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!