Last time I checked in on songs that couldn’t crack the code to get played on AT40, it was all about stuff I hadn’t heard before. We’re pretty much going back to the same well in this episode.
#96. Space, “My Love Is Music” Nope, it’s not the UK band that struck with “Female of the Species” in 1996–instead it’s a French collective doing ‘space disco,’ already on their third LP. It’s debuting, and would reach #60 in short order.
#95. Liquid Gold, “My Baby’s Baby” Let’s stay out on the dance floor with another song in its first week, though we’ve moved across the Channel to Northamptonshire. This sextet wound up with a couple of UK Top 10 hits. “My Baby’s Baby” was released only on this side of the Atlantic, would shoot up to #45 by early June and then dive off the chart from that peak position.
#91. The Fabulous Poodles, “Mirror Star” In my perusal of Stereo Review magazines from this period I’ve seen these Brits featured a time or two; kinda thinking I should do some more investigation. Is this New Wave? I don’t know, but it is a pretty clever meditation on a misfit kid who becomes a rock idol in his bedroom.
#84. Orsa Lia, “I Never Said I Loved You” Not much out there about Lia (signing to the doomed Infinity label didn’t help); Wikipedia says she’s from Virginia. It’s not a bad little ballad; reminds me of two or three songs from this period (but don’t ask me to try to name them right now). “I Never Said I Love You” was co-written by Hal David and originally recorded by Barbara Mandrell. This would be as high as it would get.
#67. Ian Matthews, “Gimme an Inch” Penned by Robert Palmer, first appearing on his album Pressure Drop. It’s the lead track from Stealin’ Home and was Matthews’s follow-up single to “Shake It.” Another one that didn’t climb any higher.
#53. Nicolette Larson, “Rhumba Girl” Shame on me for not learning about this delight until now. “Lotta Love” is one of my absolute faves from the opening months of 1979, and this Jesse Winchester tune is a worthy followup. Somehow only made it to #47.
#49. Ray Stevens, “I Need Your Help Barry Manilow” We’ll end on a note of levity, one that pretty well hits its target (and I say that as someone who likes plenty of Manilow). I actually did hear this a time or two way back when, and was probably slightly disappointed that it topped out here.
At this juncture, SR was in the process of giving itself a design makeover. This turned out to be the final issue to include Recordings of Special Merit; featured reviews were also about to become much less of a thing. What were the last albums to get the RSM designation? You’re about to find out.
Articles –The Compact Disc Bandwagon, by Christie Barter EMI is now issuing CDs! And RCA is the first to put out a new album simultaneously on LP, cassette, and CD (the Eurythmics’ Touch).
–Musicals on Video, by Louis Meredith New home-release tapes of A Star Is Born (Garland/Mason edition), A Hard Day’s Night, and (of all things) Heaven’s Gate get the thumbs-up from LM.
This month’s reviewers are Chris Albertson, Phyl Garland, Alanna Nash, Mark Peel, Peter Reilly, Steve Simels, and Joel Vance. We also have Video Reviews from Meredith, even though he still appears to be a free-lancer at this point.
Best of the Month –Debbie Campbell, Two Hearts (AN) “…serves not only as a showcase for Campbell’s impressive talents as a singer-songwriter but also as a sampling of the evolving ‘Tulsa Sound’…a stylish integration of country, blues, and rock.” –The Parachute Club, S/T (MP) “…perhaps the first rock band of the Eighties to fuse an articulate social awareness, almost old-fashioned in its sincerity, with dance music as contemporary as Boy George.” –The Pretenders, Learning to Crawl (MP) “Although (the album) seems almost mercilessly fixed on the tragic—aging, infidelity, loneliness, desertion, pain, decay—it’s not the ordeal you’d expect. Hynde manages to sidestep self-pity and seize upon a steely, passionate perceptiveness.” There’s a much less aggressive posture here than in their excellent debut disk, but LtC is easily my favorite Pretenders album.
Recordings of Special Merit –The Everly Brothers, Reunion Concert (JV) Recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on 9/23/83. “Their vocal harmonies and attack are as crisp as ever, and their genial professionalism is infectious.” –Stéphane Grappelli and Marc Fosset, Stephanova (JV) “(Grappelli’s) playing is as sturdy but intricate as a stained-glass design, and equally as colorful. Fosset, who plays with a touch of (Django) Reinhardt but does not imitate him, supports and complements Grappelli with a frisky delicacy.” –John Hiatt, Riding with the King (SS) “The songs here will probably remind you of the early Elvis Costello because, apart from the obvious similarity in their voices, Hiatt too has a flair for word play, a good eye for the details of contemporary culture, and an attitude toward relationships that might be described as cautiously cynical. He’s a lot funnier than Costello, however…” –Patti LaBelle, I’m in Love Again (PG) “This album has plenty for those who already like Patti LaBelle and even more for those aren’t certain that she appeals to their taste.” –U2, Under a Blood Red Sky (MP) “What comes across (about The Edge’s work) in the studio as a powerful but primitive technique is transformed here…into something nearly archetypal—fiercely rhythmic, clean, agile…(This album) reveals U2 as a band capable of performances that match the intensity of their music.” –Jane Voss and Hoyle Osborne, Pullin’ Through (AN) “…more than just a deftly concocted mood-brightener—it’s a hot toddy for the soul.” There’s very little of Voss and Osborne on YouTube, so I took matters into my own hands: last week I went on eBay and purchased this LP as well as their previous album Get to the Heart (which had received a Best of the Year Honorable Mention in the February 1982 issue). I guess I’d classify them as retro, as in 1910s-30s retro. There’s a small band to accompany Osborne on piano and Voss on guitar (she does 80-90% of the singing, too). After one listen, I’d say Get to the Heart is the better album; how much you like either of them depends largely on how Voss’s voice strikes you. It’s entertaining stuff, but I think she over-stylizes at times, more often on Pullin’ Through. I don’t regret the purchases, however.
Featured Reviews –Ian Anderson, Walk into Light (MP) “…rates as the musical shock of the year so far: Ian Anderson’s return from hysteria, brain intact.” –Dick Hyman, Kitten on the Keys: The Music of Zez Confrey (JV) “(Hyman) plays the pieces with respect and good-natured understanding. Neither overly serious nor excessively frisky, he interprets Zez Confrey as a fully formed musician, which is what he was.” –John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Milk and Honey and Heart Play: Unfinished Dialogue (MP) “The picture of Lennon that emerges is that of…a cowed husband sitting around in his pajamas, chin propped sadly into his palm, stirring his coffee and sighing into the late afternoon…Yoko Ono’s contributions are far more interesting, probably because…you don’t expect too much.” –The Pointer Sisters, Break Out (PG) “The sound is enhanced by synthesizers and electronic everything, but the music overrides the gimmickry thanks to the songs’ captivating immediacy.” –Larry Willoughby, Building Bridges (AN) Cousin Rodney Crowell produced this. “Willoughby is not nearly the poetic writer that Crowell is, but unlike so many others who operate in the mainstream of country music, he never allows his work to veer into cloying sentimentality.” –PolyGram Re-releases Jazz Classics (CA) Albertson looks at albums from Holiday, Basie/Fitzgerald, and Gillespie, as well as an all-star affair recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl. All were originally released on the Verve label.
Other Disks Reviewed –Irene Cara, What a Feelin’ (PG) “The best thing about this album is the cover photo of Cara, who is much lovelier than anything she sings here.” –Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger (CA) “Not only does one track sound like the next, but the whole album sounds like something you’ve heard before.” –Echo and the Bunnymen, S/T (SS) “Only the truly superlative modern production clues you that you’re not listening to your big brother’s scratchy old Iron Butterfly records.” –Larry Elgart, Hooked on Swing (PR) “Elgart still plays masterly saxophone…but I would prefer to hear him employ his talents without needless retro trappings.” –Moby Grape, S/T (SS) “This album is a collection of extremely uninspired Seventies country-rock…could just as easily be Firefall or the Little River Band or any number of similar nonentities.” –38 Special, Tour de Force (MP) “…further indication of its assimilation into the AOR mainstream…there’s a sameness, a generic quality…that caters to the unadventurous ear.” –Utopia, Oblivion (JV) “…(Rundgren’s) humor here is, for the most part, so self-absorbed and morose that it’s not effective even as a black joke.” –Luther Vandross, Busy Body (PG) “The trouble with this album, as with his two previous releases, is that he has relied too heavily on the least of his gifts (composing). It reaches true creative heights only when he is singing songs written by others.”
Video Reviews –Elton John, Visions (LM) “…I’m happy to report that Elton’s goony charm remains intact throughout, but the songs simply do not support all the production gloss.” —Jazz in America (CA) [Featured Review] A look at somewhat recent releases from Dizzy Gilespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Max Roach. —Making Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ (LM) [Recording of Special Merit] “… this is an exciting release. For one thing, it doesn’t take itself particularly seriously. More important, Jackson comes off less as a performer than a force of nature..” –The Men of Chippendales, Muscle Motion (LM) “Ostensibly, this is just another one of those workout programs…but it could turn out to the sleeper comedy video of the year.” –Rod Stewart, Tonight He’s Yours (LM) “…doesn’t even have much to recommend it on the technical level. Stewart’s not in good voice, the shooting is routine or worse, and the sound suggests an unmixed off-the-board feed.”
Last September I reminisced about some of the LPs my college radio station had gotten gratis from the record store where we purchased 45s to play on the air. Not surprisingly, my list wasn’t exhaustive, and an omission or two has surfaced in my head since then. Here’s a bit about one of them.
…in a chamber (that’s how it was stylized on the cover) was the first album released by Bay Area band Wire Train. It came out on 415 Records, which had just signed a distribution agreement with Columbia, and was produced by then-415 A & R guy David Kahne (Translator was a label-mate, and Kahne produced their early stuff, too). “Chamber of Hellos” was the putative single, and I do hear it every so often these days on SiriusXM’s 1st Wave. But that’s not the song that caught my ear when I threw ...in a chamber on one of WTLX’s turntables one late Fall 1983 weekend when it was off the air.
Take a listen to “I Forget It All (When I See You),” and see if you agree that it’s, er, how to put this?–strongly reminiscent–of a tune I happen to adore that got lots of notice, if not chart action, earlier in the year?
I’ve listened to …in a chamber a couple of times in the last 24 hours, and it’s fair to say my reaction is not nearly so enthusiastic as that of Allmusic Reviewer Tim Sendra (“…unspools like a greatest hits collection…’Chamber of Hellos‘ is the big hit, an almost insanely catchy modern pop rocker that has the kind of chorus that’s instantly recognizable after many decades.”). Overall I had trouble differentiating one track from another, and while they don’t have an unpleasant sound, I don’t currently feel the need to go back to this album all that often. It probably says something that the copy-cattish “I Forget It All (When I See You)” manages to stand out to me as a relative highlight. (Sendra does note the similarity I hear, for what that’s worth, and thinks it compares not unfavorably with the ‘original.’)
Wire Train stayed together in one form or another for almost a decade, releasing another four albums. …in a chamber turned out to be the only one that ever charted (peaking at #143), though I did see some of the others in record stores over the years.
I got almost to the end of this journey before I came to a set of records with no obvious theme to impose upon them. So let’s just take a look at a (very) disparate collection of five cuts that essentially span the entire 1960s.
Sometime in the first half of the 1970s I saw The Parent Trap on television and instantly started crushing on Hayley Mills. That said, “Let’s Get Together” isn’t a great single (one reason is that Mills doesn’t have too much of a voice). Yet, two things still happened: 1) it got propelled into the Top 10, and 2) my father was compelled to purchase it.
Jerry Butler had a version of “Moon River” that also peaked at #11, two weeks prior to Mancini making it there on Christmas weekend of 1961. It won an Oscar for Best Original Song, in addition to Song and Record of the Year at the Grammys–I guess all that hardware led to a re-release the following spring.
It’s one of those songs that takes me back to a very young age; for whatever reason, it evokes a feeling of wistfulness, I assume for days long gone.
Dad has managed to surprise me over and again as I’ve listened to the songs in his stash of 45s, and he’s done it one more time here. “Atlantis” is an odd duck, with a long spoken intro leading in to a repetitive chorus. I’m guessing it’s the only U.S. Top 10 hit to feature the phrase “antediluvian baby.”
It was originally the B-side: “To Susan on the West Coast Waiting,” an anti-war song told from the point of view of a Vietnam soldier writing home to his girlfriend, made #35 a few weeks before “Atlantis” rose from the depths.
Dad was too old to have worried about being drafted for Vietnam (he turned 33 in the middle of 1964). While I don’t recall having many general conversations with him about war, my overall sense is he was more peacenik than hawk; the presence of “Eve of Destruction” here lends credence to that thought. The sleeve suggests he bought this a few years after it was a hit, though.
This marks the second anniversary of my dives into the increasingly influential world of alternative music as it unfolded thirty years ago. Grunge is creeping closer to the horizon, but there are still a few more episodes of MRT to go before that tsunami hits.
As for my April 1991: I was in my last semester of grad school teaching (had the good fortune that my advisor could support me via a grant for the final year). Otherwise I was making strides on my dissertation and playing too much bridge; at the end of the month, Mark L, Milind, Chris, and I spent a weekend in Peoria qualifying for a July trip to the summer nationals in Vegas.
29. Eleventh Dream Day, “Rose of Jericho” Chicago bands often garnered attention in the record stores of Champaign-Urbana, so I was a little familiar with this band. They’d gotten a major-label deal following their epicly-titled, breakout indie 1988 release Prairie School Freakout, but were unable to parlay that into significant sales in three tries on Atlantic. “Rose of Jericho” was their second and last time on the Modern Rock Chart; it had already topped out at #27.
28. The Feelies, “Sooner or Later” This sounds like it comes from a completely different era, maybe late 70s? I’m definitely digging on it now, though–could be time for a trip through their catalog.
27. Dinosaur Jr., “The Wagon” J Mascis has one of the more distinctive voices of the alternative scene; wasn’t hard to pick it out when he helped out Band of Horses on “In a Drawer” five years ago.
23. Lenny Kravitz, “Always on the Run” Kravitz channels Sly Stone on this first featured track from Mama Said. Slash is also in the house, wielding his axe. (I prefer Kravitz’s remake of “That’s the Way of the World,” er, I mean “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over.”)
“Light Skin Girl from London,” one of the B-sides of the CD single for “Always on the Run,” came up more than once while listening to WOXY on travels back and forth to KY during this period.
19. Enigma, “Sadeness (Pt. 1)” Gregorian chant meets up with the master of pleasureful pain and hits the dance floor. The result is a #1 hit all over the world, but only #5 here in the States.
18. Lush, “De-Luxe” I guess this is in straight 3/4 time, but I’m sorely tempted to say it’s alternating between 3/4 and 6/4 in spots. Whatever it is, this is squarely in my wheelhouse.
17. Throwing Muses, “Counting Backwards” Lead single from The Real Ramona. I was only 27 at the time, but that made me a little long in the tooth compared to some of the folks on this chart. The Muses’ Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly weren’t even 25 yet; Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson of Lush had just turned or were about to turn (respectively) 24. Makes me feel like a wastrel, only thinking about polynomials in three or four variables…
14. John Wesley Harding, “The Person You Are” Last April we spun “The Devil in Me” from Harding’s previous release; this one comes from The Name Above the Title. Haven’t steeped myself in his work, but I’ve found both of these songs thought-provoking, appealing pieces.
10. The Judybats, “Native Son” Quite a few acts on this list were signed to Sire Records, including this sextet out of Knoxville (others are Dinosaur Jr., Muses, and Harding). This summer we’ll be checking out a 1991 Sire sampler on which all of them–and more!–appear.
This quirky, fun track is the title song from the Judybats’ debut LP–it’s also the tune currently lodged firmly in my head. I think what vocalist Jeff Heiskell is wearing in the clip is more cow than horse, but what do I know?
8. Havana 3AM, “Reach the Rock” Short-lived band featuring Clash bassist Paul Simonon. This was their one stab at glory.
6. EMF, “Unbelievable” Signs of the alternative scene’s increasing impact on the pop charts abound. Back in February, the top three of that MRT review went Top 10 on the Hot 100. This time, there are four songs out of these 30 that accomplished that: in addition to Enigma, the Divinyls and R.E.M. made it to #4, and EMF shot all the way to the top. I’m still a fan of “Unbelievable.”
5. Simple Minds, “See the Lights” How did I miss this at the time? Gorgeous piece; even spent a week at #40 on the Hot 100 at the end of June. They still had it, five-plus years after Once Upon a Time.
4. Divinyls, “I Touch Myself” Co-written by two members of the band and the powerhouse team of Steinberg/Kelly. This wasn’t the first time the band had leveraged the talents of outside writers: Mike Chapman and Holly Knight composed 1985’s “Pleasure and Pain,” a song I know I heard my senior year in college.
True story: the first time I heard “Birthday” from the Sugarcubes, I wondered if Christine Amphlett was singing (yes, I should have known better).
3. Material Issue, “Valerie Loves Me” Our second Chicago band, though with a completely different approach: the classic power-pop trio. What a complete delight this is; we’ll feature another stellar cut from International Pop Overthrow in June.
2. Morrisey, “Our Frank” Morrisey’s been a regular on the Modern Rock Track chart over these last two years, though I’ve frequently skipped over his contributions in these write-ups. We’ll throw him a bone this time; he’s pretty much still the same lyrically as he was with the Smiths.
1. R.E.M., “Losing My Religion” The guys from Athens were coming off their first extended hiatus from recording; 1989 and 1990 were the first years without a new R.E.M. album since they’d started. Even if I don’t listen to Out of Time as much as some of their other albums, I can’t gripe that this wound up being their best-known song.
There’s a two-way race for my favorite album of 1995 between Ben Folds Five and Tomorrow the Green Grass, by the Jayhawks. I’ve gone on about the latter before, noting I discovered it in the very early days of dating my future wife, and that the Wilco/Jayhawks show I saw that summer ranks as possibly the best concert I’ve attended. It couldn’t have been long before I started investigating their earlier works Blue Earth (from 1989, on their hometown Minneapolis label Twin/Tone) and 1992 major-label debut Hollywood Town Hall, released mere weeks after I began working at Georgetown.
Over the years I’ve found I keep going back to Hollywood Town Hall periodically, and it never fails to delight. HTH, produced by George Drakoulias, was well-received critically at the time, and some consider it the ‘Hawks’ finest moment. Alas, it peaked at only #192 on Billboard‘s album chart (though it made some noise as a Heatseeker), lower than any of their next six disks. It’s more than worthy of some attention, so let’s listen in on a few tracks.
The album leads off with the only song of theirs to make the Album Rock and/or Modern Rock charts; “Waiting for the Sun” may also be the one you’re most likely to recognize now. That’s Gary Louris on lead vocals.
Next up is “Crowded in the Wings,” highlighting what made early Jayhawks music most stand out: the synergistic harmonies of Louris and co-leader Mark Olson.
“Clouds” starts off sounding like a rocker, but quickly settles in to a more gentle interplay between Louris’s and Olson’s guitars. We later find out that intro also serves as the bridge. “God of the rich man ain’t the God for the poor.”
Back in the old days, “Sister Cry” would have led off side two. It’s another bout of epic harmonizing, especially on the chorus.
My favorite on the album is “Settled Down Like Rain.” Understated playing, lyrics, and singing. Gorgeous and memorable.
I go on regularly about sequencing, particularly the importance of ending an album with the right tune. What makes a closer the “right” one? I suspect context plays a big role; sometimes it’s good to go out somberly, other times rockin’ hard. “Martin’s Song” is one of two songs on HTH that also appeared on Blue Earth. Whatever it is, it’s got that last song feel, and the band agrees–it concluded Blue Earth as well.
Olson left the band after Tomorrow the Green Grass. Louris continued on with the others for several more years (I saw them a second time in Lexington a couple years later in support of 1997’s Sound of Lies). Over the last decade, they’ve reunited, recording and touring periodically; Olson even came back for one album in 2011. Their most recent effort, XOXO, was released less than a year ago.