Saturday, May 28, 2011

Undercover and Dirty Work: No Respect

I can't say I was surprised when the oversized collector's edition CDs of the '70's Stones albums came out that the series ended with 1981's Tattoo You, but I was disappointed.

1983's Undercover is actually a very organic record.  1986's Dirty Work, not so much.  But, 1988's Steel Wheels is the first time that the audience had been kept at distance from their body of work.  The record is too slick from start to finish, as if hearing them through protective filters.  The Stones would never be the same to me again from this album on.  Even Keith's songs on Steel Wheels sounded like leftovers from his solo albums with The X-Pensive Winos, not like the oddball surprises of old.  But then, the past is where such surprises happened for all of the classic rockers anyway.  No blame to be had.  Just simply change ... the world had changed.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dave Davies: The Other Brother

Dave Davies has always been the rockin' blues base to his brother Ray's brilliant writings of melody and wit in The Kinks.  In any other band, Dave might have been a household name.  In truth, neither are household names outside of the band.  But, although Dave is known to be solid, he's much more.  He can be as quirky as he is conventional, and as hard as he is soft.

Ray, on the other hand, isn't abnormal in his songwriting.  He's a gifted storyteller, pure and simple.  The greatest natural songwriter of all time.  Only John Lennon could be the most soul-stirring artist of all time.  And Lennon, of course, has many oddities in his catalog right alongside the sweet stuff.

Dave was prolific enough to have what could have been a full album of his own material in the late '60's, evidently.  (The Album That Never Was disc combines his songs from Kinks albums with unreleased tunes to tell the tale.)  But, Dave would soldier on with his brother as a member of The Kinks from beginning to end creating what I consider to be the greatest catalog of musical stories the world has ever heard.

But, surprisingly, when The Kinks were riding high on the Arista Records era comeback of the late '70's, in comes Dave's solo career with his self-titled debut of 1980, known officially or unofficially as AFL1-3603.  Featuring a barcode for a head on the cover with a leather jacket for the body, one could feel the decade just by looking at it.  But, wacky tunes would actually be on the second release, Glamour in '81.  And, essentially, a normal record to bookend the trilogy of '80's output with 1983's Chosen People.

AFL1-3603 was the only record of the three to get airplay and I remember seeing the album enough to know it existed.  It would be years before I shelled-out the bucks for it though.  Other albums took priority, of course.  But, when the money was flowing, (part-time at my first job), I definitely took the journey back to these three albums.  I then treated them like guilty pleasures.  This is better than what the record-buying public did with 'em, I'll tell ya that!  These albums tanked!  I believe I know why.  There's the guitar flash of useless instrumentals (similar to David Gilmour solo outings), the screechy high notes, and the very big arena rock sound.  Other bands had success with this sound, but Kinks fans didn't want records from Dave that sounded like this, I guess.  I can't say I blame the average fan in this case.  It's definitely an acquired taste.  ('70's era Rush took patience too.)  These records sounded, to me, like Christopher Cross fronting Asia !!  Yuck.  But, as I found melodies and chord progressions I liked, complaints vanished.  But, one can't be in a Kinks mood to enjoy them.  If you're in an '80's mood, yes.  And to hear the quirky '80's influence of Devo mixed with the rock crunch of one of the first hard rockers ever, you know there's gonna be a pay-off.  After all, this is the man who brought us the song that spawned both Metal and Punk ... "You Really Got Me".

My favorites from the three albums ...

The World Is Changing Hands  
Reveal Yourself                          
Too Serious                                
Love Gets You                      

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Mick Jagger: Legacy Lost

Keith Richards, in his book Life, hits the nail on the head when he points out what a big mistake Jagger made when he performed Stones songs on his tour for 1987's Primitive Cool album.  No matter what one thinks of Jagger's solo output, to look back on a snapshot of his solo records of the '80's would have been a grand memory if he'd made a point of showcasing the best songs from his two solo albums, She's The Boss and Primitive Cool.

Contrary to negative reviews for any dinosaur-rocker's albums from the '80's, we all couldn't wait to be involved with any release from artists we trusted as they charted new territory in musical adventure.  Of course, upon buying the product, one was deeply moved or shocked to horror depending on your feelings for what you heard.

And when it comes to Jagger, it was both.  Like Paul McCartney, Jagger could easily annoy.  But, like McCartney, Jagger wanted to experiment and do something different from what was expected of him.  So, was some of it calculated to be popular?  I'm sure.  But, does that make for bad songs or good?  It's neither here nor there.  All songs move somebody somewhere.  And Mick's two '80's albums had plenty of craft and adventure to please anybody willing to spend the $8 to check it out.  I was super happy hearing a different Mick than The Rolling Stone.  If I wanna hear The Stones, I'll put on the Stones.

And remember this... There's a need for different music for different times.  This applies to the '80's more than any other time because the influence of New Wave was making for interesting new approaches that were hard fought battles for the public ear with every new release.  And the record industry fought it.  Every late '70's/early '80's New Wave act had to fight to get anyone's attention.  Today, everyone sounds like retro '60's and '70's classic rock and soul. Record companies know how to market that for easy consumption and welcome those sounds with open arms.  The '80's were a time for new and old bands alike to break new ground regardless of the outcome.

Walking Hollywood Blvd. in 1985 with very little money and nowhere to go, hearing a new sound helped keep me happy in a time that knew no stability for me.  The first single from She's The Boss, "Just Another Night", was essentially a waste except for the fact it captured the energy of the times they were made.  But, naturally, I wasn't gonna pass on the first Jagger solo album, so, I got my copy and let the fun begin.  And, in this particular year, there was more going on in this record than, let's say, the current output of McCartney, Sting, or Phil Collins.  At least there were surprising sounds on She's The Boss.  It grooved in a different way than a Stones album for sure, but so what?  You don't have room in your life for a different flavor?  Sure you do.

Years later I discovered that the video for "Just Another Night" was culled from his movie of the entire record called Running Out Of Luck, directed by Julien Temple.  Very enjoyable and again, a triumph, not an embarrassment of commercial output.

Though every song on She's The Boss has some kind of catchy vocal phrasing, instrumentation, or production style, the only tune I blast from my car often is "Secrets".  I'm a big fan of that tune.  The rock-guitar track (not the funk one) actually sounds like something off McCartney's Venus And Mars.  The only song I don't care for is "Turn The Girl Loose".  And I don't go for "Hard Woman" anymore.  Maybe the computer graphics video sucked me in back then along with Dire Straits "Money For Nothing", Steve Miller's "Bongo Bongo", and The Cars "You Might Think".  All heavy-hitting visual punches at the time.

What seemed like a lifetime later was Jagger's second solo album, Primitive Cool.  Because this album is from '87 and not '85, you get a very different approach.  One must remember that the trailblazing sounds of the '80's were exhausted before the actual decade itself. So, any cheese-pop on this record wouldn't have the charm of a recording conceived in 1984. On the other hand, harder songs packed a bigger wallop than anything on the previous effort.  Stand-outs of power from this album are "Radio Control", "Shoot Off Your Mouth", and "Peace For The Wicked".  A great moderate tempo song is "Kow Tow" with it's delicate underpinnings and yearning vocal delivery.  But, as usual in this rudderless era, the wrong single is released, "Let's Work".  They could have gone retro-safe and put "Catch As Catch Can" and had people paying attention.  Or really have turned heads with "Radio Control", but I'm sure industry cowards thought Jagger's name alone would sell units.

As far as I'm concerned, those should have been the only two solo albums to come from him.  But, "Time marches on!"  Enter the '90's.  Decade of retro sounds on new equipment.  Nothing wrong with that.  And it's nice to hear songs that would have existed in the '60's and '70's being made in this new era of technological advances.  Having said that, I like a handful of tunes from Jagger's '93 entry, Wandering Spirit, but it's a record for Stones fans.  If you like Jagger, The Rolling Stone, you'll like this very good record.  I prefer wacky adventure and feel no connection to this record other than I bought it and it was good.  I still blast "Wired All Night" and "Put Me In The Trash".

Because the '90's had everyone going back to what they did before New Wave came along to breath new life into them, all the records from this point on are extensions of the classic rock era.  Don't expect surprises from them anymore.  It's not their fault.  The time is over for synth influenced records...for better or worse.  There are plenty of great songs still happening from great bands of the past.  But, the era of "What do you think the new record's gonna sound like?" is over.  The magic of pop is no more.

Me, I'm gonna stick with the trailblazing stuff ... as if my life depended on it.  And you know what?  It does.

Enjoy the adventure!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ladies & Gentlemen, Klark Kent !

It's a miracle that The Police ever reunited in the first place, right?  But, instead of waiting for another take on "Roxanne", let your imagination and thirst for good and powerful pop-rock send you to the heart of the band.  Demand that Stewart Copeland return as Klark Kent!

If you didn't know, and I didn't for years, Stewart Copeland released a great solo album under the name Klark Kent.  Disguising his face and playing all the instruments, Stu created some strong pop-rock on this album from 1980.  A collection of songs that are better than his output on Police records and better recorded, it seems, too. A very pleasant surprise for lovers of the era and fans of an active mind.

The album was re-released in '95 on CD as Kollected Works which included singles and unreleased tunes as well.

It would be a great statement in the fight for good music for Stewart to get a band together and bring a rockin' show to the public to remind people what was great about 1980, The Police, and Stewart himself.

Klark Kent to the rescue!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Childhood Mistakes

Don't know 'bout you, but there are some errors I've made as a young boy that I just can't forget every time I hear certain songs.  Do you have any stuck in your memory too?

"The Air That I Breathe" - The Hollies  > I used to think this one was Badfinger and much later, Air Supply until I finally learned who.

"Something In The Air" - Thunderclap Newman  >  Another one I figured had to be Badfinger.  Who could ever remember the name Thunderclap Newman anyway?  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers remade this one perfectly for modern audiences to find.

"Don't Fear The Reaper" - Blue Oyster Cult  > In 1976 I asked my father to hurry-up and buy Boston's "More Than A Feeling" thinking it was "Don't Fear The Reaper."  The song was good enough that I didn't realize until years later that it wasn't the tune I wanted.  "...Reaper" is my type of tune...atmospheric hard rock.  The type of style I'd come to prefer in all my favorite artists.

"Turning Japanese" - The Vapors  >  Due to the fact The Vapors never had another big hit in America, I fell victim to thinking that the buzz surrounding The Cars was due to this song.  It seemed a lifetime in kid-years before I'd realize that the band singing "Just What I Needed" was not the band singing "Turning Japanese".  I eventually would like The Cars, but I would have loved to have had a Vapors album at the time.  In '84 I got a cassette copy of New Clear Days.  In the '90's I found out there was another record, Magnets.  I loved it even more than the first album.  A great band that deserved more hits.  They certainly wrote enough radio potent songs to warrant it!

"I Melt With You" - Modern English  >  Even with the video in rotation, I don't think I ever saw it from the beginning title card or heard the d.j. mention the band's name on radio.  So, good luck memorizing their name until I was an adult.  Every time I heard it I thought, "Well, that's an alright tune, I guess" and gave the credit to a band called The Cure.  Listening now, I can tell the vocal timbre isn't the same as any Cure song.  But, with so much new music flooding the airwaves in the early '80's, it was hard to keep up.

"Give A Little Bit" - Supertramp  >  I was very shocked to find out this wasn't REO Speedwagon.  The vocal box just seemed identical to me and this pseudo-anthem-style-guitar-strummer just had to be them.  Wrong!  I did like one REO tune I'd heard on the radio, the very upbeat "I Do' Wanna Know".  At the time I hated "Take It On The Run" with its 'Heard it from a friend...' line.  I flipped-out every time I heard that vocal timbre and big echo.  Power-cheese to the max!

Speaking of REO ... When Roger Hodgson went solo from Supertramp with his great song "Had A Dream (Sleeping With The Enemy)" in '84, I thought it was Speedwagon yet again.  After all, the face in the video sure coulda been the guy.  And if I hadn't know better, Supertramp's most famous song of '79, "The Logical Song" could have been Geddy Lee of Rush singing a George Harrison number from '69 for all I knew !

"Live And Let Die" - Paul McCartney > "...You've got to give the other fella hell!"  Great line, but I never knew it until recently!  I thought it was "you've got to give the other fellow a hand" with the 'a' dropped for poetic license. Shit !

"Young Lust" - Pink Floyd > Not a big deal considering the purpose of the song, but a minor letdown that he isn't singing, "I need a valiant woman", "I need a valiant gal/girl".

"Where Do The Children Play ?" - Cat Stevens > Now you KNOW I'm not the only one who thinks  he says 'Why' instead of 'Where' !

"Girl U Want" - Devo > Sometimes the mistakes aren't drastic errors, but misunderstandings of a different nature. In this classic 1980 radio staple I didn't understand that the accent should fall on 'just' instead of 'want' or 'girl'.  To not destroy the flow of a sentence the artist must sing certain words in a way one would never speak. So, if Devo is singing with the accent on 'girl' or 'want', we're still supposed to understand that the accent is really spoken on the word 'just' for it all to make sense.  Now that I'm no longer 12 yrs. old it makes sense to me.

*A more drastic example (one that I did figure out due to the spelling) was Men At Work's "Helpless Automaton". There's no 'i' to make it 'automation' regardless of their singing it that way.  [The host of In The Studio messed it up anyway.]