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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Adam Ant: Every Album A Winner!

It's easy to discount the flamboyant popsters in our culture until they deliver something that we relate to (like a hard rock guitar hit).  But, unlike Culture Club filling the Tommy James void and bands like Wham!, General Public, Style Council, Katrina & The Waves, etc. doing Motown style hits, Adam Ant entertained us with a unique audio and visual stamp while alluding to sounds we think we might have known, but never actually had delivered to us in this way.  The revolution that brought this about, of course, was David Bowie.  And don't let people tell you it was mainly Roxy Music, Kraftwerk, T.Rex, Alice Cooper, Kiss, Velvet Underground, or anyone else with good ideas.  Bowie was the revolution that blew our minds with every song on every record the way The Beatles had in the '60's and is blatantly responsible for the flurry of tasteful synth hits from bands rising up the charts from '79 through '84.  Not to mention his trailblazing fashion.  Obviously, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk influenced those who actually bought the synths that made the future, but popstars in the MTV era were carrying the torch from Bowie's domination of the artform.

What Stuart Goddard (Adam Ant) brought to the '80's was his own little mini revolution.  This was new pop and new rock.  Powerful, but fun.  And, intelligent.  Overtly sexual ?  Yes.  Costumes & Make-up ?  Yes.  Danceable ?  Yes.  Disposable ?  Never.  Not the albums as a whole anyway.  And unlike the more important Gary Numan, Adam didn't lose sight of the goal and start delivering albums that shouldn't have existed.  Each Ant release is different from the next and all have great songs.  Creative, hard-hitting, and fun.  Isn't this what good music is all about?

Back in '82, when radio drilled "Goody Two Shoes" into us, I had no idea that this artist already had several albums under his belt.  I also didn't know there would be anything else from him.  As if, maybe, this song was too good to repeat.  What did I know?  I was still young and trying to re-buy albums I was raised on before entering foster homes.  Had I been in the family of my birth at the time, this wouldn't have happened.  But, I was fighting the present while trying to cherish the past.  Not completely, but I had a musical history that I didn't know that the strange new artists on radio also had.  If I'd even thought they had been raised on the same stuff, I'd have trusted them a bit sooner.  Of course, I was only days, weeks, months behind.  Not years, like some people.  I did prick up my ears to The B-52's, The Pretenders, Gary Numan, and Devo.  Blondie and The 3 O'Clock too, by force, but I liked 'em eventually.  The Police and Talking Heads took even longer to learn about, but became bigger favorites when I did.  After leaving foster care in '83, I began filling in the gaps in my collection of '80's records now that I was working and could afford to not steal records anymore.  (Back in foster care, if Christmas and birthdays didn't cover a year's needs, then yes, I'd steal some from the department stores Gemco, Zody's, and K-Mart.  Never at the smaller places like Licorice Pizza, The Wherehouse, or Peaches.  I'd drop a load of pennies and piss-off the clerk at those fine establishments.  Though, I did pay as a first option even at department stores, if I had some money.)

But, the '80's revolution had given-up-the-ghost by the time I graduated high school in '86.  And as shocking as the about face was on the charts.  I was still overwhelmed with the prospect of buying all the records I'd missed out on from '77 to '83.  Adam & Marco (his guitarist/collaborator from the second album on) were part of the puzzle I had to build.  Upon my return to the original albums, I found great songs everywhere.  Interesting parts, different styles, killer melodies, and vocal gymnastics.  All that the hits had implied, but so many more great songs.  There easily could have been a 2-CD set of Antics In The Forbidden Zone instead of one.

Proof of Adam's staying power is found in how people feel when hearing one of his songs unexpectedly.  People are always pleasantly surprised or already casual fans of his music.  This is contrary to the press on him being too camp to be taken seriously.  It's been very easy to find a song that people from different walks of life can enjoy from Adam's catalog.  This is quite amazing to me considering his look and behavior as an artist.  This could be said of Bowie too, but Adam isn't weird in the stiff way that Bowie is.  I've had more difficulty showing people the smarter and darker sides of The Beach Boys and The Ramones than playing an Ant song outloud!  Even his serious albums of '89 and '95 don't come off dark.

So, here now, his albums and the must-have songs on each ...

Dirk Wears White Sox : Zerox, Car Trouble, Digital Tenderness, Nine Plan Failed, Family Of Noise, Tabletalk, Cleopatra, Never Trust A Man (With Egg On His Face), Animals And Men.

This is the album I discovered last (not including Wonderful) and was blown away at how good it was.  Instantly my favorite punk era rock album.  A forward-thinking slice of the past is what I found when I discovered this album.  The only sadness is that it sonically can't hold a candle to the rest of his catalog.  But hearing all the great songs from it live when he toured in the '90's, you'd swear it was a new release.  That's how edgy these tunes are.  Such was the nature of new music in '79.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier : Kings Of The Wild Frontier, Antmusic, Dog Eat Dog, Los Rancheros, Killer In The Home.

The album that came from a rethink after the fiasco of losing his first album band.  And what a way to return to the world.  A completely new approach.  (Although "Kick" and "Car Trouble" were signposts.)  Tribal drums, Western guitar, warpaint and manifestos.  The revolution has a bold new face.

Prince Charming : Stand And Deliver, 5 Guns West, Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios.

On first look, a continuation of the last record, but definitely not memorable.  It does contain, though, the greatest unknown classic in history with "Picasso Visits The Planet Of The Apes" and the forever excellent "Stand And Deliver."  Also a great slice of entertainment is "5 Guns West" which sounds like it belongs on the previous record.

Friend Or Foe : Friend Or Foe, Desperate But Not Serious, Goody Two Shoes, Place In The Country, Something Girls, Made Of Money, Here Comes The Grump.

The album that finally made him a household name.  For a while anyway.  Featuring songs so likable, he couldn't be denied.  But like many thick productions, one has to find the thinner songs for sonic relief.  The two I love from this record fitting that description are "Here Comes The Grump" and "Made Of Money."  Both happen to have honest lyrics about this stage in his career and have appropriate music to match.

Strip : Strip, Puss 'n' Boots, Playboy.

Phil Collins produces and plays ?!  Too bad I dislike the album.  But three of my favorite '80's tunes on the same record?  It took me years to burn-out on "Strip" and "Puss 'n' Boots."  Mind-blowing productions of beauty.

Vive Le Rock : Vive Le Rock, Apollo 9, P.O.E., Hell's Eight Acres, Scorpio Rising.

A full-on rock album?  A 50's sensibility, but an '80's punch!  Two more perfect hits and a boost to his reputation.  "Vive Le Rock" seemed to do for Adam what "Rebel Rebel" did for Bowie.  Where Bowie's tune attacked with that classic hook, Adam punched a hole into the changing '80's with spot-on lyrics defending Rock 'n' Roll in the face of new frivolous music fads.  Everyone who ever loved a rock song of any kind could rise up and take a stand with Adam on this one.  Again, the music on the track matched the message.  Undeniable strength and intelligence.

Manners & Physique : Room At Top, If You Keep On, Picadilly, Young Dumb And Full Of It, Anger Inc.

"Room At The Top" charted, was played often, and definitely sounded confident, but then...poof!  Where'd he go?  Where'd the album go?  Are there gonna be any more records from this hit making giant?  Guess not.

Wonderful : Won't Take That Talk, Wonderful, 1969 Again, Yin & Yang, Image Of Yourself, Alien.

The return.  And, not just a return, but a return up the charts with "Wonderful."  Proof positive that anytime, anywhere, the world is open for an Adam Ant album.


Peel Sessions & Antbox : Ligotage.

This song should have been added to the first album.  A masterpiece!

B-Side Babies : Fall In, Friends, Juanito The Bandito, Why Do Girls Love Horses, Human Bondage Den, Christian D'or, B-Side Baby, Greta X.

A nice compliment to his hits collection Antics In The Forbidden Zone.  "Juanito..." is like having another Adam/Marco Western right there on vinyl.  So perfect.  "Greta X" just kicks butt.  "B-Side Baby" is a classic slab of rock.  Somewhere between pop and rock lies the great "Christian D'or."  "...Horses" is more comedy ala "Juanito..."  "Fall In" is a great warm-up rave-up from the early period and "Friends" is a touch of comedy from the same period.

Antbox : Saigon, Steve McQueen.

Both would be perfect as bonus tracks for Vive Le Rock.  "Saigon" definitely sounds like a natural for inclusion on the album proper.  I feel empowered every time I hear it.

Now, I know there are more good songs.  Kings Of The Wild Frontier has more, though some grate.  Vive Le Rock is perfect from start to finish as far as perfectly melding similar type songs together.  "Vampires" from Wonderful has a great chorus, but unfinished sounding verses.  "Manners & Physique" is a good song musically, but with shallow words.  "Can't Set Rules About Love" seems to run short of words leading up to the chorus...very anti-climatic.  And so on and so on.  But, this list is for the uninitiated.  Those new to Adam Ant, enjoy !

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Cars, The Beach Boys, The Ramones: America's Bands

Strangely, sharing the mantle with The Beach Boys, but in an unofficial way, The Cars did accomplish being the '80's mirror of fun-in-the-sun teenage culture.  But, The Cars, like The Beach Boys, aren't what people think they are.

The Ramones also are cursed to endure such a fate. And, for all their girl-group style classics, they have some of the best wit in the punk world in their harder tunes.  And, not just their hard tunes up through '79, but also in their adventures into Metal from '84 to '89.  We know that the imagery, guitar bite, and vocals aren't gonna endear most soft audiences to The Ramones brand of fun, but The Cars were able to keep the weirdness of New Wave pop and the force of straight-rock infused into their pop hits without ever looking uncool.  Even The Beach Boys have more variety in their corner than The Ramones, until what I consider the end of the band in '73 with the wonderful album Holland.  So, The Ramones never really were given a chance to represent, but The Cars and The Beach Boys are both revered for their brand of positivity and fun.  The same could be said of many hit-makers in the '80's who wrote retro '50's/'60's style tunes - Huey Lewis & The News, The Go-Go's, Katrina & The Waves, The Stray Cats, The Polecats, etc.  But, something about The Cars' hits contain a special magic in their drive, full-bodied production style (which includes many interesting parts), and inclusion of synths to make for truly modern recordings, not retro-replicas.  And The Cars' hits don't have that tinge of sadness that even The Beach Boys' hits seem to have.  When I was a child, "I Get Around" was one of the heaviest tunes going.  It's just that the lyrics didn't reflect that.  Motown hits had that affect too.  The hit, "Locomotion" was another one for me that sounded like a whole lot more than a dance craze was being explained to me.  Songs like that carry a weight forever tied to the times in which they were made.

But, The Beach Boys are, for perfect reasons, the official band of the USA.  Even if my particular interest in them (after leaving foster care at age 15) only extended to Smiley Smile and beyond, their catalog up to that point had earned them the right to wear the crown.  They certainly had the ingredients to make America smile.  Where they would go from there was probably too depressing to have the name Beach Boys attached, but such is the history now...Surf's Up, So Tough, Holland.  Heavy albums with a few light touches.  Sunflower...serious with many light touches.  Not perfect albums, but great albums all.

One can easily be turned-off to a band by hearing the wrong tunes, or even good ones in the wrong order.  A good disc jockey can remedy this, seemingly, unimportant issue for you.  Allow me to try now.  Below are lists that bring great songs to you, but in an order that tells a story in tempo and mood, moving perfectly from start to finish.  Of course, I'm not perfect, so I have to apologize for songs I feel I couldn't quite place correctly.  For those who know these songs, you'll see where you agree or not.  But, let me show you another side to these bands.  A side that radio rarely exposed.

The Beach Boys : '70 - '73  

1) Feel Flows
2) Trader
3) Steamboat
4) 'Til I Die
5) Surf's Up
6) Lookin' At Tomorrow (A Welfare Song)
7) Long Promised Road
8) You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone
9) Sail On, Sailor
10) Marcella
11) Funky Pretty
12) It's About Time
13) All I Wanna Do
14) California Saga / California

The Beach Boys : '66 - '70

1) Do It Again
2) Sloop John B
3) Bluebirds Over The Mountain
4) I Can Hear Music
5) Break Away
6) Celebrate The News
7) This Whole World
8) Add Some Music To Your Day
9) Our Sweet Love
10) At My Window
11) Cool, Cool Water
12) Aren't You Glad
13) Here Comes The Night
14) Time To Get Alone
15) Let The Wind Blow
16) I Went To Sleep
17) Our Prayer
18) Cabinessence
19) Vegetables
20) Heroes And Villains
21) Wouldn't It Be Nice
22) God Only Knows
23) Good Vibrations
24) Here Today
25) I Know There's An Answer
26) Caroline No

The Ramones : '84 - '96 (The Hard Stuff)

1) Mama's Boy
2) Weasel Face
3) Bop 'Til You Drop
4) I Lost My Mind
5) Endless Vacation
6) Wart Hog
7) I Know Better Now
8) Garden Of Serenity
9) I'm Not Jesus
10) Don't Bust My Chops
11) Learn To Listen
12) Ignorance Is Bliss
13) Punishment Fits The Crime
14) Pet Sematary
15) I Wanna Live
16) I Believe In Miracles
17) Poison Heart
18) Censorshit
19) Strength To Endure
20) It's Gonna Be Alright
21) Tomorrow She Goes Away
22) The Job That Ate My Brain
23) Makin' Monsters For My Friends
24) The Crusher
25) Cretin Family
26) Got Alot To Say
27) Have A Nice Day
28) Take The Pain Away
29) It's Not For Me To Know
30) Scattergun
31) Born To Die In Berlin

The Cars : Mixed Bag (Odd, Sweet, Tough)

1) Night Spots
2) Got A Lot On My Head
3) Double Life
4) Touch And Go
5) Panorama
6) Gimmie Some Slack
7) Getting Through
8) Misfit Kid
9) Down Boys
10) Up And Down
11) Running To You
12) Cruiser
13) Think It Over
14) Maybe Baby
15) Ta Ta Wayo Wayo
16) Leave Or Stay
17) Door To Door

You may remember some of these Cars' songs from radio at the time, but not now!  The only hit in this list is "Touch And Go."  As smooth as it is, it's still too jagged for rotation on 'hit' radio flashbacks.  Why would radio dig it up when they can please millions with "Let's Go," "Shake It Up," or any hit from the first album.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't add "Running To You" on a playlist, but although I'm not wild about the chorus it doesn't take away from a top notch tune otherwise.  I love the interplay of the instruments.  This brings me to the fact that I love all the musical parts on the entire Panorama album!  Back in the day, all their albums seemed to be equally quirky, hard, and soft combined.  Years later, it's easy to see the differences between the more straight-ahead approach of the '70's vs. the wacky early '80's.  And yet, the lines still blur back 'n' forth, because at any given moment they may want to accentuate the '50's guitar style that sounded like surf-punk and western pastiches or jump to experimental synth parts of the time.  So, before the super-smooth sounds of '84's Heartbeat City and '87's Door To Door, you could hear just what the band members were workin' with....Gary Numan, Devo, B-52's, Adam Ant (if Kings Of The Wild Frontier had been released yet)...all bands that are comin' up together and influencing each other directly or indirectly until the movement dissipated.  It's no surprise that Panorama sounds like a Devo record.  It was the year of Devo.  Close your eyes at the start of "Gimmie Some Slack" and you'll think "Whip It" is about to start!  Whether a joke or not, it's great fun.  Also, the Stones "She's So Cold" comes to mind, but this song is none of those.  It's just another Cars classic that'll never be perfect for normal radio.  That's ok though, because rock fans love Panorama.  And, to top it off, it doesn't have a picture of a girl on the cover.  Sure, it's car related, but more in iconic imagery than with an actual car.  The flag gracing the cover is standard in racing circles, but also represents the New Wave ethic in its checkerboard style.  A stark image with bold colors.  This album as a whole, not as individual songs, has to be their greatest triumph.  No other Cars album do I want to play start-to-finish.  But, that's just me.  I like aggressive-quirky.

The purpose of all the lists above is to show you that these bands aren't just the fun-in-the-sun party outfits that their names have come to signify.  So, make your own playlists.  But, hear it all first, so you don't miss anything you'd wished you had added later, but forgot to buy.  Greatest Hits sell big for a reason, but for me, they're introductions to a group before I go whole-hog.  For many they are the be-all and end-all of their interest in a group.  And, hey!  I'm the same if it's a group I like only for a song or two, but have you ever met someone who says they love a group and still haven't heard the entire catalog?  Maybe this type of fan is shrinking with the internet allowing everyone to investigate a catalog thoroughly.  But, some bands have a reputation so set in stone, you'd have to be a miracle worker to get the public to acknowledge a new reality.  I look forward to all of you getting the most out of your record collection.  A collection best used, not just shelved.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Bob Mould Re-invents Hard Rock and No One Even Notices

Bob who ?  Evidently, his original band, Husker Du was already reaping praise from critics before a band mate of mine brought me to the Warehouse:Songs And Stories album tour of '87.  Their last album and tour as a band before main singer/writer (guitarist) Bob Mould went solo.

Like any guilty pleasure that turns into a legitimate fondness, I originally heard traces of things I really liked and things I really didn't like in this band Husker Du.  It turns out, most of what I didn't like was singer/writer (drummer) Grant Hart.  Not that I was jazzed by either one of their voices, but the blitzkrieg of distorted guitar didn't help me to hear the melodies that night at The Variety Arts Center in downtown Los Angeles.  To be honest, I didn't understand why they had an audience.  But, I wasn't following any post-punk outfits to even know what was going on in that realm.  (Sadly, Bob Mould's future electric guitar shows (not his acoustic ones), showcased his songs as unrecognizable crash 'n' burn mosh-pit excursions.  I figure that he thought, "You know how the record goes, so let's just burn-off some steam."  I felt bad for anyone who might have come to hear the melodies only to get mangled vocals.)

But, with the release of Bob Mould's solo outing of '89, Workbook, I started to get hooked.  Again, loving some things and cringing at others.  But, playing the album non-stop.  Maybe, because in a world of Sunset Strip Make-up Metal, it was nice to hear something honest and original.  A distinct 'voice,' the likes of which I hadn't seen in a solo singer/guitarist for a while.  And, though I would never claim that he is an artist who has something for everyone, I could definitely hear a mix of different things happening all over this record.  First off, he actually had a production well-suited for radio.  "See A Little Light" was in rotation and did get him noticed.  This and other songs featured a cello in the musical line-up years before it became trendy by all the wanna-be R.E.M. bands of the '90's.  Bands signed during the Seattle - grunge frenzy, but none of which sounded as fresh as Nirvana.  (I particularly liked The Posies, but they were a '60's throwback, not true grungers, even when they made some hard-hitting records with "Frosting On The Beater" and "Amazing Disgrace."  A band that is probably big fans of Husker Du as well.  They have a song called "Grant Hart").  Songs like "Wishing Well" and "Poison Years" were very welcome in a time of bloated pop songs.  Because, as we all know, late-'80's pop hits had none of the experimentation and adventure that the early-'80's had.  The renaissance was over...and this time for good !

The biggest revelation on this record comes at the end with a tune heavy in mood and delivery, but with a sparse, thin production to let you inside of it for the verses, then puts you further back for the bloodletting of guitar.  This tune is called "Whichever Way The Wind Blows."  Heavyweight title for a heavyweight song.  Immediately, I feel I'm hearing Zep's "When The Levee Breaks" only because it puts me in that same mentality.  A powerful drone of sound.  The albums he was yet to deliver would almost make me forget this tune, because that's how fast Bob Mould was zooming into an intelligent hard rock sound for the '90's.  I was also a big fan of "Dreaming, I Am."  A mysterious song with soft and hard touches, a great vocal and smooth parts.  Outstanding!  Meanwhile, in a different, more organic universe, comes "Compositions For The Young And Old," a lengthy story of how things used to be and our frustrations with good things gone bye-bye.

If Bob Mould had ended his career with this record, that would have been a great way to end it right there.  A great achievement.  But in 1990 he comes out with the most tuneful hard rock record I had ever heard, Black Sheets Of Rain.  With this one, he's in full rock mode and it's heaven!  The title track is a masterpiece of purpose.  Never would I bore of it!  "Stand Guard" would takes years for me to like, only because it reminded me of the meatheads who would have used a similar template to rock-out.  "It's Too Late" takes '70's pop to its beautiful core and fits it nicely on a simply produced rock record that has no frills, but all the emotion of an album that would make you sing along.  "One Good Reason," "Stop Your Crying," and "Hanging Tree" are all great heavyweights.  Then, back to hard pop for "Hear Me Calling," "Out Of Your Life," "Disappointed."  Ending the album is another song in the vein of "Whichever Way The Wind Blows," but is nowhere near as good, "Sacrifice: Let There Be Peace."  This song was put on his 'best of' collection, upsetting me to no end.

Upon hearing this record, I really had no interest in ever hearing any other hard rock bands again.  This was the ultimate.  As far as hard-hitting records by other 'smart' rockers, I was a big Rush fan by 1985 when I finally bought my first day & date release of Power Windows, so they covered my hard rock needs with enough variety for a lifetime of enjoyment.  Also, I was deep into my favorite hard rock record by my favorite '80's New Wavers ... Calm Animals by The Fixx.  And, though not lyrically important, the always compositionally deep Robert Plant and his latest, Manic Nirvana was also inspiring.  (Minus the stupid single choice.)  So, this was 1990.  A futurist year, in theory, as much as 1980 looked coming after 1979.  A dawn of a new age in great music awaited....or did it ?!  The only good thing I can say about the '90's is, if you liked the '70's, but wished they'd had more modern recording techniques and equipment to beef-up the product, well....the '90's are for you.  If you like the idea of lumberjacks gettin' all gothic on us with guitars plugged into distortion and no other effects and definitely no synths...then the '90's are for you.  I did enjoy some of the retro sounds myself, but not the lumberjack-gothic ethic.  The '80's was the end of the mind-blowing history that started with the late 50's rock 'n' roll and then morphed into the first British Invasion.  So, by 1990 I was done.  Certainly I wouldn't mind not having to collect records anymore in my life.  But, Bob Mould wasn't costing me, especially when I bought both these albums on cassettes that were industry promo copies.  So, like The Firm or Box Of Frogs in the '80's, this was a private detour that turned into a rediscovery for why straight-ahead hard rock was vital to the purpose of rock music.

So, here we are in the let's-get-into-widescreen-movies-on-Laserdisc-with-surround-sound-'90's and forget about any new music, when Mr. Mould puts together a band by the name of Sugar.  It's still Mould music, but with a second songwriter who was both poignant and powerful, David Barbe, (initially only heard on singles).  So, by this time, I'm for sure paying full dollar amount for anything with Bob's name on it!  I bought this next album without knowing anything about what was within. But, I was seriously unprepared for this musical surprise.  Copper Blue from 1992 was the greatest hard rock record I had ever heard.  So good it melted all his other works away from consciousness.  So sonically powerful and yet bright.  A crisp, clear production.  Never has distorted guitar been so majestic.  A very intelligent hard rock experience.

Well, since rock radio was trying to cash-in on grunge, they took as many new hard rock records as they could find to make a statement that they weren't oldsters playing the same old records.  Here in Los Angeles, KLOS was that station.  KLSX was talk-only, so no competition there.  But, the truly alternative station KROQ had given all the grungers a chance since Nirvana and accidentally inherited all these heavy bands that really should have been on KLOS.  So, KLOS makes the switch and brings in new fans, but ultimately alienates their old demographic and retreats.  But, not before Copper Blue's "Helpless" gets heavy rotation on the station.  Maybe the tempo made this the song of choice, but at least he was on the radio again.  Any song from this record could have made a radio playlist since it was the era to be hard.  But, there were also some lighter tracks.  "If I Can't Change Your Mind" and "Hoover Dam" could have made Sugar a household name in moderate-rock circles.  But, one can never trust radio to bring you the best.  Sometimes they get it right, but most of the time they don't.

"The Act We Act" starts the album heavy-metal-hard only to break into yearning vocal beauty.  My favorite type of tune ... desperate truth-saying on top of a heavy bed of guitar force.  "A Good Idea" is next.  Very 'up' for a 'down' topic.  More realistic the feel of suicide than any horror-flick style death, the way Metal songs would do.  "Changes" would have made a great radio staple.  It was a single, but I think KLOS needed "Helpless" to be the song to fit the slower grunge tracks that were being allowed on radio.  And by-the-way, this is '96, years after the album.  But radio would have you think that they were hip to the variety of indie artists of the '90's.  They were not.  "Changes" had that guitar movement that reminded me of Rush's "The Big Money" from Power Windows.  Alex Lifeson from Rush and Bob Mould both understand that chord progressions are half the story.  Lead guitar is great, but without showing off the beauty of just letting notes and chords repeat in a round, the listener would miss being transported to a higher plane.  All the cerebral greats know this.  It is the stuff of great songs.  James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders used to blow our minds with this too.  A good, slow dirge is "The Slim."  It's overriding feature being the fact that Mould sings the word 'slim' as 'slime,' but he does say, "the chances seems so slim" during the song too.  So, I don't know.  "Fortune Teller" is a straight-up rocker with a punk ethic, the way only a person with a love for both could provide.  This is why his style of rock is so fresh.  The fact that he came from a punk world, but doesn't actually write punk songs makes for the uniqueness that is his catalog.  "Slick" is another dirge, but a bit more up.  It has a nice warped feel to it, thanks to the vocal phrasing.  Ending the album is another poignant full-weighted piece as perfect for the finish as "The Act We Act" was for the beginning, "Man On The Moon."  And, don't think I wasn't upset that a band I used to love (R.E.M.) had a song on the charts at the time with the same title.  It could have been nice for radio to play 'em back-to-back on a show showing off songs with the same titles.  But, I guess, the deepest weekday radio can be is to say, "Here's two for Tuesday!"  Yeah, wow.  You guys are so witty.  Any other brilliant ideas before free radio becomes obsolete?

For 1993, Sugar hits us with second of the one-two punches and takes the rock up another notch.  Unbelievably, all the hard-hitting excitement of this new release, "Beaster" is delivered with just a few songs on this long-playing e.p.  With mellow bookends surrounding the harder songs, these are his hardest songs yet and about as hard as you can get while still being a rock band, not a metalhead joke like so many respected hard-rock outfits.  Of the hard songs, I'm nuts for three of the four, "Tilted," "JC Auto," and "Feeling Better."  And they're perfect played in that order too.  One building into the next.  Each one long enough to last a good length.  This is especially important when driving around town and you want to wallow in this state of mind.  The melodies, the words, the guitars, the vocal overdubs, the tasteful, but upfront use of synth on "Feeling Better" all secure this album as another Mould masterpiece.  Thank you, Bob Mould, David Barbe, and Malcolm Travis.  You've made the world of rock a better place.

Before Bob Mould went back to releasing songs under his own name again, there was one more Sugar outing.  The third release, File Under: Easy Listening, was both a cute title and the truth, in as much as it was an exhale from the bone-crushing hard style of Beaster, but then again, it wasn't.  It was simply both.  And both aspects of the album were good.  It was hard to accept some of the Hootie & the Blowfish truck-drivin' style at the time.  But, that's alright.  I'm not one to say anyone who has made great contributions should ever be expected to repeat themselves or be different either way.  Artists take you on a trip you would not have gone on yourself.  This is a fact that should be appreciated.

Speaking of the harder side again, this album has the solid-rockin' tunes, "Gift," "Gee Angel," and "Granny Cool." And, as always with this band, single-only classics.  In this case, "Going Home," "Mind Is An Island" and "And You Tell Me."  Masterpieces, all!  In a way, the cool-down was almost a relief.  After so many great songs and heavy live shows, I wasn't upset that I could see this being the last Sugar album.  I knew it even before it was reality.  But, ya know what kiddies?  Bob Mould had more tricks up his sleeve.  A one-off comedic rap track that I loved blasting from the car.  Electronica.  More acoustic soft stuff.  And, definitely more hard stuff.  And, you know I'm the guy to like all of that when there's a trusted artist at the helm.  Because intelligence in words or composition or better yet, both, brings the art of rock music to a fulfilling place.  A place I wish all of you to be.

             "Get out there and rock and roll the bones!"  -  Rush, 1991

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Arthur Lee vs. Jimi Hendrix

Photo by Jeffrey Eisen

All my life I've been a fan of The Jimi Hendrix Experience. (Who hasn't?)  And, all my life I've been a fan of Arthur Lee and his band Love.  A band name that, of course, doesn't turn heads, but a logo that does.  And like band names that we hear over and over, the meaning and sound of 'Love' changes as we become familiar with the attitude of the music.

It's strange to me to even have to go down this road of holding Arthur Lee up as an artist I'd rather have you listen to than Hendrix.  Jimi Hendrix is a special kind of guy.  He's a great player, with a relaxed feel.  Great compositions and a variety of styles (to a certain degree).  A great singer.  And, from all accounts, a sweet and fragile individual.  Arthur Lee is different.  He's a rougher person.  But, he's as hard and as soft as Hendrix.  Arthur is rough around-the-edges musically sometimes, where you hold your breath and hope he reels it in before it all falls apart.  Other times he's as sharp as a tack and blowing your mind with odd songs that make Hendrix look conventional.

Be assured I'm not here to make this a war of choosing sides.  I would just like to see posters of Arthur Lee on your wall alongside Hendrix posters.  This is the right thing to do.  You see, as far as I can tell, Arthur Lee and his cohorts created punk.  Yes, punk!  There's nothing like "Seven And Seven Is" that I've yet found from the same period in history.  The Kinks also, and better known, created punk and heavy metal with "You Really Got Me."  And, amazingly both bands made the most passionate sweet and/or sad songs while still being balls-to-the-wall outfits.  And yes, Hendrix had that ability.  But, where Lee/Love was different was in their weirdness.  Arthur Lee comes off like the Johnny Mathis of punkdom.  Love took normalcy and gave it the biggest twist I've ever heard.  As a baby I was transfixed by the gothic nature and heaviness of their cover of "My Little Red Book."  I've never been so gripped by a song since.  And by gripped, I mean, the Grim Reaper has you by the throat!  Intense stuff for young ears.  But then, maybe it took on a special surreal state in my environment at the time.  (See "Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas" to get an idea.)

As a matter of fact, it seems Elektra Records had the trifecta of gothic pop under one roof with The Doors, Tim Buckley, and Love.  Heavy stuff.

I wonder how Arthur and Jimi behaved around each other, knowing they played on a song together from Love's False Start album, "The Everlasting First."  I simply do not know, though I have heard Lee's opinion of Jimi's arrival on the musical landscape.  And, I'd think Lee could be a little miffed when a guitar master who can write great songs overshadows him.  But, Arthur Lee writes more important songs, songs attacking injustice, songs pleading with you to understand, songs begging you to change.  Arthur Lee, like John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ray Davies is a truth-sayer.  And, like them, he knows how to fight with all his being for the truth.  You can hear and feel the sadness that hurts his soul when he leaps out of a sweet melody into improv screaming.  But privately, Arthur must have loved Jimi's spirit in order to make what is essentially a Jimi Hendrix record with 1972's Vindicator.  Simply a masterpiece!  What a record.  Total Arthur doin' very Jimi.  A wonderful tribute, whether intended or not.

I could go on for a long time writing about my love for Love.  I could also tell you how many years I basked in the glow of "Axis: Bold As Love."  For now I only remind you to add posters of your own making.  Stay out of the gift shops selling you another Hendrix poster.  Make you own featuring Arthur Lee, James Honeyman-Scott, Dave Davies, Adrian Belew, Warren Cuccurullo, and anyone else that deserves a nod for all the guitar prowess they've wielded while getting absolutely no credit in the gift shops of the world!  For, like Hendrix, these men were great players and great songwriters both!  All hail the real rock 'n' roll history!  A history that even I haven't finished investigating.  But I'm not on this earth to talk to you about every person who's ever picked up a guitar.  I'm here to point out the special ones.  Those who have made a special mark in the pantheon of great songs.  Enjoy your record collections and go down fighting!  Jimi and Arthur the deep black grooves of vinyl.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Great Fade-Outs !

       Most songs ending abruptly do so in a grand way.  We love that.  Many fade-out casually without fanfare.  No problem there either.  But, there are others that like to tease with a hint of a chord change that hadn't yet appeared in the song or simply decide to finally have a solo, only to barely squeeze it in before the faders shrink it down to silence.  (And in the old days, plenty of hiss to go with that silence.)

       How many great fades have you tried to keep alive by cranking the volume all the way up before you had to quickly bring it down before the next song starts?  I thought I'd be swift and record them cranked-up for mix tapes back in the '80's only to realize I'd ruined the impetus of the track.  So, in the '90's I'd let 'em be except I'd shave off the quiet ends (after a signature lick) for my Mini-Disc collections.  It worked much better.  (I don't manipulate them much in my current music module.)

       Here then are some favorites:

The Police - "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic".  Everyone knows this classic ending right, "It's a big enough umbrella..."

The Steve Miller Band - "Golden Opportunity".  What a nice, but powerful little pop tune.  For a hardcore R'n'B lover, Steve Miller sure loves himself a great pop tune here and there.  One of my favorite songs even before the nice guitar solo on the fade, ending on a high note... literally !

Van Halen - "House Of Pain".  My favorite Halen song.  Having variety and power, this heavyweight doesn't have a special fade exactly, but the guitar improv and guitar/drum sync-up sends us out nicely.

Hall & Oats - "Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid".  With 2:30 left on this quiet little tune, our dynamic duo of soul decide to blow our sonic minds with the closest thing they've ever delivered to a Beatles tune.  Powerful simplicity!  And vocal improv on the way out.  An all-time favorite.  Thanks, you guys!

John Lennon - "Nobody Told Me".  The beauty of the band's driving simplicity.  So tight, so clean.  One last drum fill with a cymbal crash on the fade. Great words, great vocals, great playing.  How odd to have such a complete sounding work on an album released three years after his shocking death.  I want to thank everyone involved in making the album Milk And Honey.  It may not mean much to world now, but this album allowed me (and probably millions more) to smile through the tears.  Especially after the gut-wrenching sadness of listening to Double Fantasy.  (I happen to be writing this particular section on 12-8-10.  Didn't plan it that way.)

Rush - "The Big Money" The different times the band decides to hit accents.  "Vital Signs" The vocal variations and band accents.  "Manhattan Project" The light touch of various accents.  "Grand Designs" Start & stop accents.  The most exciting of the lot.

Steppenwolf - "Skullduggery".  After getting used to the tambour of the backing vocal, this song just screams for radio play.  Great guitar on the fade, with the tremolo bar making the last wave good-bye.

The Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations".  For a song so overplayed when we were children, it's hard to remember how badly you wanted the ending not to fade so quick.  The power of a stark stringed instrument blazin' away as if a hard guitar were present.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Don't Buy The Hype! "Exile.." is great, but is it great for you?

       A thought that comes up too often with me, is that albums with a sense of adventure are more important to praise than traditional offerings.

       Currently, publications are falling over each other to praise The Rolling Stones Exile On Main St.  A great record for sure.  I love the album, but let's say you want to know how other musical movements affected your favorite artists.  Like, how did disco, punk, or reggae affected The Stones?  Well, if one of these styles of music is your favorite, you then say to yourself, "What songs of theirs is in said style," or "What were they creating during what particular year and why?"  Also, "Was it good?"  And was it good by your standards, not some numb-nut who refuses to grow beyond The Stones of Beggar's Banquet or Let It Bleed.  Did you know the hardest The Stones ever got was on the album Dirty Work?  A record that also has pop tunes on it, so music writers discount ever mentioning this album instead of steering hard rockers to it.

       I've read too many reviews that think they're smart for comparing an artist's new work to their classic work.  (Like the last two Robert Plant albums, Band Of Joy and Raising Sand, getting compared to early Zep.)  Don't trust them unless you agree knowing the references in question and they ring true.  Otherwise, do what they won't.  Get familiar with an artist's entire catalog, then make the call.  That's all you gotta do.  It's fair to the artist and yourself.  Of course, this all matters only if you care.

       So, happy listening.  And listen to it all.  At least once through.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Double Fantasy: Stripped Down Version

Hello people,
         I recently read in Rolling Stone that John & Yoko's Double Fantasy is going to be re-released again, but this time without the '80's production.  '80's production?  Hello!  Aside from maybe the backing vocal on "Clean-Up Time" and the honky, synth harmonica on "Dear Yoko," there's no '80's production the way we as a culture expect to hear when we talk about music of that period.

         Somebody stop the disease that is unplugged, acoustic, raw, organic, etc.  A great idea, for sure, but this is not a record that suffers from the gloss of the '80's.  This album stands-out as being a classic for its songcraft, professional production, and whip-sharp band playing with the intent suitable for the messages at hand.

         Losing John Lennon shortly after the release of this album is the most uniquely tragic event in music history.  Not only was he from the most famous pop-rock band of all time, he was a truth-sayer and a gifted songwriter of the highest caliber.  After dated efforts from the '70's, which although having great songs, certainly didn't have the purpose of the 1980 comeback.  The songs on this album and on the last album, Milk And Honey, would be his greatest statements (as a whole) since his Plastic Ono Band solo debut.  There's a majesty and maturity to his songs from 1980 that the production on Double Fantasy brings to the fore for the whole world to see.  What was a melancholy album in mood to begin with, became gut-wrenchingly sad after his death.  Though Milk And Honey has more upbeat moments, it's of the same ilk and the tears flow just the same as I smile at the enjoyment of hearing lyrical wit coupled with great instrumentation and vocal prowess.  His humor, wisdom, and melodic sense completely intact, these two records are a joy to hear, regardless of the sadness.

         This new edition of Double Fantasy may be enjoyable, and a must for my library, but let's just not get to thinkin' that less production equals "more real."  There's a time to be raw & simple and a time to be multi-tracked.  Let's not forget that multi-tracking is what blows the mind when we hear Revolver, Sgt. Pepper..., and Magical Mystery Tour.  The bare versions on the Anthology albums (and various bootlegs) are a revelation, but though some are great, some remind you why the finished track is a proper final statement.  I'm glad to own Let It Be ... Naked if that's what was truly intended by The Beatles, but that album is a special case.  We know they threw up their hands when it came to that project and listening to both versions of the album has a similarity that can't be found in listening to a bare version of one of their psychedelic tunes.

         So, let's all enjoy the latest edition (like the last one ... Acoustic) knowing it's just a fun side trip into the songwriting process. Let's not spread any rumors of how much better it is than the original.  Maybe, there really isn't a threat anyway.  Maybe I'm overreacting.  Maybe it doesn't matter anyway.  I'm just thinking that if his songs from 1980 didn't move you then, then they probably won't move you in a different form now.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Best of Steppenwolf - Reborn To Be Wild

When I was a little tyke in the '70's, Steppenwolf, like Donovan or The Beach Boys or any other surviving '60's artists, were mainly getting radio play for their famous tracks.  Very few new tunes would become radio staples for these bands.  It's easy to understand why a radio station would want to play songs already ingrained in the culture, but why would it shun a successful artists' new work simply because there might be new music to buzz about (and sell in bigger numbers than an artist everyone has known for sometime)?

Though I spent the '80's adoring the sheen and purpose of the newest and last wave of musical revolution, I also backtracked to the artists I grew-up on.  Album by album, I returned to the past to dig-up albums I'd never heard, from artist's worthy of a listen.

One day, around '89 or '90 I was visiting the cheap-o VHS racks at Osco (then the current name of Thifty's locations) and thought, "Why not look-over the audio cassettes?" Knowing the pathetic selection doesn't deter one from checking.  I'd be happy to find titles I already had or decent 'best ofs' for other customers to discover.  One of these collections was from a band that would create my favorite catalog of music ... The Kinks.  It was a red colored collection from Spain with a picture of the band on a stage with no title.  Perusing the song list, there was only one song on it that I didn't have.  In these days, shelling out $7.99 for only one song was an economic no-no.  But, I was just about to change gears in my record-buying life and start doing just that.  The song was "Lincoln County" by Dave Davies.  After many weeks of picking this cassette up, looking at it, and putting it back, I finally dove in.  (CDs having just come out at the tail-end of '87 here in Los Angeles, I eventually bought all the '60's Kinks albums as imports.  A special release, The Album That Never Was would represent the unissued and previously issued songs of brother Dave from this period and it would have this track.)

The only other cassette I looked at with curiosity and surprise was a 'best of' from Steppenwolf lamely entitled The Best of Steppenwolf - Reborn To Be Wild.  As predictable a title as it was, it actually described the contents correctly because none of the famous songs I had known as a child were on it.  In addition to that fact, the cover was gripping.  Again, while being predictably tough with leather and bikes, the fact that they were wearing masks was frightening, but not gory.  This peaked my interest.

I don't know why I bought it.  Maybe I was hoping that one or two songs would be worth the $7.99 in spite of the fact that losing $8 bucks to a possible bummer was taking a chance.  In these days, $3.99 was the acceptable bargain price for new records and $2.99 to $0.99 being the norm at the local used-record stores for new recordings that were cut-outs, having clipped corners, hole punches, or record company stamps to reserve right of ownership.

Discovering the '70's incarnation of Steppenwolf was a refreshing journey down a path I was already on.  One where smart words matched with powerful music created images like any book or movie.  I'd also never known that a collection culled from original studio albums could be strong enough to tell a story of its own.  I thought that was just something I did at home when I'd make my own collections pulled from all the studio albums.  This is the only 'best of' I've heard that has the power to be considered a storytelling masterpiece!  The song order gels, the stories are all on the same serious theme, and the music all fits seamlessly together.

Replacing cassettes with vinyl and compact discs, I eventually came across a vinyl copy of their album Slow Flux.  I was so excited!  From the shine of the metallic cover to the playlist that included songs from the 'best of'.  Welp, major disappoitment.  The songs it had that weren't on the 'best of' seemed unnecessary or downright average.  Fast forward to the CD which contains all 3 albums from this period: Slow Flux, Hour Of The Wolf, and Skullduggery and the same problem remains.  Regardless, a big round of applause for one of the greatest albums of all time, whether accidental or not.

  • Straight Shootin' Woman
  • Hard Rock Road
  • Another's Lifetime
  • Mr. Penny Pincher
  • Smokey Factory Blues
  • Caroline (Are You Ready For The Outlaw World)
  • Get Into The Wind
  • Gang War Blues
  • Children Of Night
  • Skullduggery

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Debut Albums Are Not Always Their Best Albums

Before I start, can I say that I hate the self-titled album concept?  Who came up with this?  Forever we have to say, "You know, man.  The one with the such & such on the cover."  What a treat!  Even worse is when it's not even their first record!!!  Or the ultimate, they do it twice!!!

So, how many times have you heard supposed fans talking about how great that first album was?  Even if they're right it's annoying enough that you wish you could bring the artist in question into the discussion, like Woody Allen does in Annie Hall.  Always, in my experience, it would be fans that were of age when the record came out.  Someone born after a band has been and gone can, possibly, not have that prejudice.  (Not until a band drills home a certain playlist year after year to appease that fan base.)

Luckily, some artists have so many different periods that one has to acknowledge something good about each period.  You would think they could anyway, but I've heard Ziggy era Bowie fans slamming his '80's pop as if it had no value at all.  Of course, these people didn't come back to him when it was time for Tin Machine either.  They were too busy praising the latest watered-down indie guitar sounds of the late '80's.

But let's mention a few debuts that would be eclipsed by better records at a later date, beginning with an artist who, thankfully, gave his first record a name:

Julian Lennon - Valotte This 1984 debut was terribly exciting to imagine when first hearing about it, but was quite a curiousity once in hand.  Hmmmm, he's not a rocker.  Good songs, bad songs, great production, overblown production.  Oh well...I'm in!

This album is Julian's biggest seller for obvious reasons.  "Oh my God, he sounds just like his father!" Well, seemingly so at the time, but not when you get used to his catalog over time.  But, nonetheless, he's got that vocal box in his throat.  It's pretty close!

Also, coming after the death of his famous father, everyone was ready to read into every lyric that he was gonna tell us all his thoughts about it.  He didn't. We read into it anyway, at least emotionally.  Once the world was over it, they were done with Julian too.  Didn't help that his first 3 records were heavy with sappy ballads and the sound of session players being very into their instruments rather than songcraft.  But, a funny thing happened on the way to the third album, Mr. Jordan.  Julian started to experiment.  "Now You're In Heaven" taps into the Robert Palmer style hit with a Bowie vocal.  This would be a sign of a masterpiece still to come, 1991's Help Yourself.  His first record with an actual conceptual cover to match, unlike the first three which had his face.  Also, Bob Ezrin, producing (for better or worse).  This is the album to buy.  Go ahead and get the debut though. It has "Valotte", "Too Late For Goodbyes" and the perfect "Say You're Wrong" and the decent, but dated, "OK For You".  Just know you're gonna get stuck with "Jesse".  The song that still makes me wince.  Chalk it up to storytelling necessity, I guess.

Aerosmith - self-titled  All I can say here is that Get Your Wings is so much better than the first album that everyone probably agrees on this one.  (Think the same could apply to Nirvana's Bleach and Rush's first.)

Led Zeppelin - self-titled  To be realistic, I don't think anyone would say that the second record is better than, just more of the same greatness that was this band.  I personally have reached for the second album more.  Probably because of the short-form songs, but now I don't listen to either.  I prefer to imagine their third as the beginning.  Not nice, I know, but its vibe is just less T&A, so I dig it more as a starting point.

Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who.  Ok, we don't need to bring up any first wave British Invasion groups.  All these bands re-wrote the book on rock history just as soon as they could break out of the mold.  But, their first albums are from that mold (although they contain some revolutionary songs that we all know).

Blondie - self-titled  After the excitement of variety coming from Plastic Letters, one could almost forget to pull this one off the shelf ever again.  It's a must-have, but, Plastic!

Blur - Leisure  One starts to think there's something good going on amid the repetitious drumming, but hold-up !  Modern Life Is Rubbish comes to show that's it's one of the best records of the '60's that happened to be made in the '90's.  (Same could be said for Nick Lowe's Party Of One in '90 sounding like the '50's.)

Duran Duran - self-titled  Sure the first record has some great stuff, but isn't Rio almost perfect ?!

Eve's Plum - Envy  Don't know if this chick is the real deal after starting a dance-pop career as Vitamin C, but the band deserves credit for great music on the album Cherry Alive.  Envy is phony-bologna though.  I do still like the songs "I Want It All" and "Blue" from it, but Cherry Alive is great song after great song.

Fishbone - self-titled  In Your Face puts the extended play debut to shame.  Nothing more to say on this one.  You'll hear the difference.

Fleetwood Mac - self-titled  Rumours came after this Nicks/Buckingham debut and, uhm, like ... the rest is history.

Hole - The last thing I thought I'd ever do is buy a Hole album, but Celebrity Skin is one of the best moments of the '90's.  Great guitar work and great vocals on great songs.  Hats-off to all involved!

Billy Idol - self-titled  Ok, a few bright spots on an otherwise unnecessary album.  A better piece of product is Rebel Yell, but you know this already.

Interpol - Turn On The Bright Lights  Pleased by the updated version of a Joy Division style band, but thanks for Antics and Our Love To Admire.  Well-rounded indie-rock records instead of straight-out imitation of the avant garde late '70's.

Jethro Tull - This Was  Hard to listen to this one when Stand-Up is so good!

Tom Petty - self-titled & You're Gonna Get It  No brainer here.  Petty and the boys got better with age.

The Police - Weird to think that this band got better with every record and quit while in top form.

Suede - self-titled  I think the Suede of Coming Up is a lot more exciting than the debut album.  I'm sure hardcores are gonna think they were somehow better when slow and redundant, but great songcraft always gets a bigger audience.  They may have gone overboard with Head Music, but the first record bores and ya don't wanna bore a paying fanbase.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Don't Go Solo!

        It seems that some very talented performers lost something when going solo...
  • Robin Zander from Cheap Trick...Yikes!
  • Belinda Carlisle from The Go-Go's...Ouch! Stop!
  • Phil Collins from Genesis.  In spite of his famous solo hits, he could have released them on Genesis albums.  It never stopped him before!
  • Bill Wyman from The Rolling Stones.  Though I like some of his solo songs, it's a guilty pleasure.  His solo output certainly doesn't stand out in the rock 'n' roll universe, but he's said as much in his brilliant tune "A New Fashion" from his self-titled '82 release.
  • Debbie Harry from Blondie.  In spite of heavy radio rotation of the single "Backfired" and a visually grabbing album cover, the record Koo Koo tanked.  It died for the right reasons, but that didn't stop her from making more after Blondie's final album, The Hunter.  Looking back, I actually like more songs from Blondie's The Hunter than Autoamerican.  If they had picked a different single, album title, and wig & make-up for the cover of The Hunter, it might've been a bigger seller.
  • Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys.  Lover of pre-rock 'n' roll to a deadening degree : (
  • Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.  What good moments are on Pacific Ocean Blue are actually on the first track.  From thereafter it's Peter Criss time for Dennis and it is sad that he sounds so ravaged by the bottle.
  • Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys.  When he lead the group in the early '70's, he made new, original classics which would be the last great music from the group.  He was on such a roll that they even named the group Carl & the Passions for an album!  Forward to the early '80's for the self-titled solo album and it's time to hide my ears.
  • Sting from The Police.  Like Phil Collins, he certainly made plenty of good mellow music without the need for a solo outing.  Although he enhanced the pallet of 'smooth jazz,' one record or two would have sufficed.  A million years later, the mind goes flatlining when I hear him sing anything nowadays.  As one co-worker called him ... Stink.  But, whatever makes the Liza, Barbara, Barry Manilow season ticket holders happy!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

What They SHOULD! Be Known For

Wang Chung - "Fire in the Twilight" : This song got plenty of airplay at the time and is a great upbeat tune which doesn't weaken over the years, thanks to a good production.  Not dated to the year it was released, this stand-out track seems to be only available on The Breakfast Club soundtrack. 

Instead of being known for the embarrasing "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight," this should be the tune played everywhere.  Of course, the first famous tune is good, "Dance Hall Days," but "Fire in the Twilight" could remind people what a good pop-rock song is all about.

Nena - "Just A Dream" : This is what a gold standard of '80's pop should be!  After "99 Luftballons" bleeds your ears numb, switch to this excellent tune from the same album.  A song this good deserves heavy!!!

Song Similarities

The Kinks - "Catch Me Now I'm Falling":  A band whose catalog, along with The Beatles and David Bowie, is probably the most impressive rock music one can ever have the good fortune to come across.  But, a smile beams from me when I hear The Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash" jumpin' out at me.  This had to be obvious to listeners at the time.  The result = perfection.

The brothers Davies mined their own "All Day and All of the Night" for the balls-to-the-wall rocker "Destroyer." Another similarity one can't miss. The result = perfection.

Lest I forget, "Property" has the famous bass line from "My Girl" !  And, "Aggravation" has the guitar funk of "Another Brick in the Wall Pt.2" and "Can't Stop The Music" has the exact vocal phrasing as "Satisfaction". And "Welcome To Sleazy Town" takes Genesis' "Misunderstanding".

The Fixx - "Don't Be Scared": Certainly not a song that most people have heard, being that it is one of three songs that are new material on an otherwise live album of hits.  But being a child raised in the bubble called The Beatles, you know I'm gonna catch a melody similarity that wasn't intended to be.  The high crooning at the end of a phrase that finishes the main body of words in "Don't Be Scared" immediately conjures up the ending to Lennon's high notes that end "It's Only Love".  But fact is, it's only similar enough in my head.  Listening to it again, (from 3:27 to 3:32), I feel bad for even mentioning it.  This happens when you're singing a melody in your head from one song, then another song pops into your head.  Unfortunately for me, this happens every time I'm thinking of either tune.

The Rolling Stones - "It Must Be Hell": It took me years not to think of their own "Soul Survivor" when I hear this one.  It sounds like "It Must Be Hell" is created from the chorus of "Soul Survivor" and I love 'em both!

David Bowie - "What's Really Happening?": It recently dawned on me that the verses evoke "You Keep Me Hangin' On" by The Supremes.  Seeing as this is a co-write between himself and a contest winner, I don't know which one of them is responsible.  No matter, I love the song anyway.  (One of only three songs I like from Hours.  The other two being "The Pretty Things Are Going To Hell" and "New Angels Of Promise.")

Power Station - "Living In Fear" : The greatest song from the same-titled 2nd Power Station album from '96. A masterful classic Hard Rock song that in one spot has a little wormy guitar lick that reminds me of the descending line from Mick Ronson on Bowie's "Width Of A Circle".  Listening side-by-side doesn't seem to prove the point, but alone it always takes me there. You'll find this line just before the big send-off of an ending.

The Vapors - "Silver Machines" : I didn't notice right away, but there seems to be a touch of The Who's "You Better You Bet" in a section.  Had that song come out first ?  Either way, it's a cute touch that obviously doesn't need the nod to make the song what it already its ... The Vapors' equivalent to Blondie's "Dreaming".  2 perfect songs from 2 great bands.

Trust Me, It's Not What You Think !

One should be able to name a song whatever they want, right?  Sure, but after a genre or band has a reputation for creating songs with certain titles, good luck changing the mindset. 

Example #1 ... The Beach Boys - "Surf's Up."  Fans of the band know it's a masterpiece and everyone else would probably roll their eyes if you tell 'em the title without playing the song.

Example #2 ... The Beach Boys - "All I Wanna Do". A sad-tinged classic from the Sunflower album, this gem is forever trapped by a mundane title every bit as uninformative as "Surf's Up".

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Albums That Time Forgot ... Even At The Time !!!

In the late '80's a very slow decay took place at the record stores.  Music would never be as exciting again. The adventure that was the New Wave sound came to a close by the end of '85 and completely by '90/'91 (at the very latest).  The cutting edge of recorded output had become history for most of these artists by the time Live Aid came to pass.  We just didn't know it was all gonna be over at the time.

Too easy to praise the late '70's / early '80's and certainly not my will to praise the somewhat cool, but repetitious '80's indie sounds of bands already a throwback to the '70's underground or new synth bands lacking production prowess and/or great songs, this rant is designed to address the big, commercially successful artists that took a chance at re-birth in the New Wave era only to get their albums thrown right back at them.  If pleasant in sound, a fanbase will listen.  Once the music goes dark and the topics talk about anything other than love (even if only on a few songs)... good luck!  First, the album would hit the $3.99 bin and then drop from there until the world's most famous artists would end up at the $0.99 level.

A few conditions lead to this downfall during the '85/'86 change-over in musical tastes...

First off, kids comin' up gravitated toward a music they could wear that would make them seem tough while not being the typical rock sounds of static radio-play: they would latch onto rap, which now was reaching national prominence in America.  This would be the brand of choice for many.  Also with disco gone, the need to have a four-on-the-floor "for those about to dance" would have techno to hold down that fort.  Heavy metal goes underground, getting faster and harder and cheese-pop continues to hold the casual listener's ear until Nirvana blows it to kingdom come!

Add to the fact that in many cases the production style in the mid 80's overtakes the songs.  Consider too that the songs are not always hummable or understandable.  Now consider this: some of us prefer it that way!  For better or worse, these albums excite those who want adventure.  Especially exciting was to see tried and true artists go out-on-a-limb to bring us their take on the new sounds of a great era in pop perfection.  The following artists achieved both new heights and new lows ... all on the same record, every time out.  Here now are those albums.

Paul McCartney - Press To Play

My favorite of all the failures.  McCartney surprises me for the first time since "Temporary Secretary" and album wise, since Back To The Egg.  Bravo! But, uh oh! What the hell is this?  Disaster strikes!  The horrible single "Press" and the pitiful video for it kill this album dead.  Needless to say, I'd never get any of these songs played live when he toured his play-it-safe "Flowers in the Dirt" album and world tour.  Was it super-producer Hugh Padgham or new co-writer Eric Stewart who made this change in McCartney or was it him?  Regardless, I'll always love this album for its adventure in songs like "Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun," "Pretty Little Head," and "However Absurd."  Then there's the aggressive-tinged "Angry" that sounds like it's channeling help from Denny Laine, but is Eric Stewart (evidently of 10cc fame, not to be confused with Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics). More straight-ahead fun delivered in "Move Over Busker" and subtle power unfolds with "Footprints." A song that takes years to really sink-in as a great tune. The instrumentation alone stands-out from all other McCartney ballads. Even "Talk More Talk" captures interest with its strange Prince-like vocal leading to a sing-a-long chorus.  The album opener, "Stranglehold" compares to "Press" in that it doesn't deliver any useable result, but is fun to hear the band brewing-up to something during the verses ... and again, a video that ruins what little musical interest was in the song to begin with.  And let's make clear that on vinyl and cassette pressings here in the States, there was only ever ten tracks ending with "However Absurd."  A perfect end to the record.  Ending side 1 was the overblown, but actually good, "Only Love Remains."  Nevertheless, this song should be on the yuppie throw-away album Pipes of Peace.  Pipes of Peace and Tug of War could both be combined into a 2-record set and tossed out to sea.  The product of what happens when Paul McCartney and George Martin take no chances pushing the art form.  But let us forgive them since they didn't know what to do after the crushing blow of losing John Lennon.

Robert Plant - Shaken 'n' Stirred

Appropriately titled, this album is all-over-the-map!  Coming off the heels of his two great solo albums, Pictures At Eleven (smooth Zep) and The Principle of Moments (more smooth Zep and some legitimate New Wave), but before the mega hit Now and Zen comes this amazingly bad, yet exciting record from the master of mood and power!  Everyone I know really likes the lead single "Little By Little" and no ill words were ever spoken to me about this record from anyone who loves Led Zeppelin or Plant's solo albums, but wowie-zowie if this record doesn't shock the system.  (Much like Neil Young making robot music on Trans from '82.)  Reasons to buy it are "Pink and Black," "Sixes and Sevens," "Little By Little," and "Trouble Your Money."  Reasons to run from it are ... well, all the rest of it, except for the cutting edge force of "Too Loud."  Great for clubs that will never play such a song from a man connected to Zeppelin, but a song I play at top volume while driving to this day.  (I found out later that Plant also feels he achieved something with this tune.  Glad to hear it!)

Men At Work - Two Hearts

How sad.  A good, but confusing record comes from a band that could do no wrong and gets forgotten by time.  Thank the record company for deleting this one from its printing presses year after year.  Even after the first two albums were re-released with bonus tracks it was forgotten again!  I think if not for the hit collections Contraband and Super Hits the public at large wouldn't know that the band had written anything worth listening to after 1983!  And maybe, blame the fans for not demanding a reprint. Of course, with Beatle mania fans that's what happens.  Just ask The Knack, Cheap Trick, and Duran Duran about teeny bopper backlash and it becomes painfully apparent why some good albums don't get re-released or re-mastered after an A-list band dare change its hit making formula.

The album begins with a masterpiece by any band's
standard:  "Man With Two Hearts."  Musically and lyrically this song goes for the throat.  No wonder their fans weren't ready for this, but then again, the band never wrote dumb lyrics anyway.  The Police were accepted with the darkness of Ghost In The Machine, but Men At Work just had too squeaky an image to survive their journey (and not the sex appeal of Sting either).  Maybe if they had not disbanded this album would not be on this list, but more akin to talking about Midnight Oil, a band that touched upon a new wave production path without losing their fanbase or company support.

Next, is a straight-up melancholy pop tune, but a great one: "Giving Up."  A song that could have fit nicely on a playlist featuring albums like Avalon from Roxy Music or Keep Moving and Mad Not Mad by Madness or a million other smooth popsters of the era making hits from the same template.

Third up is the promoted song "Everything I Need."  This shockingly plain organic acoustic rock would have been a perfect '90's hit, but again, not what a Men At Work fan or CBS records would want from this white reggae pop band.  Fourth is the keyboard-wacky "Sail To You."  Hard to play this aloud without running to turn the volume down before someone might ask you what the hell you're playing!  "Children On Parade" comes next to smooth-out the craziness; subtle and smart, but still one might wish for the day when production wasn't front and center...meaning the synth is featured in this era, not the guitar.  And now for something extra organic!  The excellent, but I'm-gonna-skip-it-every-time "Maria."  If not for Colin Hay's voice you wouldn't know it was even Men At Work.  "Stay At Home" is good fun for the album, but sometimes the voice is too far back in the mix to make us love the tune.  "Hard Luck Story" is both hard hitting and annoying, thanks to those whole notes drawn-out in the chorus; same problem with "Upstairs In My House" from Cargo.  Another go-getter, "Snakes And Ladders" is the kind of song I love best, both great musically and lyrically. This song demands you understand the business that brings you the music.  Artists should be allowed praise for telling the truth about the music biz, certainly after delivering plenty of happy fluff for you over the years.  So hats-off to the band (or was it just Colin Hay) for this song.  (If so inclined to delve deeper into the subject, seek out the masterpieces Lola vs. Powerman and the Moneygoround by The Kinks and The Last DJ by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.)  The album finishes with "Still Life."  A great (sad sounding) song, but with more of that wacky synth playing that makes ya run for the volume again!

Colin Hay's first solo album, Looking For Jack ('87) had some good songs on it, but like "Fortress Around Your Heart" from Sting's Dream Of The Blue Turtles ('85), Colin's "These Are Our Finest Days" would make the mistake of hiding the rock guitar stylings down in the mix.

Arcadia - So Red The Rose

Welp, not exactly an album that fails on any level, but added to this list because of its greatest sin.....that's it's not officially a Duran Duran record!  I like the Arcadia name for style and understand it was their way of not offending contracts, but look at the result!  You'll never get "Election Day" or "Goodbye Is Forever" on a Duran greatest hits compilation.  This is especially sad when, looking back to the '80's, one recognizes that this was the album that truly finalized Duran's sound to its most mature point before never sounding like that particular kind of pop band ever again.  Even songs like "Keep Me In The Dark" and "The Flame" could have been contenders on a hits collection.  And the seamless switch to side 2 with the south-of-the-border flair of "The Promise" and "El Diablo" that are so smooth that even Sting's presence seems like a warm bath with scented soaps.  Not even as obvious as his appearance on Dire Strait's "Money For Nothing." At least people remember "Election Day" and know it's Duran.  This is the record that everyone should know as the final statement of early era Duran, not Seven and the Ragged Tiger with its out of control production and (occasional) weaker songs. The Power Station record featuring Chic, Palmer, and the two Taylors can be found in many stores (especially in a new 2-disc edition featuring a 'making of'), but good luck finding this one!

Yes - Big Generator

Ahh!  Big album, big tour, end of the triumphant return for the band that could or should have called themselves Cinema.  But, then we wouldn't all know a 'lil ditty called "Owner of a Lonely Heart," would we?  Though surprising at the time, one can see how a brilliant hack like Trevor Rabin could infuse the "dinosaur act" back to greatness and then destroy them soon after by just being himself!  There's something great and something average about the input of Rabin on the band called Yes.  But, when it comes to 1987, the excitement ends with the beautiful blah which is "Love Will Find A Way."  He should've left that song for a solo record.  They should have made a single of "Shoot High, Aim Low."  "Rhythm of Love" was a solid production, but how long would a new musical audience accept the voice of Jon Anderson as the leader of a hard rockin' band?  It's anyone's guess because the body of work is there to support the greatness of the group and who knew when we first heard "City of Love" that it was actually Yes?  Hats-off to Yes and Trevor Horn for creating the coolest production for "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and the entire 90125 album.  Great or not, I'll always want a copy of Big Generator on the shelf next to 90125 and the half-baked Union.

Jethro Tull - Under Wraps

"Jethro Tull, you say?"  "Yes, Jethro Tull!"  I know, I know... but just like Neil Young and Steve Miller, Tull improved on a borderline crappy attempt to modernize at the beginning of the decade.  Though very "out there" as far as glittering synth production, Under Wraps is a very exciting album that I missed at the time.  Unlike the retro bore of Crest of a Knave that won the award later.  Under Wraps has my favorite songs outside of their '70's heyday.  As usual for this period in history though, poor choice of a single would cement this album's demise.  But, let's mention the reason to buy: "Paparazzi."  Once again great music meets great lyrics.  Even the band has snuck this gem into live shows without the vocal, just jamming away on the great guitar movement.  I'm sure few knew it was even this song.  I'm also a fan of a bonus track "General Crossing" from the compact disc.  I'm a big fan of aggressive vocal stylings.  And, who's to say that the vocals on this album aren't as exciting and as purposeful as anything done by XTC, Oingo Boingo, Gary Numan, Adam Ant, The Fixx, or anyone else?  Is it fair to smile at Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio," but get pissed at Ian Anderson for wanting to accentuate smart lyrics with jagged vocals?  Just stay away from "Lap of Luxury" and "Under Wraps 1."  (The acoustic "Under Wraps 2" is very out of place on this record and very good.  It should have been on a 'best of' collection.)

Cheap Trick - The Doctor

If not for a co-worker from my first job, (everyone say 'hello' to David Lynn, Cheap Trick and KISS fan forever), I would definitely not have heard of this album or have ever delved back into this band's catalog.  Though horrified by the record at the time (as David was by Rush's Hold Your Fire), I quickly found value in individual parts.  The cover art was eye-catching enough for me as well as an odd title, but please don't listen to the song of the same name or you might be tempted to sail this record out the window at top speed!  Let's dwell on the nice parts and, as always, worthy melodies.  "Are You Lonely Tonight?" is such a melody.  And what seems like dated synth accents on the verses is also the very touch to suck you in.  (Craigie like!)  What is terribly dated is the repetitious "ro-ro-ro-ro" of "Romance in the Rearview Mirror."  A technique from the time, which used in a visual form was very new and fun, but was icky when used audibly.  They almost killed "Little Sister" from '85's Standing On The Edge the same way.  This album starts right, though, with the New Wave power of "It's Up To You" with it's thrilling deep/dark vocal line before it becomes a more typical tune.  Still, it has more melodic movement before it gets to the ok-I-guess title line.  But, even that is saved by a high Beatle bend ... "Take each and every day as if it was your last..."  The majority of songs on this album are not noteworthy for their verses, but for singable choruses.  I especially like "Man-u-lip-u-later" with the dirty sounding chorus, just the right touch of background singers too.  Also, I'm a sucker for what sounds like a Denny Laine style lead on "It's Only Love."  I'd prefer it ending Wings' Back To The Egg instead of "Baby's Request," that's for sure!  More singalong fun is found in the chorus for "Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere)."  So, just stay away from "The Doctor," "Name of the Game," and "Kiss Me Red."

Not since the robotic excitement of "High Priest of Rhythmic Noise" and "I Want Be Man" (and the unexciting "Saturday At Midnight" and "Dancing The Night Away") had Cheap Trick dared to jeopardize their reputation as a straight-ahead rock band.  Surprising, as well, to do it after the arena rockin' Standing On The Edge and just before their commercial comeback with Lap Of Luxury featuring the return of original bassist Tom Petersson for exiting Jon Brant.

Neil Young - Landing On Water

Like Jethro Tull's Under Wraps, it'd be years before I became aware of this album since I never really thought of what Neil released after his Decade collection.  Everyone knows his famous solo years and earlier Buffalo Springfield tracks, but don't be shocked that diehard fans know nothing of, and want nothing to do with his New Wave era stuff.

All sorts of projects were moving under the radar for Neil in the 80's.  The most extreme being his association with Devo for the movie Human Highway and his Trans album of '82, (which is almost exclusively robot-rock with vocals so warped by effects that one can barely make-out the words.)  Until his wit got him noticed again in "This Note's For You," his only offering to the world that I knew of was the retro-50's "Cry, Cry, Cry" video.  But, unlike Trans from '82 and Life from '87 which one could buy only as pricey import CDs, Landing On Water (from '86) seemed to be available domestically.   Was this record a good seller?  I can't imagine who would have bought it.  It certainly wasn't as hard to take as Trans for the average listener.  But it definitely was still heavy on pop production.  '87's Life would be almost entirely organic, but still have a few moments to irk the typical Neil Young fan.  And, unlike the purposefully futuristic cover for Trans or the boring cover for Life, Landing On Water would have a very deceptively normal, but stark image of a plane on the ocean with life rafts deployed and featuring a close-up insert of one of the rafts with its occupants.  Easy to understand or puzzling?  Maybe both?  (By-the-way, the cover I'm describing is what would be both the front and back images on the vinyl album, but in the world of cassettes during the late-'80's, companies would make the cassette artwork become the combined image of both sides to help the buyers see what the idea was since they couldn't just flip the tape over to expect more imagery.)

Now, for those of you with no prejudice to 80's production, you will find a great song with powerful accents in rhythm leading this album off.  "Weight Of The World" is simple in message, but sets the tone right and in a big way.  I think "Weight.." was the single for the record and I've seen white label promo pressings too.  I sure didn't hear it on radio though.  I would love for this to be an '80's staple for him the way "Sleeping Bag" is for ZZ Top or "The Big Money" is for Rush.

Next up is "Violent Side."  A solid, but choir backed offering that makes you take notice when it gets to the break-down section coming back with a more impressive choral hit coupled with intensity from Neil's vocal.

Third is "Hippie Dream."  A great song that you hope will be about the pros and cons of what the title implies.  It is.  Great words and a nice, light touch of production to make a great track.

"Bad News Beat" is a bit of a cringer until the second section sucks you in.  Then you cool-out and enjoy the study time knowing there's enough there to make for interesting listening.

"Touch The Night" is like a classic heavy-70's Neil, but with choir again to pack some extra punch.  Would have made a good radio staple.

"People On The Street" doesn't deliver for me musically and "Hard Luck Stories" is a bit cute for such a topic.  Good luck surviving that chimey bell keyboard sound too!  Haven't heard such an intrusion upon a classic rocker since similar keyboard cheese killed George Harrison's Somewhere in England and Gone Troppo albums.

The last three songs remind you that Neil knows how to make his guitar a strong character in his audio assault.  "I Got A Problem" is oddly catchy.  A good one to sing when angry at the world.  "Drifter," a heavy-sounding song ends the album.  Between these two songs lies "Pressure," a great example of musical drive, lyrical purpose, and interesting vocal parts that are jarring, but singable, even if only in one's head.  I'm sure no one would pick it to sing on karaoke night, but it deserves the same interest as the mentally similar Billy Joel song of the same name.  Quite a little masterpiece of a song to me.  Also, nice to hear the line, "That's why you need Max Headroom."  A document to the t.v. show that tried to shake people up a bit in the right direction during 1986.

An odd choice of album to create overall, but between classic rock construction and a 'lil touch of the groundbreaking (and cheezy '80's), comes a welcome addition to my ever thirsting collection for '80's adventure from the last point in history that we actually had a new twist of pop-rock.

The Steve Miller Band - Italian X Rays

Ok, I'm not gonna tell you to go out and buy this record, but then again, I guess I'm asking you to check out all these records.  Not because they're masterpieces, but because they're unpredictable and interesting.  I think because of the abrupt end of the New Wave movement, I'd never again feel like I was being taken on a wonderful ride of sonic imagination.  But, this flawed record of '84 excites me to this day just knowing that, like Neil Young and Robert Plant, Steve Miller was gonna take a chance and put his neck on the chopping-block for a new direction.  An album so far removed from what a Steve Miller fan would expect that even Abracadabra seems a safe record by comparison.

As with all these albums of the mid '80's, the vibe is one of UK & Euro influences both in artwork and musical direction.  So, as soon as I saw the cover artwork, I was interested in a big way.  Great title and album art.  I was never one to feel involved in a record for seeing a guitar hero image on an album cover.  Case-in-point, Fly Like An Eagle.  Great record, uninspired cover.  But, who's to say a dated drawing of an eagle would have been a better choice.  Probably not.  Thankfully, Book Of Dreams didn't get saddled with such a cover.  Abracadabra also has a very cool cover, even if the songs don't match the imagery.

When I hear songs that I really like, I can forgive a lot.  I'm sure you're the same.  'Cause we're not gonna stop buying Rush because of "Mission" or not buy Paul McCartney because of "Ebony And Ivory," right?  Right!  So, let's see what this record has for us.

"Bongo Bongo" is the lead-off track and the single.  Believe it or not, this song got a lot of airplay at the time and also had video in heavy rotation too.  Somehow I knew this song would be forgotten over time, but I'm surprised that the video isn't showing up on any video collections.  Using the same cutting-edge techniques that we saw in Dire Straits "Money For Nothing" and Mick Jagger's "Hard Woman," this video has those computer graphics, but also live-action tastefully used in balance.  The song is bouncy and light, but edgy in its editing style and a bit twisted.  Cartoon twisted though, nothing to be afraid of.  And, although not deep in lyrical meaning, the song is infinitely more interesting than Don Henley's "All She Wants To Do Is Dance."  The problem is, as usual, an older generation artist gets too "out there" for his audience and his fate is sealed.  Actually, it's a wonder it got any radioplay at all, so I'll just enjoy the memory of a time when wacky became the norm for radio.

Having said all this, it's time to knock-the-rock.  The instrumental interludes are dead-time, but not useless, just very cartoony.  I actually only like five tracks on the album, but I like them more than most of his greatest hits.  "Bongo Bongo" being the first and the next two being the nice smooth-groove productions, "Italian X Rays" and "Out Of The Night."  The last two are very organic and could fit nicely on any of his albums.  "One In A Million", acoustic and sweet.  Perfect for any mellow occasion. And, lastly, "Golden Opportunity."  A very nice little pop song that could have made Abracadabra a better album.  Nice parts and good production.  This would have made a nice radio staple.  And, though I'm a lover of bitting lyrics, but there's no way I'm gonna knock an artist for wanting to make a statement the likes of greeting card positivity when the song has so much heart.  All the parts are there to delicately send the message to you.  Beautiful melody and singing.  Sharp, but caressing guitar and a classic guitar solo to end during the fade.  Having said all that, this song has never blown anyone away that I've played it for, so I guess it's just for me.  No problem, but my thanks to the band.

For one more dip into similar pop territory, check out his next offering, Living In The 20th Century ('86).  It has the standouts: "I Want To Make The World Turn Around", "Living In The 20th Century", and "Maelstrom".  The rest is back to blues, so I'm out.  But, if you just love, love, love white boys doin' the blues until their fingers forget how to do anything else, enjoy!