Archive for the ‘Long Ryders’ Category

IMG_0154Thirty years ago this week, I was working full-time hours (or close to them) at my part-time job. Although I attended the Penn State mothership in State College, between semesters – and even a few weekends during the semesters themselves – I punched a literal time clock at the Abraham & Straus department store in the Willow Grove Mall in Willow Grove, Pa.

The big movies, this month, were Rocky IV, Spies Like Us, The Color Purple and Out of Africa. NBC’s Thursday-night lineup of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court and Hill Street Blues ruled TV – though, for my part, I barely watched anything beyond the Flyers and Miami Vice while at school, and the latter was because a buddy watched it.

I’ve covered this same basic time frame in past Top 5s – Summer 1985, October 1985 and January/February 1986. It was, dare I say, a fun time in my life aside from one not-so-fun fact: I had a cold this week that was getting worse by the hour. The cold did not, however, keep me from my appointed rounds – I selected my Album of the Year, which was Lone Justice’s self-titled debut, as I did (and do) every year.

I also named a runner-up, which is something I rarely did at the time: the Long Ryders’ State of Our Union:

IMG_0155Anyway, this issue of Record features Bryan Adams on the cover; I didn’t care for his music then, and still don’t care for it now. What excited me the most: a Q&A with Jane Wiedlin, who talks about leaving the Go-Go’s and recording/releasing her solo debut, which came out in October.

Q: Did leaving afflict you with the usual fear and loathing?

A: It was complicated. There was this enormous sense of relief to be out of the horrible things that were happening, but at the same time there was this sense of throwing away years of work, a pretty good income and a certain amount of fame in one fell swoop.

1) Jane Wiedlin – “Blue Kiss.” In the back of the magazine, a review of her debut by one Chris Morris says: “She proves to be a sweet and spunky lead vocalist, and the record boasts a number of strong pop ballads which showcase her vulnerable side – “Blue Kiss,” “I Will Wait for You,” “My Traveling Heart.” The review concludes with: “While the production is occasionally overwrought and some of the song choices are improbable or strained (“Somebody’s Going to Get Into This House” and the awkward protest number “Goodbye Cruel World”), Jane Wiedlin is in the main a touching, perky and likable first bow.”

“Blue Kiss,” the lead single, is a sweet pop confection that, to my ears, sounds like a Go-Go’s outtake; all that’s missing is Belinda Carlisle singing lead. And, if Belinda had sung lead, I’d wager it would’ve made the Top 10 instead of stalling at No. 77.

IMG_01562) 10,000 Maniacs – “Scorpio Rising.” The major-label debut of 10,000 Maniacs, The Wishing Chair, is reviewed in this issue. Critic Ted Drozdowski writes: “10,000 Maniacs are crafty devils, stewing folk, bluegrass and art rock into a style that begs comparison with R.E.M. and Fairport Convention, but carries enough mutant genes to sound daring and original. These western-New York Staters write songs that are wistful, romantic, sometimes elegiac, soaring on fragile melodies and fortified by manic rips of Robert Buck’s guitar.”

3) Hall & Oates with David Ruffin & Eddie Kendricks – “The Way You Do the Things You Do/My Girl.” Philly blue-eyed soul meets Motown in this fun track from Hall & Oates’ Live at the Apollo album. The review by James Hunter isn’t super-kind: “The record hints that it’s about Hall and Oates’ connection to soul music, but it’s not. It’s about the best-selling pop duo in history, capable of looking so sharp one minute and utterly vacant the next, turning their live show into the sleekest possible disk. For hardcore fans only, minus the Temps.”

Like I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve never been much of a Hall & Oates fan – I like(d) some of their hits, but never enough to buy anything beyond their Rock ’n’ Soul, Vol. 1, collection. That said, you have to give them their due for sharing their love of Motown.

IMG_01684) Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Touble – “Change It.” Stevie Ray and Soul to Soul, his third album, receive a glowing tribute. “Stevie Ray Vaughan is about nothing but music, which sets Soul to Soul dramatically apart from its cohabitants on the 1985 album charts.” So says writer John Swenson, at any rate. The piece, which includes quotes from the blues guitarist, says this track “combines Vaughan’s best structural playing with the finest vocal he’s ever recorded, and Eric Clapton would undoubtedly be impressed by the way Stevie rewrites Freddie King on his solo.”

5) Marshall Crenshaw – “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee).” Ira Robbins (late of Trouser Press?) says of Crenshaw’s third album, Downtown, “Affecting, unaffected singing supported by sharp, spare rock backing and succinct production make this as fine a record as any he’s made, and the perfect antidote to the synthesized dance-pop so prevalent nowadays.” Perhaps. Perhaps not.

IMG_5044Summer 1985: If it seems like a lifetime ago, well, it was. At the time, I was 20 and worked in the Domestics department of a major department store, where I learned to fold towels and sheets, and deal with oft-obnoxious customers in a polite manner. And, after two years of living the commuter-college life at Penn State Ogontz, I was also preparing to head out to the mothership, State College, for my final two years of school.

Those are my first thoughts, at any rate, when looking at the cover of this specific issue, August 1985, of Record, the Rolling Stone music-only offshoot. Another: Record had shed its newsprint origins and gone glossy, a move that wouldn’t help it from being discontinued within a year. Also, by this point in its brief existence, it had fallen behind the times despite always being distributed a month ahead of the cover date. This issue’s main features, for instance, focused on Robert Plant, Tom Petty and Joan Armatrading, all acts who dated to the previous decade (and, in Plant’s case, the decade before that); and portable cassette players, which would soon give way to portable CD players. IMG_5060

Newer artists were provided much less space. But even an anachronism has its merits, and that comes with today’s Top 5, which is drawn from its pages. Why? It’s the first issue I grabbed when I snaked a hand into the box that holds my old copies.

Another thought: the 1980s weren’t as awful a decade, musically speaking, as is commonly assumed by folks who either didn’t live through them or, conversely, were too old to enjoy them. There were many good sounds to be heard; the difficulty came in discovering them. Rock radio, at least in the Philly area, had retreated into the tried-and-true; it was rare that actual new acts received airplay. Well, that’s not quite accurate – new acts were played, but only those that mimicked the old. It was one of the reasons why, for all their faults, MTV and VH1 were important – they played new artists who mined new sounds.

IMG_50461) Rosanne Cash – “I Don’t Know Why You Don’t Want Me.” A full-page ad in a magazine primarily geared to a rock audience says much about Rosanne Cash’s Rhythm & Romance, which was released in May 1985. The set apparently upset the country establishment due to the straight-up rock held in some of its grooves – that’s what this recent Rolling Stone article says, at least. And there was plenty of ’80s-styled rock: “Hold On,” “Halfway House” and “Pink Bedroom,” for instance. There was also some adult-contemporary gauze strewn throughout, such as on this track. I remember seeing the video for it on VH1 and thinking Rosanne looked cool. Sexy. And I loved the song, which has a bit of a Carly Simon vibe. I bought the LP not long thereafter, and have been a fan ever since.

IMG_50642) Madonna – “Into the Groove.” Believe it or not, there was a time when Madonna wasn’t an icon. By the summer of ’85, she’d accrued a legion of fans thanks to the previous year’s Like a Virgin album and its singles, starred in a talked-about music video (“Material Girl”) and Desperately Seeking Susan, and weathered a sex scandal of a sort (salacious photos from her past were published in Playboy and Penthouse). Many a pop star has started as strong, of course, only to fade away; so regardless of what one thinks of her, the fact that she stuck around says something about her (or, maybe, us). This issue reviews her May 1985 concert in Atlanta: “Perhaps every generation needs reminding that rock and sex are sometimes indistinguishable. At the moment, Madonna’s the apostle of the body gospel, and, as her show makes apparent, it’s hard to recall a more fetching zealot.” Sounds a tad over-the-top to me. In any event, “Into the Groove” was the top-selling 12-inch single this month; and, like much of her music from the ’80s, is fetching and fun.

IMG_5051

3) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Don’t Come Around Here No More.” The ill-fated Southern Accents, initially meant to be a concept album, wasn’t a great album – but it was better than Petty’s previous effort, the generic AOR clunker Long After Dark. This specific song was an MTV mainstay in ’85 due to its Alice in Wonderland theme.

IMG_50534) The Long Ryders – “I Had a Dream.” For anyone unfamiliar with the Ryders, well, shame on you. They basically laid down the blueprint of the alt.country/Americana movement a decade before it became popular. This particular song, which MTV added that summer into its rotation, comes from Native Sons, their album from 1984 that featured a cover that paid homage to the Buffalo Springfield’s never-released Stampede LP.  (Not that I knew that at the time.) Why MTV added the song, given that it wasn’t new, mystifies me; perhaps the Ryders were finally afforded a budget for a video, who knows? It’s a great song, though – one of their best. The video, on the other hand…. it’s very much of its time.

IMG_50585) Lone Justice – “Sweet Sweet Baby (I’m Feeling).”  Whenever I listen to anything that features the mercurial Maria McKee, I can’t help it: I fall for her voice with the same ferocity as I first did in April 1985, when I picked up the debut Lone Justice album on cassette based on a Rolling Stone review. It’s one of the greatest debuts of all time, to my ears. (Like the Long Ryders, the group hit the stage a generation too soon – a decade later and they’d have been at the forefront of the nascent alt.country/Americana movement.) As the reviewer, one James Hunter, notes, “With the commitment of her approach—the aim and attitude of Chrissie Hynde executed with the abandon and once-and-past angst of Dolly Parton—McKee’s something to hear.” This song, which was written by Maria, Little Steven and Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers, is a delicious stew of country, rock, R&B and gospel. But the review also points out the anachronism the magazine had become: The album was released in April, but not reviewed until August.