Posts Tagged ‘Top 5’

So I watched the Oasis: Supersonic documentary on Netflix last night. The 2016 film, which I recommend, makes ample use of home movies, archival footage and fresh interviews to chronicle the band’s ascent to U.K. superstardom, which culminated in 1996 with back-to-back headlining gigs at Knebworth for 250,000 fans. (Some 2.5 million applied for tickets.)

A similar level of success in the States was not theirs to be had, though they did do well – especially with their sophomore set, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, in 1995.

I enjoyed their guitar-driven music at the time, especially on that album, but found brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher blowhards and, language-wise, unnecessarily crude. So it came as a surprise to me when, during the doc, a self-aware Noel explains what made that second set resonate. “The songs on that record, they’re extraordinary songs. And they’re not extraordinary songs because of anything that I did. I only wrote them, and we only played them. It’s the millions of people who f***ing sing them back to you, to this day, that have made them extraordinary.”

It’s a remarkable observation – putting the onus on the listener/fan – because it’s a truth often missed by artists, fans and critics alike, and yet is applicable to every song ever written and every song yet written. While the inspiration, intent and development of a song are (usually) interesting, they can and will never explain why it does or doesn’t connect with the listener(s). That’s the great intangible. Or as Noel puts it, “We made people feel something that was indefinable.”

It once was customary for songs to come our way without their backstories shared in interviews for months or even years after their release. The tunes simply floated in from the ether (aka the radio or our turntables), and we made of the lyrics what we would. We interpreted them, debated them, and saw ourselves in them. In today’s age, when over-sharing has become the norm, my fear is that artists confide too much of the whys and wherefores of their art. (To borrow a phrase from Iris DeMent, let the mystery be.)

Once upon a long ago, aka the late ‘70s, children searched for treasure. We pedaled banana-seat bikes to discount department stores – a K-Mart or Montgomery Ward, say – in hopes of striking gold in the record bins. Everything was cheaper there, but the titles were sparse, so in time we rode instead to a nearby music shop whose proprietor let us browse for what seemed like hours on end. And when we settled on a simple single, he thanked us for our purchase and wished us a good day. Later, we set out up a long and steep hill for a rinky-dink mall that housed a Sam Goody’s. The worker-clerks were more gruff and dismissive, and never thanked us for our cash, but it stocked a wider selection. 

In short, we sought the sounds we heard on the radio. Some stations were formatted Top 40, others rock, disco and R&B/soul. It never mattered. We turned the radio dial and were enthralled by almost everything we heard. We were lost in music. Caught in a trap…

“We” is me, of course, just as I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together. Everything I heard, even the old, was new or new-to-me. But children grow into teens, 10-speeds replace banana seats, and the appetite for more (on the cheap, as we had limited budgets) led us to used-record stores.

But my record buying notwithstanding, in the late ‘70s and early ’80s the music industry suffered a major slump. Hand in hand with the downward spiral, radio retrenched. Few new artists were featured, and those who were – Dire Straits, for example – often sounded like the old. For the most part, punk and new wave could only be read about, not heard via the airwaves, on this shore. And though I liked much of the old, as this blog attests, I also wanted to hear a lot of the new.

That’s when the days of buying albums from reviews alone began.

About the same time, in the late ‘70s, I stumbled upon ITV’s The Kenny Everett Video Show. A British program, it aired throughout the U.S. thanks to the magic of syndication – in the Philly area, it was Saturday or Sunday afternoon. In addition to his outlandish (and not always funny) comedy, Everett – a British deejay by trade – featured a who’s who of established and rising British musicians. Paul McCartney & Wings were in the same episode as the Boomtown Rats, for example.

Yeah, listening to that song now, it sounds more Springsteen-esque than new wave, but that’s not the point. It was new. Everett’s show ran the gamut of cool to kitsch, mind you, but at least most of what he featured was different. Kate Bush, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Rachel Sweet and the Pretenders were among the showcased acts

That clip of the Pretenders, by the way, hails from March 15, 1979 – nine months prior to their self-titled debut album being released in the U.K. and 10 months before it was issued in the U.S.

The Midnight Special and Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert were among the other outlets for music on TV, though – like rock radio – they focused primarily on the tried and true, not the new and untested. Solid Gold was for the hits. America’s Top 10, too. Slump or not, the music industry had become a Big Business, and Big Business is often short-sighted when it comes to seeding future growth. 

Unless they’re an upstart. Like MTV. 

The channel began life on August 1, 1981, but at first was only available in a handful of markets (aka the swamps of Jersey). Many viewers, including myself, didn’t actually experience it until the following spring or summer, thanks in part to a smart public relations campaign.

My aunt visited us that summer of ‘82, and I remember her commenting about how the TV – thanks to 16-year-old me – was usually tuned to MTV.

Now, MTV received its share of criticism at the time  – and some of it was deserved. The biggest issue: The lack of artists of color, which its programmers claimed was due to its AOR-like format. (AOR, of course, is album-oriented rock; and about the only artist of color featured in that format at the time was Jimi Hendrix.) 

The reality, however, was that MTV’s approach to AOR wasn’t in keeping with AOR radio. Far from it. Duran Duran, for example, broke big in the U.S. because MTV played – and played, and played, and played – the videos for “Hungry Like a Wolf” and “Rio” in late ’82. Here’s the former:

I never heard that song on Philly’s twin pillars of rock radio, WMMR and WYSP. Only MTV. As the years progressed, however, they cast their net wider and began to reflect music fans like me, who enjoyed pretty much everything.

At the same time, MTV also deserves some credit. It played quite a few artists who didn’t get much (if any) play elsewhere. Here’s one example: Romeo Void, whose “Never Say Never” was a staple of its early days.

Joan Jett, the Go-Go’s, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Van Halen, and the Bangles are just a handful of the artists and acts whose success (or mega-success, in some cases) can be traced to their videos being placed in heavy rotation. John Cougar’s another.

Spicing the non-AOR AOR format: the “veejays” who introduced the clips.

The original five consisted of the always cool J.J. Jackson, formerly of WCBN in Boston and KLOS in L.A.; hip Mark Goodman, formerly of WMMR in Philadelphia and WPLJ in New York); struggling actor Alan Hunter, who appeared in David Bowie’s “Fashion” video; actor-model Nina Blackwood; and my favorite of the bunch, Martha Quinn, who once appeared in a McDonald’s commercial and later was cast as Bobby Brady’s wife in the short-lived The Bradys comedy-drama. (Fun fact: Like me, Martha spun folk records on college radio.)

All of which leads to this: In March or April 1983, I sent a letter to Martha. Maybe it was to share a piece of trivia. Or maybe it was to ask that one of my many favorites get more play. In turn, she wrote back…

Do kids still write fan letters? Do they get autographed keepsakes – for free – in return? So much has changed since 1983 – some for the better, some for the worse. The digitalization of memories, for instance, has its pluses, as everything is in the cloud just waiting to be browsed. But here’s a downside: Young folks today will never know the pleasure of coming across a long-forgotten autographed picture inside a manila envelope…

I’ve been tripping the past fantastic since the release of 3×4 a few weeks back. The compelling Paisley Underground collection from the Bangles, Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate engulfs the soul like the ocean does the beach at high tide. The water is warm, in this metaphor, and free from the debris that sometimes washes ashore during the twice-daily deluge. 

Yes, for those unaware, there are two high tides each day, just as there are two low tides. They’re caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun in concert with Earth’s rotation, which is one spin per every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.09053 seconds. A similar phenomenon is found on 3×4, though its power is linked to the gravitational pull of the melodies and rhythms in concert with the rotational rate of the record – 33 1/3 rpm, in this case.

To lift a passage from a poem I wrote, “33 1/3 r.p.m.,” in September ’85: 

Revolutions spin and spin.
They never last,
but they never end.
Revolutions begin again.

Anyway, the Bangles broke through to popular acclaim in 1986 thanks to the shimmering psychedelia of “Manic Monday” and addictive goofiness of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” but the others never attracted as wide an audience as they should have. It’s a fact that was and remains a shame, and I’d blame the transitional nature of the times, but the reality is that’s the nature of the music business – quality bands and artists from every era fail to break through. 

And, with that said, here’s today’s Top 5: The Paisley Underground.

1) Rain Parade – “You Are My Friend.” At some point in late ’85 or early ’86, I picked up Rain Parade’s 1983 debut, Emergency Third Rail Power Trip, at City Lights records in State College, Pa. (aka the home of Penn State). I’d love to say that I played it to death, but the reality is I played it, enjoyed it from time to time, and moved on. On 3×4, the Dream Syndicate’s rendition of this song is one of the album’s highlights.

Here’s some trivia: Rain Parade was founded by Matt Piucci and David Roeback. David had previously been in a band – alongside his brother (and fellow Rain Parade bandmate) Steven – with Susanna Hoffs. Roeback left Rain Parade and formed one of the greatest of the unheralded ‘80s bands, Opal, with former Dream Syndicate moll Kendra Smith (whose 1995 Five Ways of Disappearing album is a lost treasure of the ‘90s).  

2) The Dream Syndicate – “Tell Me When It’s Over.” As with the other three bands, by 1985 I was aware of the Dream Syndicate – but even with my at-times expansive music budget, I didn’t take the plunge and buy anything by them until the decade’s end, when I oversaw the CD departments in a couple of video stores. The Three O’Clock’s rendition of this tune may well be my favorite track on 3×4

3) Rain Parade – “Talking in My Sleep.” Another 3×4 highlight is the Bangles’ rendition of this track, also from Rain Parade’s debut. And like the remake, the original version is far from a drowsy affair.

4) The Three O’Clock – “Jet Fighter.” The Bangles scorch the stratosphere with their turbo-charged cover of the Three O’Clock song; Debbi Peterson, who sings lead, even sounds like Michael Quercio. The initial rendition, found on the Three O’Clock’s classic Sixteen Tambourines album, rides the sky at a slightly slower Mach speed, but soars at a higher altitude.

5) The Bangles – “The Real World.” Rain Parade turns in a revelatory rendition of this track on 3×4, which the band formerly known as the Bangs first released on a five-song EP way back in 1982 (reviews for it can be found in the April 1983 editions of Musician and Record). Those early tunes appeared here and there in the following years, but it wasn’t until 2014 and the Ladies and Gentlemen…the Bangles! compilation that they became widely available. (That set is well worth seeking out, by the way.)

Thirty-five years ago today was a Friday and, although a winter’s day, calm and not too frigid in the Delaware Valley. The daytime high soared to 55 degrees (Fahrenheit) before dipping to 26 at night.

The New York Time’s summary of that day’s edition can be found here. A big pop-culture story unfolded after the issue was put to bed, however: While filming a Pepsi commercial that afternoon in L.A., Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire. What else? I recapped February ’84 (via Record Magazine) a few years back, so won’t go too in depth into the economic concerns of the era beyond to say that the early ’80s/Reagan Recession was beginning to ebb.

Beyond that: Cold War worries also kept some folks up at night – as did bad TV. And NBC, in a masterful stroke of programming, married the two in the wretched World War III miniseries, which aired on January 31st and February 1st:

A more major media milestone occurred on Jan. 22, 1984 during Super Bowl XVIII, which saw the L.A. Raiders trounce the Washington squad 38-9. No, not the game, but the debut of Apple’s famous “1984” commercial for the Macintosh personal computer.

The following day, Jan 23rd, another historic event occurred: the Iron Sheik, who’d thumped Bob Backlund for the WWF championship the previous month, lost the coveted title to Hulk Hogan at Madison Square Garden. It was the first step in Vince McMahon’s masterful plan to take the WWF national.

On the personal front: I was 18, attending Penn State’s Ogontz campus in Abington, and working part-time as an usher at the Hatboro Theater, a single-screen movie house that was destined to be demolished by summer’s end. Early in the month, I scored a temporary gig working inventory at the A&S department store in the Willow Grove Park Mall, and that extra cash helped fuel a month-long shopping spree – according to my Doonesbury-themed desk calendar, I picked up 15 albums and one single over the course of those 31 days. Most were purchased at Memory Lane Records, a used-record store in Horsham where the platters were plentiful and prices cheap, but two relatively new releases came either from the Hatboro Music Shop or the Listening Booth at the mall: the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl and Billy Joel’s An Innocent Man.

As evidenced by the picture, I was knee-deep into all things Crosby, Stills & Nash this month. In other words, I was out of step with the mainstream pop world – and not for the first or last time.

Here’s the Top 10 for the week ending on the 28th via Weekly Top 40:

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: January 27th, 1984 (via Weekly Top 40)…Further Down the Charts. 

1) John Mellencamp – “Pink Houses.” At No. 12 is this classic populist ode from the Heartland rocker – still one of the greatest such songs.

2) Van Halen – “Jump.” There’s no denying the utter joy of this single and its synth-driven riff, even if it was inspired by a man who was threatening to leap from the ledge of a downtown L.A. building. (“Go ahead and jump” was what Roth imagined people were yelling at him.) The group’s first and only No. 1 single was on its way to the top of the pop chart, rising in one fell swoop from No. 34 to No. 20.

3) The Pretenders – “Middle of the Road.” It’s no surprise that Learning to Crawl was one of the two new LPs I picked up this month. I’d argue that it encapsulates rock’s past, present and future in its four minutes and 15 seconds, but I’m sure others would disagree. Anyway, this week it edges up to No. 21 from No. 25. 

4) Nena – “99 Luftbalons.” The success of this song in both its German- and English-language incarnations speaks as much to the Cold War concerns of the era as to its catchy beat. On its way to No. 2, this week it floats to No. 22. 

5) The Motels – “Remember the Nights.” Martha Davis & Co. never quite caught on as much as it seemed they might, but they did release a handful of classic tracks. This, the third single from their 1983 album Little Robbers, clocks in at No. 36. 

And two bonuses…

6) Irene Cara – “The Dream.” The theme song from D.C. Cab inches up to No. 39 from No. 41. It follows the “Flashdance…What a Feeling” blueprint – though it doesn’t capture the same euphoria, it’s still a fun listen.

7) John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band – “Tender Years.” So the Eddie & the Cruisers movie was based on a best-selling book, and Cafferty & Co. were tapped to provide the soundtrack. The classic E Street Band sound rankled the critics… but also scored them some hits. This week, “Tender Years” debuts at No. 94. It would eventually stall at No. 78 before being re-issued in the fall, when it made its way to No. 31. Here they are on Solid Gold