mix, reverb emphasized the drummer's snare & cross-stick accents and Rafferty's vocals were electronically double-tracked.

The speed in this version was actually slowed down greatly when played side-by-side against the 1988 City to City CD release, and yet still slower than the original record album version from 1978.

Trivia bits notwithstanding, "Baker Street" is definitely one for the books.

Rock N' Soul Personified

It's the perfect hybrid of evolution.
Blue-eyed soulsters turned Pop Rock purveyors, with no roots reduction.
Hence the Rock N' Soul tag.
A defining moment for Daryl Hall and John Oates, brewing a melodic melting pot
of equal parts Pop and Rock with just the right amount of Soul and trimmings of
old school R&B, stamped with the H&O seal of approval.
Sure, it's chockfull of mainstream goodness, but it's ICONIC mainstream goodness.
Not only the hit singles make you tingle (the hypnotic "I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and the title track), but the exceptional "non-hits" that should've been ("Mano A Mano," the quirky "Did It In A Minute" and the pulsating "Your Imagination"), as well as the excellent album tracks ("The Unguarded Minute" comes to mind).
It's tightly wound, well-crafted Pop crammed full of tasty guitars (courtesy of G.E. Smith) and the elastic yet tight rhythm section of (the late great) Tom "T-Bone" Wolk and drum man Mickey Curry. Throw in delicious keyboard flourishes and sax-a-licious workouts from Charlie DeChant, and you've got the perfect Pop ploy.
And with Daryl Hall on spot-on vocals from start to finish, ably assisted by Oates, you just can't go wrong.

Unsung Heroes

"..I never travel far with a little Big Star.."
-The Replacements "Alex Chilton" 1987

From his blue-eyed soul roots in the mid/late 60's group the Box Tops, to his Brit Invasion-influenced rock foray with Big Star, Alex Chilton was the underrated underdog, painting a dark, nihilist backdrop to the bright and sunny cheer of the Fab Four; a cloudy style that foreshadowed 80's and 90's alt-rock, a bleak view of things to come. It's a pity how talent suffers from poor marketing strategy and personal frustration, which both befell the band. Which explains why, years later, Big Star would re-form, together with Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, Chilton disciples from the band The Posies, tour and even record a live album.

Some bands are meant to be just cult favorites. They aren't built to shine brightly in the temporary spotlight of the mainstream. Fame seemingly eludes them, at times, on purpose. But everything happens for a purpose, as the saying goes. Big Star was meant for bigger things. Tagged as the quintessential Power Pop band, and, according to Rolling Stone mag, the creators of a seminal body of work that never stopped inspiring succeeding generations.
There must be a reason why their songs "September Gurls" and "Thirteen" grace the list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. Or why bands like REM swear by them; The Replacements saw it fit to write a song about Alex Chilton (he even played backup on the track); and why Matthew Sweet loves them; so did the Db's and Teenage Fanclub. Or when "In The Streets" becomes a theme for a popular throwback TV show (recorded by no less than 80's Power Pop mega giants Cheap Trick).
When big name bands and performers as stellar as these all hail praise,
then Big Star must've done something right after all.

Punk Icons

In retrospect, the late 70's music scene ran parallel with another world,
an alternate universe, as it were. While everyone was doin' a li'l dance,
makin' a li'l love and gettin' down tonight, a sort-of underground movement
of movers and shakers were rockin' and rollin' right under their coke-stained
noses.. and the Ramones were at the eye of this electrically-charged storm.

Many merely remember this fearsome foursome as the guys with the messy
long hair, leather jackets n' shades, torn jeans and sneakers and the loud guitars. They were half-right in remembering that, but they left out the most vital element of the buzzsaw equation.. the songs; the music.

Little does anyone realize Joey, Johnny, DeeDee and Marky set out to become what they thought as America's answer to the Bay City Rollers. On glue, probably. Looks like the boys got more than they bargained for. With genuine pop sense ("Glad To See You Go" and "Oh Oh I Love Her So") and crushing killzone instinct ("Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment" and the Gabbalicious "Pinhead") even in their choice of covers (Joe Jones' "California Sun") the boys from the Bowery knew how to rock, in only two speeds: Fast.. and faster.
Uncompromising. Direct and in your face.
The way rock n' roll's supposed to be.
Gabba Gabba Hey!

Jimmy Cliff inducted.. finally!

Born James Chamber, better known as Jimmy Cliff, a pivotal purveyor of Reggae worldwide, via the soundtrack of The Harder They Come, with timeless classics
such as "You Can Get It If You Really Want" and the seminal "Many Rivers To Cross."
But moreover, his tempestuous tirade "Vietnam" hit the nail right on the proverbial head, and was even cited as the best protest song by none other than Bob Dylan.
Rootsy yet gutsy, Cliff's view were local, yet the message, global, with offerings such as "Time Will Tell," and "Hard Road To Travel."
Aside from being the only living musician to hold The Order Of Merit.
the highest honour for achievements in the arts and sciences from the Jamaican government, Cliff is also one of this year's inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
It's about time.

Icarus shrugged

Of the dime-a-dozen Fuzak releases flooding the already
bloated and constipated local Jazz Fusion market (no thanks
to Blackgold Records' incessant vinyl releases back in the day..
still no cd then..), only a handful uniquely stood out. Save for
the possibility of the shakuhachi of John Kaizan Neptune (remember
him?), Kittyhawk had a unique blend of fusion all its own.
If the track "Islands" rings a bell, then the band that took its name
from Orville and Wilbur brings us back to the more carefree yet
uncertain turn-of-the-century days of 1980. Other tracks, such as
"Chinese Fire Drill," "Wooed But Not Wed," and the obiquitous
"Aerial View" take us back to that good time.
Good news: the long-unavailable vinyl only Kittyhawk albums
are now available on CD (from as well as a download
($9.99). Let the good times roll.

The Main Thing.. the real thing.

While noob rockers like Billy Squier usurped concert headliners Queen, stealing their thunder as the hot opening act, and Bowie was poised to re-invade American shores with a "Let's Dance" stance, other Brits had other things in mind. Bryan Ferry's smooth, sultry evercool demeanor rises to the occasion, taking us back to Avalon. Atmospheric and ethereal, it offers up the opportunity for listeners to fly, from prelude (the breathy "More Than This") to finale (the languid, pastoral "Tara").

Analog bomp in a Digital world

While every Tom, Dick and Mike Score was falling all over each other
working a second, third and fourth job, so they could afford those synthesizers
and drum machines in the early skinny-tie peroxide-powered days of the 80's,
some people actually made music in more conventional manners, still.
American singer Deborah Berg and Brit pianist Julian Marshall, met by chance
in San Diego, then moved to England to record. The resulting debut of Eye To Eye
was equal parts witty and catchy. Fueled by the Top 40-cracking debut single
"Nice Girls," Berg and Marshall's interestingly off-tangent efforts, backed no less by
stellar studio musicians (that's the late, great Jeff Porcaro's tasty drum fills on "Girls") filled the void of "real" musical chops that weren't powered by a microchip.

The Name Of The Band Is Blondie!

"The name of the band is Blondie!" was a shirt singer Debbie Harry used to wear onstage, decrying lusty male catcalls, and rightfully so. Admittedly my ultimate HS crush, Blondie (the band) broke in '79 with quirky catchiness, and burning up whatever "punk" cred they had, crossing over to the dreaded mainstream (read as Disco), on the shards of one "Heart Of Glass," yet traipsing the thin line between the past and their newfound present with the Clem Burke jet engine powered "Hanging On The Telephone" and the sneer and snarl of "One Way Or Another." All this and "Sunday Girl," too!
Though written off as (the typical) "sellout" that furthered turn of the century genre-blurring, Parallel Lines still radiates, long after the peroxide has faded away.

Will the "REAL" Lady Gaga please stand up!?

1982.. amidst the sqalor of MTV, in a dizzying myriad of skinny-tie bands, peroxide-powered Pop, glam-flavored Metal came a band out of L.A. that squeaked by all the competition. Husband-and-wife team Terry and Dale Bozzio (the former, Frank Zappa's former drummer and his ex-Playboy Bunny S.O.) and Missing Persons skeetered along the thin line between quirky synth pop and muscular guitar-driven rock, melding in a manner befitting the 80's excess credo. Not only was it the aural experience, but visceral as well, replete with tin foil-lined plastic bubble bras, garish pink teased hair and heavy eye makeup, MP were definitely the "Noticeable Ones" who were "Walking In L.A." and straight to the bank, well.. with a nominally-sized check.
The hits ("Words," the lilting "Destination Unknown" and the abovementioned) did not last; they never did. It's as if we lost Missing Persons, before we they could really be found.


Former Folk Rock bumpkin, turned Pop balladeer Linda Ronstadt
transmogrified into an entirely different animal at the turn of the
80's with Mad Love.
Mad indeed. The classic bandwagon syndrome, with benefits.
Li'l Linda went from crooning languid C&W ballads that made
rednecks blush, to belting (three! Count 'em.. three) Elvis Costello
covers. A chopsuey hodge podge of genres, Mad Love stayed in step with
the times, and gave Ronstadt a firm toehold on a new decade, bent on
this (then)"new" sound. Strains of her clenched teeth and seldomly
heard growl on "How Do I Make You" forever ring in these ears, from the
only gal who contended head-to-head with my ultimate HS crush, Debbie
Harry (but that's another story).. bandwagonesque schlock Pop then, now
a certifiable classic.

Bubblegum Music? Not!

Stuck in 1979, a great year for a diverse cross section of musical genres.
With the (then) eclectic reggae-ish punk of The Police and Joe Jackson, competing with the mainstream din of The Knack and a by-now bloated and hyperventilating Disco scene, Rock held strong, still rearing its ugly, greasy-haired head with Teutonic musings from The Scorpions. Judging by the Hipgnosis-helmed album cover, Lovedrive says it all.
Finally making a name for themselves in the European Theater of Metal operation, Klaus Meine, Rudolph Schenker and co. (with muscular help from brother Michael Schenker on three tracks) stormed the end of the 70's with a melodic maelstrom that would become "Slow Rock" classics (read: "Always Somewhere").
[this post heartily dedicated to Par "Babolgam" Satellite"]

From the (twilight) years of the Disco era, a movie soundtrack that surpasses its celluloid counterpart. Thank God It's Friday wasn't the milestone Disco flick in the iconic trad of Saturday Night Fever, where every Tom, Dick and Juan Dela Cruz owned a copy of the double album (wherein Dyna Records systematically made a literal killing), but the songs live on way beyond musical expectations. Songs like Donna Summer's "Last Dance," the funk-in-yo-face of "Brickhouse" by The Commodores and the ubiquitously memorable "Trapped In A Stairway" from one Paul Jabara. Definitely brings back those streetsweeping gabardine slacks and platform shoes days of the late 70's, especially on a Friday!

No Pretensions

Skin basher Martin Chambers, the late James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon, together with exiled Ohio gal Chrissie Hynde burst onto the late 70's rock scene with equal amounts of Pop propulsion, with hits like "Brass In Pocket," "Stop Your Sobbing" and "Kid", and ballsy fuzzed-out chutzpah ("Precious," "The Wait," and "Mystery Achievement") that punctured Disco's seemingly indefatigable bubble. Half of the original lineup may have fallen by the wayside, but Hynde's will proved too strong to be held down, and rightfully so. Long live the Class Of '79!