Monday, June 29, 2015

Superhits 1983, Part 4

Yeah, it's been awhile.

Marvin Gaye, “Sexual Healing, “ #3 1/29/83

The last of 56 chart pop hits during his lifetime (Erick Sermon’s 2001 hit “Music” contains vocals Gaye did in 1982 for his own album), this one is a song to remember.  Written in late 1981 and early 1982 while Gaye was living in Belgium and trying to rid himself of his decades-long drug habit, the song (co-written with musician Odell Brown, although author David Ritz has claimed to have helped out with the lyrics) became the centerpiece for his final studio album (at least while he was still alive), Midnight Love. Gaye, of course, never completely overcame his drug issues, and after another downward spiral, was shot and killed by his father after an argument in April 1984, just short of his 45th birthday.


Kenny Loggins, “Heart to Heart,” #15, 1/29/83

Second chart hit from Loggins’ High Adventure album, and a jump back from the rockers “I’m Alright” and “Don’t Fight It” into more comfortable midtempo territory.  Not sure who plays on this track – there is a lengthy roster of guest artists on the album, including Steve Lukather and David Paich from Toto, Michael McDonald, and Pat Benatar’s husband Neil Giraldo – but since David Sanborn is the only sax player listed, I’m pretty sure that’s him at the end.



Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, “You Got Lucky,” #20, 1/29/83

First single from the band’s album Long After Dark, written by Petty and guitarist Mike Campbell.  Long After Dark is most notable in the history of the band for being the first album with Howie Epstein on bass, replacing Ron Blair.  After Epstein’s death in 2003 due to complications from drug use, Blair came back to the band, and he’s been there ever since.  (Bad news:  there's about a minute 20 seconds useless setup for this video, so feel free to skip.)



Juice Newton, “Heart of the Night,” #25, 1/29/83

Third and final chart single from Newton’s 1982 album Quiet Lies, co-written by John Bettis and Michael Clark.  Bettis had a hand in a bunch of familiar 1980s songs, writing the lyrics for everything from Madonna’s “Crazy for You” to Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”  He also wrote lyrics for a few of the Carpenters’ later hits, along with the theme to Growing Pains, “As Long As We Have Each Other.”  This song reached #4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, the sixth and last top 5 hit for Newton on that chart.




Peter Gabriel, “Shock the Monkey,” #29, 1/29/83

15 years into his music career with Genesis and then solo, Gabriel finally chalked up an American Top 40 hit.  (His previous solo peak was with 1980’s “Games Without Frontiers,” while Genesis never notched a Top 40 hit when Gabriel was with the band.)  According to Gabriel, the song is not about animal cruelty, but jealousy in human relationships.  I guess we’ll have to take his word for it.



Ray Parker Jr., “Bad Boy,” #35, 1/29/83

One of two new songs from his 1982 greatest hits set (the other, “The People Next Door,” only hit the R&B chart), this also displayed Parker’s occasional foray into lyrics that weren’t palatable to all listeners (“Spank me, whup me/Let me come back home”).  I had a friend who loved Parker’s music until she listened to the hits set, which included these lyrics on “Let Me Go”: “I know that when a woman gets in her 20s/She starts to feel like she’s running out of time”; she had no use for him after that.  In any case, it’s a reasonably catchy song if the lyrics aren’t taken seriously.



Lanier & Co., “After I Cry Tonight,” #48, 1/29/83

Another old-school R&B act (they started out in 1968 as The Jacksonians, playing backup on a number of southern soul releases for the next decade) that got their own chance on a tiny record label, in this case LARC Records, which was distributed by MCA for about a year before going under.  According to the book Hit Men: Power Brokers and Fast Money Inside the Music Business, the same label organizers made a comeback shortly thereafter as a boutique label with the Columbia/Epic group named Private I, but apparently Lanier & Co. didn’t make the transition.  The band dissolved shortly after a 1988 release on Waylo Records, Dancing in the Night; this was their only chart single.



Chaka Khan, “Got to Be There,” #67, 1/29/83

I love Chaka Khan, I really do.  Outstanding singer and personality galore.  But she isn’t a prolific songwriter (most of her albums, both solo and with Rufus, only had one or two cowrites), so she’s always been at the mercy of her label and whoever’s in the producer’s booth.  I’m not sure who decided her remake of the 1972 Michael Jackson hit with a nearly identical arrangement would be a good idea, but it certainly didn’t help boost her career.



Chicago, “What You’re Missing,” #81, 1/29/83

Third single from the band’s comeback LP Chicago 16, this one’s a rocker (although still with Peter Cetera on lead vocal, like the ballads before it), but it didn’t get much chart action.  We can bitch about Chicago’s 1980s transition from a genuine rock band to nothing but AC-friendly ballads – but they did usually release one rocker per album, and those songs always charted the lowest.  In this case, not making a video for the album, which might have helped get them on MTV, certainly didn't help.  Cowritten by Jay Gruska and Joseph Williams (the latter was later one of Toto’s many lead singers).


Thursday, May 28, 2015

I Go to Sleep: Songs of Slumber

Last night I asked my ever-ready Facebook friends to throw me some songs about sleep, and they came through as always (boy, did they ever). First though, a few they missed:

1) "I Go to Sleep", Pretenders

Chrissie and co. released two versions of this Kinks song, on a studio LP and on the wonderful live Isle of View (get it?) concert release. Both versions blow away the original.

2) "Sleep", Azure Ray

Maria Taylor's somber, aching vocals and the tempo of the song capture perfectly the restless eternity that is a sleepless night.

3) "Can't Do A Thing to Stop Me", Chris Isaak

Scary stalker Chris is gonna dream about you, and ain't nothing you can do about it.

4) "Sleep Won't Ever Come", Best Coast

Sometimes it feels that way.

5) "Walking in My Sleep", Roger Daltrey

There are probably a million reasons I shouldn't like this song, but I always have.

And now our Facebook gang's contributions:

David Anderson

"Talking in Your Sleep", Romantics

"In My Dreams", Dokken

Michele Ferlisi

"Wall of Sleep," Black Sabbath

"Sleeping Village", Black Sabbath

Sally Fenn-Tucker

"Sweet Dreams Are Made of This", Eurythmics

"Through the Long Night", Billy Joel

Brenda Balin

"Wake Up Little Susie", Everly Brothers

"Dream A Little Dream", Cass Elliot

A&H Blogger Curt Alliaume

"I'm So Tired", the Beatles

"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead", Warren Zevon

"I Need A Nap", Weird Al and Kate Winslet

Twla Meding

"Virginia Calling", Sons of Bill

Anne Campisano-Detlet

"Dream Weaver", Gary Wright

Rich Bilitz

"The Lion Sleeps Tonight", the Tokens

Karen Aagesen Cerini

"Dream On", Aerosmith

"Let's Go to Bed", the Cure

Eddie Johns

"In Dreams", Roy Orbison

Billie McIntyre Dunn

"It's Raining Again", Supertramp

Rich Kurlantzick

"Rose Darling", Steely Dan

"Daysleeper", R.E.M.

Mike Haines

"MLK", U2, 

"Sleepless", King Crimson

Donna Mellusi

"Peaceful Relaxing Scene", Ann-Margret

Mark Traeger

"Sleep", Dopesmoker

Rosie Perez

"All I Need", Air

Anna Russomano Broskie

"Where Hides Sleep", Alison Moyet

Thursday, May 21, 2015

But That's All in the Movies, It Won't Happen to You: Films Based on Songs

Lots of movies and songs share the same name, mostly because the latter was written purposely for the former. Movies that are based on songs are a rarer breed, and run the gamut from exploitive to silly to art-house serious. Herewith are some of the best (and worst).

1. The Indian Runner/"Highway Patrolman", Bruce Springsteen

Springsteen's work has always had a cinematic feel, and a lot of his best songs would make great movies. Certified Bruce Pal Sean Penn wrote and directed this 1991 drama that features Viggo Mortensen and David Morse as Frank and Joe Roberts, the ill-fated brothers in Springsteen's song. 

2. Ode to Billy Joe, Bobby Gentry

This weird, moody song gave me shivers as a kid. The TV movie tried to make sense of the lyrics, but failed to undo the song's mystery.

3. The Legend of Tom Dooley/"Tom Dooley", The Kingston Trio

Folk songs have nothing on horror films when it comes to violence and murder, and "Tom Dooley" is no exception.

4. Bad Romance, Lady Gaga

This 2011 film is in fact based on Mother Monster's hit.

5. Born in East L.A., Cheech Marin

Technically based on two songs: Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" and Cheech's own parody. The video for the song was hilarious, but stretching the joke out to movie-length was pushing it.

6. Harper Valley PTA, Jeannie C. Riley

This goofy tune not only inspired a TV film but also a failed TV series, both starring I Dream of Jeannie star Barbara Eden.

7. The Gambler, Kenny Rogers

The first song on this list to feature the singer in the lead role of the film adaptation, of which there were several.

Laura Schetelich adds:

Alice's Restaurant, Arlo Guthrie

Monday, April 27, 2015

D.C. Will Do That To You

This entry is devoted to celebrating my adopted hometown, Washington, D.C.  If you wanna play along, you can add songs that are about cities or areas around D.C., as I myself will. To make things a mite easier, the songs can refer to D.C. or the Metro Area in passing, but they have to be direct references. And the songs can but don't have to be about politics.

Got all that? Good, then GO!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

If You’re Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From… David Bowie

The way I started listening to The Beatles:

Back in the summer of 1973, WNEW Channel 5 television in New York (back before it was owned by Fox – at that point it was an independent station) reran old episodes of the cartoon series The Beatles from the 1960s.  Now, I had heard Beatle songs on Musicradio 77 WABC, but since they didn’t always front- or back-announce who it was, I often didn’t know.  The cartoon was cheesy – well, it was average by 1960s standards; today it would be considered pretty awful – but there were always two songs on every show.  Watching every day allowed me to make connections (“Oh, they did “Eleanor Rigby”?  And “We Can Work It Out”?  Cool.”)  By the end of that year, I had bought The Beatles 1962-1966 (a.k.a. the Red Album, the first of their two-LP greatest hits sets) and gotten The Beatles 1967-1970 (a.k.a. the Blue Album) as a birthday present.  That allowed me to start going through all the old songs, and then picking out the best albums to buy.

David Bowie is a good example of a musician who benefits from the same method of discovery.  Most of his albums differ greatly from one another – if you like Aladdin Sane, you may hate Heathen; if you dug Let’s Dance, you may not be interested in Ziggy Stardust.  But start with a good, wide-ranging greatest hits set to figure out what’s best for you.

That said, I may not be a good example of this – I have three different Bowie best-ofs on CD, but I own exactly five studio albums:  The Man Who Sold the World, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars (on cassette, so I probably haven’t heard it in over 15 years), StationtoStation (three-CD set, including a live show from 1976 at New York’s Nassau Coliseum – this is a great buy as a download), Let’s Dance (on vinyl, so I probably haven’t heard it in over 15 years either), and the first Tin Machine album.  Don’t do as I do.

As you might expect, Bowie’s been with a bunch of labels (in America, my count is Deram, Mercury, RCA, EMI America, Savage, Arista, Virgin, Columbia), but the good news is Bowie seems to own all of his back masters except for his very first album and a couple of singles before that (all of which were recorded between 1964 and 1967; they have little to do with his sound since then), so most of the anthologies are pretty complete.  And even his latest anthology has a smattering of the early material.  (Actually, it looks like he’s licensing out his material now – Columbia is the latest winner.  Good for me; our library allows five song downloads weekly, and Columbia participates in this.)

I thought there was only one obvious choice, but apparently record company politics have trumped common sense, so the best of the best-ofs is actually the newest and longest:

Nothing Has Changed

I was going to say something else until about five minutes ago, when I took a good look at what Amazon was selling – more on that in a moment.

In any case, while this is a lot of Bowie, it’s also pretty much everything from his whole career.  59 songs (on both the 3-CD set and the MP3 download – some idiot at Amazon didn’t count the songs on the CD correctly, but a close look at the listings shows they match the MP3 download).  The only quibbles I have so far are a) the liberal use of single edits over the album versions, which is a recurring issue with his hits sets (I don’t know how it was decided to lop 40 percent of “Young Americans” from the album version back in 1974, but it sure is annoying), and “John I’m Only Dancing” is gone altogether.

Both the CD and the MP3 download are $19.99 on Amazon (actually, the CDs $19.88, but obviously there will be shipping), which for three CDs is a great deal.  Me, I’d buy the CD, which comes with a book of some sort (I haven’t actually gotten this yet, of course – I could download it free from my library over the next three months, I suppose) over the MP3.  Note it’s in reverse chronological order, which I find infuriating as hell, but if you download the MP3 files, there’s nothing stopping you from reversing them right back.  And you can also spend an extra buck and download the full-length “Young Americans” off the original album of the same name.

One negative point:  there’s also a two-CD version with 39 songs, a two-LP (vinyl only) version with 20 songs, and a one-CD version with 21 songs (the latter is, in theory, only available in Japan, Argentina, and Mexico), all of which contain the same title (covers are shown above; the one I'm recommending is at the right).  To which I say, in the words of Tracy McConnell, What the damn hell? Why on Earth would Columbia, or Bowie, or whoever, think it’s a good idea to release four different products under the same name?  I don’t care if different configurations are going to different countries; in this day and age most people are buying their music on the Internet, not at a record store, and there’s no guarantee that the seller is listing the item correctly (for proof, see my note about the track listing for the regular version two paragraphs back), and it’s certainly easy enough to get items issued specifically for one country in another.  (Like when I bought that Bangles greatest hits set, issued only in Europe, when I was in Singapore.)  God forbid you should buy it off eBay or some other third-party seller (“Gee, I thought it had three disks.  Don’t give me bad feedback!”).  It turns out this is a recurring theme of Bowie’s hits collections:  I’ve found at least three that have been issued with varying set lists under the same name, so be very, very careful about what you buy.

Rant over.  Now, let’s go back to the 1970s and look at his other anthologies.  Links go to Wikipedia entries.

Changesonebowie (1976) – this actually may be his biggest selling album in the States, and it’s a good one.  11 songs and over 45 minutes long (that was good for vinyl, although it sometimes created problems if you were making a tape – anyone out there remember C-90s?), with all the great hits.  Of course, you have to remember Bowie had only made top 40 three times to that point – standards like “Space Oddity” and “Diamond Dogs” didn’t even chart.  Anyway, this was available on CD for about a minute and a half in the 1980s, until Bowie shifted his catalog over to Rykodisc.  Includes the first version of “John, I’m Only Dancing,” which up till then was only issued as a single – actually, early vinyl pressings had a different version with a Bowie sax break.

Changestwobowie (1981) – If Bowie hadn’t officially left RCA by the time this was released in November 1981, he certainly had one foot out the door.  10 songs, 44 minutes, marred only by the fact that he hadn’t had any top 40 hits since the first hits disk (and of the three US chart hits he’d had, only two are included – where’s “TVC15”?).  Also released on CD for a moment in the mid-1980s. And it had “John, I’m Only Dancing (Again),” which is a completely different song, also only available to that point as a single.

Golden Years (1983) and Fame and Fashion (1984) – released less than a year apart, along with the Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture soundtrack, all by RCA, in order to hitch a ride on the Let’s Dance gravy train (that album was his first with EMI America).  These releases, to me, fall under the categorization The Rock Yearbook 1986 bestowed upon a 1985 release of videos and concert footage from Bowie’s 1983 Serious Moonlight tour – “absolutely last chance, everything must go, free salad tongs with every purchase.”  (I really wish I’d kept that book…)  They also noted Bowie’s lemon custard-colored hair from that period, which was carried over onto both of the album covers, thus further misleading buyers.  Golden Years is a mishmash of mostly nonhits, Fame and Fashion pulls the best of what can be pulled off the two Changes hits sets and throws it onto one disk.  They’re both out of print.

Sound + Vision (1989) – okay, now we’re talking.  Bowie had leased his back catalog of the RCA years to indie Rykodisc, who created this pretty amazing (for the era) three-CD set, plus a CD-Video (or CD-ROM, depending on when you bought it) set which sold hundreds of thousands of copies.  Reissued in 2003 by Virgin/EMI with a completely different track configuration, cover, and no video component, but the same name (why call it Sound + Vision if there’s nothing to watch, EMI?).  I didn’t buy one then, but I bought a copy the Naperville Public Library decided they no longer wanted for a dollar a few years back – I’ll have to take a look again to see which version I’ve got.

Changesbowie (1990) – this is actually still available, and when it was released it was a pretty good option (the best of the RCA years, plus the Let’s Dance hits and “Blue Jean.”  A plus:  the full-length album versions are used here for everything except the Let’s Dance songs, which in fairness average nearly six minutes apiece.  On the negative side:  “Under Pressure,” his 1981 hit with Queen, isn’t here (probably record label issues), and Bowie thought it was a good idea to remix “Fame” to make it sound more current.  Thus, “Fame ‘90” – which I don’t think anyone wants to hear again.  Since it stops after “Blue Jean,” it really doesn’t cover all the bases.

The Best of David Bowie 1969-1974 (1997), The Best of David Bowie 1974-1979 (1998), The Best of David Bowie 1980-1987 (2007) – three one-disk best-ofs from the eras indicated, if you want to narrow things down a little.  These still use the single edits for most of the songs, so you may be getting more songs, but edited versions of the songs you want.  These were all stitched together for The Platinum Collection (2005), which is more expensive than Nothing Has Changed.

The Deram Anthology 1966-1968 (1997) – Universal Music Group (not surprisingly) has kept this in print, since Bowie doesn’t control most of the music on it.  It’s a bunch of singles he made in the years indicated, before he was even David Bowie (at that point he went by his given name, David Jones – until some little guy from The Monkees made him decide to change it).  “Space Oddity” is here, but that’s it for hits.

Best of Bowie (2002, more or less) – and here’s another one that irritates me.  The two-disk version I own would have been my pick – 38 songs, covers everything up to 2002, and I’d live with the truncated versions if the two-disk set was still available.  At least on Amazon, it’s not.  Here’s the lowdown from Wikipedia:
In each of the 21 territories that the album was released, it was given its own track listing, based upon which songs were most popular locally. In a number of countries, there were two versions – a single disc version, and a double disc version. All in all 63 tracks appear in at least one of the 20 different versions. The country the edition came from can be identified by a small national flag on the spine, except for the Argentine/Mexican, Eastern European and UK editions, which are "flag-less". [My two-disk version has no flag – of course, I got mine from BMG Music Service (R.I.P.).]
All the tracks are digitally remastered either from 1999 or, for the single edits, 2002, with the exception of "Under Pressure", which is also at a lower volume than the rest of the disc.
Swell.  Anyway, if you can find the two-disk set, fine, but make sure you buy it from a used-CD brick-and-mortar store, because you can’t be sure what you’re getting otherwise.

iSelect (2008) is exactly what it sounds like – an anthology chosen by Bowie, mostly from the 1970s.  Originally a giveaway with a 2008 edition of The Mail on Sunday in the UK, it’s an interesting selection, but you’re probably better off getting a hits collection or the original albums than this.

Here’s what I’ve put on my one-disk best-of.  Two caveats: I would probably make different selections today, and I’m as much of an idiot as the people who compile his CDs; I have the single edits of “Young Americans,” “Golden Years,” and “Heroes” here too.

“Space Oddity” (from Space Oddity)
“The Man Who Sold the World” (from The Man Who Sold the World)
“Changes” (from Hunky Dory)
“Ziggy Stardust” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars)
“Suffragette City” (from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars)
“The Jean Genie” (from Aladdin Sane)
“Diamond Dogs” (from Diamond Dogs)
“Rebel  Rebel” (from Diamond Dogs)
“Young Americans” (from Young Americans)
“Fame” (from Young Americans)
“Golden Years” (from StationtoStation)
“Heroes” (from Heroes)
“Ashes to Ashes” (from Scary Monsters)
“Under Pressure” with Queen (from Queen’s Greatest Hits)
“Let’s Dance” (from Let’s Dance)
“China Girl” (from Let’s Dance)
“Modern Love” (from Let’s Dance)
“This Is Not America” with The Pat Metheny Group (from The Falcon and The Snowman soundtrack)
“Dancing in the Street” with Mick Jagger (single only)

1)      I have the CD-Video  version of Sound + Vision (which means I have the original).  It also means the disk probably won’t play in my computer – I might as well get a Betamax while I’m at it.
2)      Thanks to Brian Madison, who reminded me of The Singles 1969 to 1993, a 1993 Rykodisc release.  I blithely noted to him that it’s out of print, but so are a bunch of other best-ofs, so why not add it?  In any case, it looks like they use mostly full-length versions of his songs (excluding “Heroes”), has “John, I’m Only Dancing,” and goes through 1987’s Never Let Me Down with the inclusion of “Day-In, Day-Out” (whether that’s a plus is up to you).  This would be worth looking for in used CD stores.





Wednesday, March 4, 2015

If You're Only Going to Buy One Greatest Hits Set From ... The Beach Boys

When The Beach Boys charted their first hit, “Surfin’,” Barack Obama was in diapers, the Beatles’ drummer was Pete Best, most Americans had never heard of Vietnam, and the most popular television show in the United States was Wagon Train.  So it’s been awhile.

There are several sections to the band’s career:  the hit-laden surf, sun, and girls years (1962-1965), the Brian Wilson’s a genius years (1965-1967), and the Brian’s on drugs/unavailable, so we have to get new material where we can get it (everything after, with occasional Brian resurgences).  Most of the greatest hits sets now focus on the first two periods (with the exception of 1988’s “Kokomo,” to which Brian contributed nothing), but that wasn’t always the case, so buyer beware.

So while the group has had 24 top 20 hits in the United States, “Good Vibrations,” their huge #1 hit in 1966 (less than five years after “Surfin’”) was the 16th – and two of the remaining eight were a medley of their hits (during the early ‘80s medley craze) and a “Wipe Out” remake with the flash-in-the-pan rap act The Fat Boys. (It’s not likely you’ll find either of those on any hits sets – I know the medley is totally out of print, for example.) 

Please also note that, Capitol Records (the Boys’ home for most of their careers – they did spend time with Reprise and Columbia under their Brother Records imprint, but all of that material has gone back to Capitol over time) is now owned by Universal Music Group, the Joe Stalin of the Big Three record conglomerates.  (Of the remaining two, Warner Music Group [Warner Brothers, Elektra/Asylum, Atlantic, and Reprise] and Sony Music [Columbia, Epic, RCA, Arista] are either Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt; I haven’t decided which is which.)  So there will probably be more Beach Boys greatest hits sets than the overload we already have, and the quality may vary.  Actually, that’s already starting to happen.

And an amusing note:  there are two versions of “Help Me, Rhonda” floating around – one was from The Beach Boys Today! In 1965, with a slightly different title (“Help Me, Ronda”) and a different (and lousier) mix.  Brian Wilson kept fiddling with it, rerecorded the whole thing, changed the title, and created a classic.  Some of the anthologies mistakenly have used the “H”-free version.  Make sure you’ve got the good one.

Finally, do know I have all of the Boys’ studio albums released between 1962 and 1974, so the only “hits” set I have on CD is the 1990 box set Good Vibrations.  That said, I can pretty much tell from the track listings what to get and what to avoid.

In the meantime, this seems as good a choice as any:


30 songs on a single disk, which was very kind of Capitol Records (as you’ll see, they weren’t always so benevolent).  The only top 20 hit missing, aside from the two mentioned above, is “The Little Girl I Once Knew,” which peaked at #20.  There are downloads that might be a better buy, but on disk itself, you won’t get more bang for your buck ($10.91 at Amazon as of this second).

And, since I promised there were thousands of best-ofs from the band, here they are.  I’m only included best-ofs that were released on CD at some point in the United States, otherwise this would be an Endless Blog Post.  All links go to the Wikipedia entry.

Best of the Beach Boys, Best of the Beach Boys Vol. 2, Best of the Beach Boys Vol. 3 – released in consecutive years between 1966 and 1968 by Capitol, none over 30 minutes, and with some overlap between them.  I know Volume 3 was never released on CD, and I don’t think Volume 2 was either.  But Amazon still claims to have one copy of Volume 1 on disk, so if you’re an absolute completist…

Endless Summer (1974) – I think everybody had a copy of this on vinyl after it first came out in 1974, because almost all of the band’s studio albums were out of print at that point.  I still have mine, with the poster.  It nails most of the hits between 1962 and 1965.  That said, it’s a) confusing (all of the songs are from before ”Good Vibrations,” but the cover art shows the six Boys the way they looked in the ‘70s with lots of facial hair), and b) a total rip-off (the 20 songs on the two-album set clock in at less than 48 minutes, which means they could have fit the whole thing on one album).  Still available on Amazon if you want to spend 53 dollars.  The one-disk CD version tacks on “Good Vibrations,” for what it’s worth.

Spirit of America (1975) – One more cash grab by Capitol, and this one doesn’t have “Good Vibrations” on it either.  This leans more heavily on car songs and “Americana” material (remember, this was released a year before the Bicentennial).  Oddly, this is available on Amazon for $7.99 for a single disk (although not for download), and for that price it’s a reasonable (albeit odd) sampler.  Again, mostly from the early 1960s, although the 1969 single “Break Away” (a great flop single) is included.  (The band wasn’t on Capitol by that point and had little control over what the label did with their back catalogue; they released a greatest hits set culled from their album releases from 1966 onward – so “Good Vibrations” was there, but “Break Away,” as a standalone single, made it here.  That album, Good Vibrations – Best of The Beach Boys, never made it to CD.)

Ten Years of Harmony  (1981) – Out of print now (although it did make it to compact disk), but a huge bunch of songs from the post-Capitol Records era.  Since there weren’t many actual, you know, hits during that time period, this may be for collectors only, but it’s got enough oddities to make it worth searching for.

Made in the U.S.A. (1986) – the first hits set to mix Capitol and post-Capitol hits, this is actually a pretty good sampler.  Amazon still claims to have some CD copies gathering dust someplace in their warehouse, if you really want to spend 25 dollars on it.

Good Vibrations – Thirty Years of The Beach Boys (1993) – whoever was running Capitol’s reissue program in the early 1990s has it all over their 1970s counterparts.  All of the band’s studio albums (along with a couple of mediocre live albums and the useless Party and Stack o’ Tracks – the latter was instrumental versions of their classics with the vocals imperfectly wiped off) were rereleased on CD in 1990 with two albums per CD, and bonus tracks as they fit.  Plus, this super five-disk box set was released, with every familiar song you could possibly want (with the possible exception of “Let Him Run Wild,” in deference to Brian Wilson, who hates the recording), plus a whole disk of unreleased takes and almost every important track from the then-mysterious Smile sessions.  Way too much for the casual listener, but essential for serious fans.  It’s now over a hundred dollars for the physical box set on Amazon, but less than half that to download, which comes to less than 37 cents per track.  Try to find a used copy; the accompanying liner notes are useful, too.

The Greatest Hits – Volume 1: 20 Good Vibrations (1995) – this sold a lot of copies in the States and the track listing is reasonably solid, but why buy a 20-song one-disk set when you can get 30?  Amazon still has it around on disk, but not for download.

Endless Harmony Soundtrack (1998) – outtakes, alternate versions, etc. , so it’s not really a greatest hits set.  And since I have the aforementioned box set with similar (although not identical) material, I don’t have it either.  Still in print and available for download, so somebody must like it.

The Capitol Years (1999) – a 4-CD box with no rarities; this may have been offered only through record clubs or Reader’s Digest (although it’s on Capitol, so it should be legit).  Out of print, and skippable.

The Greatest Hits – Volume 2: 20 More Good Vibrations (1999) – assorted hits that didn’t rate being included on the first volume four years before.  I wonder how many people bought this based on the title only to discover “Good Vibrations,” despite the disk’s title, isn’t on it.  (Gee, thanks Capitol!)  Out of print.

Greatest Hits Volume Three: Best of the Brother Years 1970–1986 (2000) – and if you thought Volume 2 was skippable, this one’s even worse.  Two Top 20 hits, both remakes of oldies (“Rock & Roll Music” and “Come Go With Me”), and all but two are on the Good Vibrations box set.  Does not include “Kokomo.”  (On the other hand, it also doesn’t include their misguided foray into disco, the 1979 remake of “Here Comes the Night.”)  But it’s still in print and you can download it – pinch me!

Hawthorne, CA (2001) – like Endless Harmony Soundtrack, alternate takes, studio chatter, and assorted stuff for the uberfan, but not a hits set.  Still available for download and on CD at Amazon if you’re so inclined.

Classics: Selected by Brian Wilson (2002) – since Capitol apparently had found an unquenchable market for Beach Boys reissues by this point, it was nice of them to let Brian compile one.  Hardly their best (half the track selection is from the late 1960s and early 1970s, a fallow time for them commercially), but if they’re Brian’s favorites, so be it.  Contains one new recording, “California Feelin’,” written around 1974 but never recorded by the band; it’s done here by Brian and a bunch of session guys.  A reasonable download at $8.49.

The Warmth of the Sun (2007) – another “here’s what we couldn’t fit on the first one” disk; in this case since the first one was The Sounds of Summer, you’re getting a lot of familiar non-hit tracks.

The Original U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years 1962-1965 (2008) – another one for the diehards, since this has both mono and stereo versions of most songs (Brian Wilson is deaf in one ear, so he generally preferred mono).  Overpriced for the casual fan.

Summer Love Songs (2009) – oh heck, you can listen to them all year ‘round.  The only rarity is a Dennis Wilson song, “Fallin’ in Love” (Dennis had his moments in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a songwriter, before falling prey to drugs).

50 Big Ones: Greatest Hits (2012) – released during their 50th anniversary tour (you might remember this one; Brian, Al Jardine, and the long-missing David Marks rejoined Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, only to have Love boot the other three back out the second the tour ended).  If you’re willing to spend the money, this covers all the bases, although it’s a little more expensive than Sounds of the Summer.  Greatest Hits is an unnecessary 20-song single-disk abbreviated version.

Made in California (2013) – yet another box set, with different rarities and alternate takes than the Good Vibrations box set.  I’ll pick one up if I see it cheap, which given it goes for $100 on Amazon seems unlikely.

I’m not linking to Icon (2013) or The Beach Boys: Millennium Collection – 20th Century Masters (2014), because they only prove my earlier point about Universal Music Group being a bunch of money-grubbing jerks.  Both of these exist only to be purchased at truck stops in parts of the country where radio stations don’t come in.  They’re cheap, but so damn short (certainly less than 30 minutes apiece) and are nearly identical (Icon has “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Be True to Your School” while Millennium Collection has “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” the other nine tracks are the same on both).  Avoid, avoid, avoid.

I have a one-disk best-of in my car, but I don’t have the track listing handy – I’ll edit this entry sometime to add it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Superhits 1983, Part 3

The Clash, “Rock the Casbah,” #8, 1/22/83
The Clash’s one and only Top 10 hit in the United States, and one of only three US chart hits overall (they did better in the UK, with 23 charting hits).  It’s about a fictional war between a king and his populace over rock and roll, although it’s based in reality after the Iran revolution of 1979. Probably their biggest hit throughout the world (except in the UK, where “London Calling” takes the honor), and a staple of classic rock radio.

 John Cougar, “Hand to Hold On To,” #19, 1/22/83
The third Top 20 single from American Fool, following “Hurt So Good” and “Jack and Diane” – both of which Top 40 stations were required by law to play (one or the other) in the last six months of 1982.  To me, it sounds like a sequel to Bob Dylan’s 1979 song “Gotta Serve Somebody,” except instead of God’s comfort, Mellencamp was saying you gotta have somebody around to hug at night.  Also, the odd verses sound a little Dylanesque, too (“Having good luck with your financial situation/Play the ponies, be president of the United Nations/Go to work and be a Hollywood stud/Drive your four-wheel drive right into the mud”).

Sonny Charles, “Put It In a Magazine,” #40, 1/22/83
Sonny Charles is an old soul man (he’s still around – he toured in 2010 with the Steve Miller Band) whose biggest hit, “Black Pearl,” came in 1969 with the Checkmates Ltd. and was produced by Phil Spector.  This was his biggest solo hit, on Highrise Records, a small independent label.  Catchy song that might have gone further with a bigger label.

Tyrone Davis, “Are You Serious,” #57, 1/22/83
Tyrone Davis was an old soul man (he passed away in 2005) whose biggest hit, “Turn Back the Hands of Time,” came in 1970, one of 13 top 10 hits on the R&B chart on either Dakar or Columbia Records.  But Davis hooked up with Highrise Records at the same time as Sonny Charles (weird, huh?), and hit the pop charts for the first time since “Give It Up, Turn It Loose” in 1976.  Highrise also released albums by Maxine Nightingale and jazz drummer Alphonse Mouzon, but appears to have gone out of business by the end of 1983.

Rough Trade, “All Touch,” #58, 1/22/83
It was a little early for Americans to accept musicians occasionally performing in bondage gear, but give Rough Trade credit for trying.  Based out of Toronto, Canada (although lead singer Carole Pope was originally from Manchester, England), the song comes from the band’s third album For Those Who Think Young, released in late 1981 (and originally titled For Those Who Think Jung).  The song was a big hit in Canada in 1982, but didn’t cross over to the States until 1983, by which time their parent label Boardwalk Records was winding to an end after the death of its founder, Neil Bogart (in fact, the label’s bankruptcy is cited as a reason the record didn’t do better here).  The group broke up in 1988 but has reunited from time to time.

Little Steven, “Forever,” #63, 1/22/83
On the other hand, here’s a one-hit wonder almost everybody knows – because Little Steven is Steve Van Zandt, who was played guitar for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band from 1975 to 1983 (and has been with the band again since 1999).  In his spare time, he’s also played Silvio Dante on The Sopranos.  This song came from his first solo album, Men Without Women (the official billing is Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul).  Lots of familiar names contributed to the album, including Springsteen, four other members of the E Street Band, a few Asbury Jukes, two Rascals, and Gary U.S. Bonds.

The Spinners, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” #67, 1/22/83
Last of 29 pop chart hits for The Spinners, stretching all the way back to 1961. The song has been around since 1961 as well – written by Willie Nelson, it was made a country million-seller by Jimmy Elledge, while remakes by Joe Hinton and Dorothy Moore also charted as well.  The arrangement isn’t much (I don’t think the group was a high priority for Atlantic Records at the time), but check out the lead vocal (which I believe is by Jonathan Edwards, their primary lead singer at the time) – the falsetto at the end is really something else.  Don’t know if they’re still touring – their official website’s concert listing ends with shows from last summer, and the one remaining original member, Henry Fambrough, is now 76.


Unipop, “What If (I Said I Love You),” #71, 1/22/83
I got very little on these guys.  Husband-and-wife team, Manny and Phyllis Loiacono, and this was their one chart hit on independent label Kat Family Records.  Cute pop, but nothing special.  No videos on You Tube, or any place else for that matter - you'll just have to take my word for it!

Dire Straits, “Industrial Disease,” Dire Straits, #75, 1/22/83
Great song, great album, but not meant to be a single.  Love Over Gold contains only five songs, and the best of them – perhaps the best song the band ever did – was over 12 minutes long and couldn’t be cut down to fit AM radio (“Telegraph Road,” with a lengthy Mark Knopfler guitar solo at the end).  There is no such thing as an “industrial disease,” although there are plenty of maladies referred to within the song that could have been contracted through the work environment, with the possible exception of Bette Davis wheeze.  (Bette Davis eyes would obviously be preferable.)


Michael Murphey, “Still Taking Chances,” #76, 1/22/83
Well, at least he isn’t pining after the woman who went searching for that damn horse Wildfire.  The last of six Hot 100 hits for Murphey, whose first album, Geronimo’s Cadillac, came out in 1972.  He’s still a regular presence on the country and bluegrass charts, however, and tours regularly under the name Michael Martin Murphey.  I suspect this pop-country confection about his continued risk taking (if you can call taking candy from strangers risky) isn’t on the set list.

Utopia, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” #82, 1/22/83
Another final chart hit, from a band that only had three to begin with.  It’s a good one, though; kind of a Beatles-meets-The Cars pastiche (guitarist Todd Rundgren and bassist Kasim Sulton would tour as part of The New Cars during a Ric Ocasek hiatus in 2005).  From the album Utopia, their only album for Network Records, an Elektra imprint that would fold by 1984.  Utopia would release two more studio albums before breaking up in 1986 (there would be a short tour and live album in 1992).  Rundgren, of course, had been recording as a separate solo act long before and continued well after Utopia retired; his new album, Global, comes out in April.  The video bugs me, though.



Saturday, January 24, 2015

Superhits 1983, Part 2

Men at Work, “Down Under,” #1, 1/15/83
Second American single for the Australian band, second single from their album Business as Usual, second #1, this time for three weeks.  The song is a celebration (with some sly jabs) of their homeland. (At least they made fans aware of their origins – concurrent Australian bands such as Little River Band and Air Supply barely acknowledge Australia in their music.)  Still gets a lot of airplay today.

Dionne Warwick, “Heartbreaker,” #10, 1/15/83
Speaking of Australians, this single from Warwick’s album of the same name was written by Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb, a.k.a. The Bee Gees, who had spent some of their formative years living in Australia.  Barry also produced with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson – all of whom had worked on the Bee Gees’ and Andy Gibb’s big hits.  Per Wesley Hyatt’s The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, this was not a favorite of hers (somewhat understandable; the Bee Gees’ voices drowned hers out on the choruses), but it’s hard to argue with a top 10 hit.

Fleetwood Mac, “Love in Store,” #22, 1/15/83
Third single from the band’s album Mirage, written and sung by Christine McVie.  Somewhat trifling, but much of Mirage is like that – Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had released solo albums in the previous year (Nicks’ Bella Donna was phenomenally successful, Buckingham’s Law and Order less so), with the possible result that neither had a backlog of material to contribute.  This song was only released in the US as a single; the third single from the album in the UK, Buckingham’s “Can’t Go Back,” hit #9.

Barry Manilow, “Memory,” #39, 1/15/83
I guess Manilow figured he could beat out Barbra Streisand in turning this ballad from the Broadway show Cats a hit, and he did – not that finishing 13 notches above a #52 song is something to brag about.  (The champ is actually Elaine Paige, from the original West End production of the show, as her version hit #6 in the UK in 1981.)  This was Manilow’s first single from his album Here Comes the Night, and it was also his first leadoff single from an album to not crack the top 30 since “Sweet Water Jones” did nothing from the first release of his first, self-titled album.

Glenn Frey, “All Those Lies,” #41, 1/15/83
Strange when the A-side of your third single was the B-side of your second single, but who am I to say?  Frey used this song as the flip of “The One You Love,” from his first solo album No Fun Aloud, and apparently decided it was worth bumping up.  It wasn’t that the single was flipped (“The One You Love hit #15 in the fall of 1982, and Frey’s discography has the B-side for this song as “Don’t Give Up”), so it’s just a strange occurrence.  Last Frey single to chart until “Sexy Girl” two years later, and the only song from No Fun Aloud he wrote himself – either Jack Tempchin or Bob Seger co-wrote the rest of the originals.

America, “Right Before Your Eyes,” #45, 1/15/83
The followup to America’s “comeback” hit, “You Can Do Magic,” fell a little short, although it did get some radio airplay.  Written by singer-songwriter Ian Thomas (whose brother is Dave Thomas – the guy from SCTV, not the guy from Wendy’s), the song is sometimes mistakenly called “Rudolph Valentino” because of the use of his name at the top of the choruses.

Wolf, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” #55, 1/15/83
Instrumentalist Bill Wolfer – probably best known for co-writing Shalamar’s “Dancing in the Sheets” for 1984’s Footloose soundtrack – charted his only pop hit with this primarily instrumental version of The Temptations’ seminal 1972 hit.  (Wikipedia lists Michael Jackson as being part of the droning vocal chorus, but if he’s there, I can’t hear him.)  Talkbox guitar, which seemed by 1983 to have become passé (remember Peter Frampton’s endless live version of “Do You Feel Like We Do”?) made a mercifully brief comeback here.  Please, do me a favor and stick with the original.

The Steve Miller Band, “Give It Up,” #60, 1/15/83
Third single from Miller’s Abracadabra album, and the second flop (after the equally banal “Cool Magic”).  It almost sounds like Miller got “Abracadabra” in the can, and then decided to make every other song on the album exactly like it – and, based on the songwriting credits for the album, could barely bother to do that (other than this song and “Abracadabra,” all of the songs on the album are by other writers, mostly Gary Mallaber).

Hot Chocolate, “Are You Getting Enough Happiness,” #65, 1/15/83
Eighth and last American chart hit for the multiracial soul band from London, and it’s nothing worth getting excited about.  Considering the band had 37 chart hits in the UK, their American performance had to be somewhat disappointing, but this is nowhere near the level of “You Sexy Thing” or “Every 1’s a Winner,” both of which should be part of any record collection.  They still tour with two of the original members, but lead singer/songwriter Errol Brown ain’t one of them.

The Who, “Eminence Front,” #68, 1/15/83
At least Pete Townshend was willing to try something different. Rather than the more typical Who guitar-driven sound, “Eminence Front” includes a slightly irritating keyboard overlay and a danceable beat, with Townshend (rather than Roger Daltrey) himself taking the lead vocal to warn us about phonies.  He would do a better version of this kind of thing with his solo hit “Face the Face” in 1985, but you still hear this on the radio once in a while.  From what was supposed to be their final studio album, It’s Hard (the one with the kid playing a video game on the front cover).

Hughes/Thrall, “Beg, Borrow or Steal,” #79, 1/15/83
Glenn Hughes played bass for Deep Purple and Black Sabbath at one time or another; Pat Thrall was a guitarist for the Pat Travers Band (and later put in some time with Asia and Meat Loaf).  Given the era, the end result of this collaboration (with Hughes on lead vocals) isn’t surprising:  hard rock with a slight new wave tinge.  This was the single; for the band, it was one album and goodbye.