Thursday, February 28, 2013

There's Something Real Bad Goin' Wrong Somewhere

So speaking of Gary 'U.S.' Bonds...

That last post and this one feature songs from his second 1980s comeback album On the Line. Bonds, who in the early 60s had hits with "New Orleans", "Dear Lady Twist" and of course the seminal "Quarter to Three" had by the late 70s fallen on hard times. The story goes that Steve Van Zandt, either on his own or in the company of the Boss, happened upon Bonds performing in some dismal hotel lounge or some such venue, and offered to write and produce a new album of material for him. That album became Dedication. Bonds's songs loomed large in the E Street oeuvre, especially "Quarter to Three", which had for years been the group's closing number, so it was no casual offer, and the E Streeters treated Bonds with great love and respect, both musically and otherwise. As a band, they were at their very best.

Both Bruce-produced albums sold fairly well, especially Dedication, which charted at #s 11 and 5 on the pop and rock charts, respectively. The record featured some great, robust rock 'n' roll, mostly Bruce's frat-rock, party-style songs like "This Little Girl", but also included Little Steven's "Daddy's Come Home" and, weirdly, the Beatles' "It's Only Love", Jackson Browne's "The Pretender" and Dylan's "From A Buick 6". On the Line was more of the same, but a bit more consistent and a little more serious. The album's standout is its de facto title track, "Love's On the Line", composed by Bruce, and it is not only the best song on both albums, it is one of the finest songs Springsteen ever wrote. He wrote it while still in his early thirties, a few years before his quickie marriage to a supermodel, but the song is narrated by a middle-aged, worn-out husband, weary and fearful, who is trying desperately to find what went wrong with his marriage and save it, if he can.

With each passing day
I gotta watch more and more what I say to you
I can feel your eyes looking through me
As I sit at the table at dinnertime
I can feel our love's on the line

I watch our kids
Growin' up, going to school
Is there anything else for us now
Are we both just fools
Wasting our precious time

Bruce may have written those lines, but he could not have sung them convincingly. (He could now, sure. But not back then.) Bonds' voice is perfect for the role -- you can hear the wheeze of age, and maybe whiskey and cigarettes, but mostly the aching pain of a man who is now realizing that things don't always go the way you think they will. "Last night I heard you cry," he bellows, heartbroken, as the song rises towards the final chorus, "and I know our love's on the line." Behind him you can hear Bruce singing "love's on the line, our love's on the line", offering a comforting chorus of support, and his and Bonds' voices blend superbly. What tops that however is Clarence Clemons' warm, soaring, belting sax solo, the song's only hopeful spot, turning the mundane trouble of a disintegrating marriage into something epic and almost operatic. The song clocks in at 3:38, but I am very often in tears but the end of the first minute. There aren't many beautiful songs about middle-aged, married couples in trouble, but this is one of 'em, and it is the king.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thou Didst Invite Me, For That I Must Requite Thee

The Commendatore scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Leave All My Sorrow Behind Me

A bit of spiritual uplift for your wintry Tuesday, courtesy of Mr. Fogerty.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

On A Mission From God

Back in the early days of this blog, I introduced an old friend, TV John Langworthy, who during the 90s was in charge of booking me and a gang of local talent into a long-closed bar called the Tex-Mex Grille. I'm happy to say that thanks to the magic of Facebook, I am able once again to follow John and his musical adventures, and today I learned that the Washington (DC) City Paper has done a feature on him. Kudos to you TV John! Keep on dreamin'!

God Wants You to Listen to My Dream Songs

(c) Washington City Paper

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

This is Brooklyn: Lou Reed on the Radio, WPIX NYC, 1979

An extraordinary bit of rock 'n' roll history, wherein Lou Reed commandeered the old WPIX radio station in New York (remember WPIX, kids?) and spun disks, talked New York, yelled at listeners, and otherwise had a fine old time.

Fuck Radio Ethiopia, This Is Radio Brooklyn

Monday, February 18, 2013

Super Hits 1982, Part 6

An occasional look back at the hits and misses of a memorable year for somebody.  Chart positions and dates are from Billboard.

Diana Ross, “Mirror Mirror,” #8, 3/6/82
Second top 10 hit from Ross’ first RCA album Why Do Fools Fall in Love, and part of a Ross renaissance – this would be sixth of seven top 10 hits for her over a two and a half year period (starting with “Upside Down” and ending with “Muscles”).  This may not seem like a big deal, but Ross had only scored four top 10 hits in her 10 years after leaving the Supremes (granted, all of them went to number one).  This was also proof that Berry Gordy wasn’t the sole force behind her stardom.

Dan Fogelberg, “Leader of the Band,” #9, 3/6/82
Third top 10 hit from his double LP The Innocent Age, and autobiographical – the “Leader” is his father Lawrence.  According to Wesley Hyatt’s The Billboard Book of Number One Adult Contemporary Hits, father Lawrence, himself a former big band leader, wanted Dan to stay at U. of Illinois, but gave him a year to try his luck as a musician in Los Angeles, with the proviso that he had to come back to college if things didn’t work out.  This song was Fogelberg’s way of expressing his appreciation.  Ill at the time it was recorded, Lawrence did live to see it performed in concert, but would pass away in August of 1982.

Little River Band, “Take It Easy on Me,” #10, 3/6/82
Sixth and final top 10 hit for the Australian band who got on my nerves less than Air Supply, got on AM radio more than AC/DC, and – well, I don’t have a Men at Work analogy, but they hadn’t recorded their first album yet anyway.  They’d continue charting until 1985, but after lead singer Glenn Shorrock left, they’d move in a harder rock direction (not that much harder, mind you).  This one was a heartbreak song, portraying the desperate guy after the breakup (I interpreted it as "Yeah, fine, you're dating someone else, I just don't want to see it," but to each his own opinion).

Kenny Rogers, “Through the Years,” #14, 3/6/82
Fourth single from Rogers’ 1981 album Share Your Love, which was a rebound after the more country-tinged “Blaze of Glory” failed to break top 40.  This is pure MOR, written by Steve Dorff (no, not the actor; this is his father, who wrote theme songs for Spenser: For Hire and Growing Pains, among others), and Marty Panzer (who wrote the lyrics for several Barry Manilow hits, including “New York City Rhythm” and “It’s a Miracle”).  Which makes sense, because by this time Rogers was moving in on Manilow’s turf as the king of Adult Contemporary.  And if anyone can explain why this song has about six choruses at the end, stringing it out to four minutes and 22 seconds (4:48 in the album version; they must have lopped off another chorus), I’d be glad to hear it.

Alabama, “Love in the First Degree,” #15, 3/6/82
This would be Alabama’s biggest hit overall, hitting #1 on the US and Canadian country charts, #1 on the Canadian adult contemporary chart, and #5 on the US AC chart.  No longer touring (and the drummer apparently is persona non grata, since the other three filed a lawsuit against him), they’re still getting together occasionally.  This clip is from Barbara Mandrell’s old variety show.

Skyy, “Call Me,” #26, 3/6/82
Funk and disco band that had been around for a few years, but this would be their only hit to break into the pop charts (they would have 15 top 40 r&b hits through 1992).  The early part of their career would be on Salsoul Records (remember the Salsoul Orchestra, a.k.a. Albums Covers for Guys Who Aren’t Old Enough to Buy Playboy?).  After that label closed down operations, they would record on Capitol and Atlantic.

Chilliwack, “I Believe,” #33, 3/6/82
Chilliwack had one big hit in the United States, “My Girl,” popularly known as “The Gone Gone Song” for its background chorus (“Gone gone gone/she been gone so long/she been gone gone gone so long”).  This is the followup, and the only other top 40 hit for this Canadian band, which had been hitting the Canadian charts since 1970.  They broke up three years later, but lead guitarist and singer Bill Henderson still occasionally tours (I don’t know how occasionally, since his website was last updated two years ago). This is a nothing video, for a much better one check this out, which features the band doing both their hits on American Bandstand.

Petula Clark, “Natural Love,” #66, 3/6/82
I guess somebody must have figured if Lulu could start having chart hits again nearly 20 years after the British Invasion, so could Petula Clark.  This song actually did a lot better on the country chart, hitting #20.  Clark has been around approximately forever (she had her first performance on the BBC in 1942, as a nine-year-old), and charted fifteen top 40 singles in the United States from 1964 to 1968, but this was her first hit since 1972 – and her last in the US.  She turns 80 this year, and is still performing – she was on Jools’ Holland’s 2013 New Year’s Eve special on British television.

T. G. Sheppard, “Only One You,” #68, 3/6/82
And here’s another guy who’s been around awhile, releasing his first album in 1974.  He’s had 16 country #1 hits over his career, but “Only One You” was his fourth song to cross over into pop, the biggest of which being 1981’s “I Loved ‘Em Every One.”  Still touring – he’s playing in Biloxi, Mississippi this Friday night, as a matter of fact.

The Spinners, “Never Thought I’d Fall in Love,” #95, 3/6/82
Another veteran group, The Spinners first hit the R&B charts in 1961, with “That’s What Girls Are Made For” on Tri-Phi Records (owned by Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows, and featuring his brother-in-law, Marvin Gaye, on drums).  Over twenty years later, and they were on the downslope of an amazing career (they’d had two huge medley hits, “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me, Girl” and “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time” in 1980).  This one is so obscure I can’t even find a video, although the song itself is available for download.

The Police, “Spirits in the Material World,” #11, 3/13/82
Second single off their album “Ghost in the Machine,” and one that sounded fairly similar to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” from the year before, even though the subject matter was completely different.  Lots more keyboard parts than on the former hit, however, as their sound was in the middle of a transformation from the reggae-based new wave of Outlandos d’Amour and Regatta de Blanc to the pure pop of Synchronicity.

Abba, “When All Is Said and Done,” #27, 3/13/82
Okay, those of you who have only heard this song from the Mamma Mia! soundtrack should probably download the original version, because the lyrics were completely rewritten when it was included in the movie.  (It wasn’t in the Broadway show.)  By the time the parent album, The Visitors, came out, both of the couples in Abba were either finally divorced or getting one, and Benny and Bjorn had no problem putting that empty feeling in their music.  As a result, The Visitors was one of their lowest-selling albums in almost every country in the world, and also their last studio album.  (In most countries, “When All Is Said and Done” was passed up as the single release for the only-slightly-less-of-a-downer “One of Us.”)

Friday, February 15, 2013

Laocoon and Her Two Sons

No, I don't know what this song means either.

Nifty trivia: after the song, Mike Mills yells out "hey, is Mitch out there?" (Presumably, Mitch Easter.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy VD, Jerks

Two of my favorite romantic ballads:
OK, seriously: Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane's duets album is the most romantic music ever recorded. Put it on the hi-fi and listen to it with anyone and you will get laid. Even you.

Happy Valentines Day!

A little romance for you love birds out there.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Warning Signs

Listen to Eilen Jewell ("Queen of the Minor Key") you will.

Boom Boom All Night Long

A great musical montage from one of the all-time great cop dramas, HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET, featuring the Iguanas.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Super Hits 1982, Part 5

John Hall Band, “Crazy (Keep On Falling),” #42, 2/20/82
Final chart hit for John Hall (and the only one for this band), but still only part of an interesting music career.  He was a founding member of Orleans, who had two huge hits in the mid-1970s, “Dance With Me” and “Still the One” (a third, “Love Takes Time,” came after Hall left the band).  He also spearheaded the No Nukes concert and album, which is still in print today, and wrote two songs for the show, “Plutonium Is Forever” and “Power.”  He still performs and writes today (and he did reunite with Orleans for a lengthy period of time), but he’s also moved into the political arena, winning two terms as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 19th Congressional District (the Hudson Valley area – it includes Woodstock, NY).  Having lost in the Tea Party sweep in the 2010 elections, he decided not to seek the seat again in 2012.

AC/DC, “Let’s Get It Up,” #44, 2/20/82
Subtle, eh?  First single from For Those About to Rock, and while it didn’t crack the American top 40 (in fairness, AC/DC has only had one top 30 hit in the states, 1991’s “Moneytalks”), it cemented the band’s popularity, as the parent album became their first stateside #1.  Their second was their most recent release, 2008’s Black Ice, and they just issued a live album last November.

Player, “If Looks Could Kill,” #48, 2/20/82
Sixth and final chart hit for a band that probably would have done better if they’d had better luck with their record labels, and been able to keep personal issues from bugging them.  They had three or four different lineups during the four years between the #1 “Baby Come Back” and this song, and it’s easier for fans to root for a band who keep the same guys on the stage.  They split with RSO (I don’t know if it was their idea or the label’s) after their second album, and recorded one album for the post-disco Casablanca Records in 1980; this one came out on RCA.  30 years, 18 band members, and some weird detours later (the bass player, Ronn Moss, spent a quarter of a century on the CBS soap The Bold and The Beautiful), and they’re actually going to release another album later this year.

Conductor, “Voice on the Radio,” #63, 2/20/82
I have nothing on this band.  Nothing.   I even checked Popdose’s excellent series Bottom Feeders, which had downloads for every song that charted in the 1980s as long as it peaked below #40 (don’t bother downloading them now, they were only there for a week after posting), and they had nothing.

The Doobie Brothers, “Here to Love You,”#65, 2/20/82
Here’s an elaborate theory on why this song was issued as a single about three years after it first appeared on an album:

1. Warner Brothers put out a new Doobie Brothers greatest hits set in the fall of 1981, hoping it would match the sales of the first one, which has (as of now) sold over 10 million copies.  However, since the first best-of had all the hits from their first six albums, this one is limited to the last three:  Livin’ on the Fault Line, Minute By Minute, and One Step Closer.  The reason this was issued, because scraping a best –of together from three studio albums is no easy task?  Maybe because everybody in the music industry knew Michael McDonald was on the verge of going solo (and probably not everyone knew that co-founder Patrick Simmons was also out the door as well, although both would stick with the band for their 1982 “Farewell Tour”).
2. Seven of the ten songs on the album were chart singles.  “You Belong to Me” wasn’t a hit for the Doobs, but Carly Simon did have a hit with her version.  “Here to Love You” and “One by One,” album tracks that were never hits, are included, while “Keep This Train A-Rollin’” and “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” (the latter a track from Sesame Street’s album In Harmony), both of which charted in 1981, are left off.
3. Somebody decides a single is needed, so “Here to Love You,” from the most successful of the three anthologized albums, Minute by Minute, gets the nod.  (Note both are written and sung by McDonald, who was under contract to Warner Brothers.)
4. It doesn’t sell, and the second best-of sells approximately 9,500,000 copies less than its predecessor – which is still in print, 35 freaking years later, even though there are at least two or three more comprehensive best-ofs now on the market.  Volume 2 is long out of print.

The Commodores, “Why You Wanna Try Me,” #66, 2/20/82
Third and final chart single from their album In the Pocket (it’s possible a fourth single, “Lucy,” didn’t chart), and it’s significant only because it’s the last chart single with Lionel Richie as a part of the band.  Ever since Lionel Richie and Diana Ross hit #1 for nine weeks with the theme to the movie Endless Love, it seemed pretty obvious Richie would be headed out the door sooner rather than later, and this midtempo song’s chart showing didn’t change things (he may have already been recording his first solo album at this point).  Oh, and kids - that thing in the video is called a turntable.

Grover Washington Jr., “Be Mine (Tonight),” #92, 2/20/82
One year after his huge hit “Just the Two of Us” with Bill Withers on vocals, this single from saxophonist Washington’s album Come Morning didn’t do nearly as well.  This time, it’s Grady Tate on vocals (a drummer by trade, he played with The Tonight Show band for a few years in the 1970s has played with artists from Stan Getz to Lena Horne, and sang “I Got Six” and “Naughty Number Nine” on Schoolhouse Rock).  To my knowledge, this was Washington’s last chart single.  He died in 1999 of a heart attack.

McGuffey Lane, “Start It All Over,” #97, 2/20/82
Country rock band that had been around in one form or another since 1972(and is still around today, believe it or not).  This was the followup to their biggest hit, “Long Time Loving You,” which hit #87 in 1981.  They have a couple of live and rerecording albums available for download (the hits were on Atco/Atlantic Records, but they’re long out of print); this song, however, isn’t available in any form for download.

Journey, “Open Arms,” #2, 2/27/82
The ultimate high school prom song of the first half of the 1980s, complete with string arrangement, Steve Perry’s bellowing lead vocal, and tender sentiments begging forgiveness.  I couldn’t stand it the minute I heard it, and I still can’t stand it now (and apparently some of the band members weren't crazy about it either), but it’s the group’s biggest hit, and cemented their reputation (for better or for worse).  I’m sure this has been on Glee at some point, right?

The Cars, “Shake It Up,” #4, 2/27/82
After barely scraping into the top 40 with “Touch and Go,” the lead single from 1980’s Panorama, The Cards promptly knocked out one of their biggest hits.  1984’s “Drive” would hit #3, but it would seem to me this is the one that’s lasted the longest – it’s an easy song to dance to, and Ric Ocasek’s hiccupping lead vocal here is more emblematic of the band than the late bassist Ben Orr’s smoothy singing on that hit.  It also has a classic video that clued the people at MTV in that their audience would happily watch scantily-clad women gyrate for hours if the song they played had a good beat and it’s easy to dance to.  (Yeah, Dick Clark had discovered that 25 years earlier, but still.)

Peabo Bryson, “Let the Feeling Flow,” #42, 2/27/82
He’s mostly known nowadays as the guy who sang all those Disney duets, but Peabo Bryson’s been around awhile.  His first album came out in 1976, and he notched a pair of gold albums in 1978 with Reaching for the Sky and Crosswinds.  More popular on the R&B album charts than pop albums (he’s had ten top 20 R&B albums), the most amazing thing about the man is his duet partners.  In chronological order, he’s sung with (deep breath) Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Melissa Manchester, Chaka Khan, Regina Belle, Celine Dion, and Linda Eder.  Up to this point, “Let the Feeling Flow” was his highest-charting pop hit; he’d beat that with one of the Roberta Flack duets, “Tonight I Celebrate My Love,” in 1983.

Teddy Pendergrass, “You’re My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration,” #43, 2/27/82
And here’s another guy who didn’t cross over that often, with “Close the Door” his only top 40 pop hit (in fairness, he’d charted fairly frequently in the 1970s as lead singer of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes).  Pendergrass, however, had eight gold albums as a solo artist, four of which went platinum as well, and twelve top 10 R&B albums.  Inspired by Marvin Gaye among other bedroom crooners, Pendergrass was astonishingly popular as a concert draw as well.  “You’re My Latest, My Greatest Inspiration” would be the last of his singles to hit the pop charts on Philadelphia International records (run by seminal soul masters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff).  None of this would mean much a few weeks after this song peaked at number 43:  on March 18, 1982, Pendergrass would wreck his car driving in Philadelphia, and wound up paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of his life. 

Madleen Kane, “You Can,” #77, 2/27/82
If you’re keep lists within this list, this is an important one:  Singers You Should Not Google at Work.  (No, I didn’t, and there will be more than one; trust me on this.)  Madleen Kane was a Swedish model, occasionally appearing in men’s magazines.  She released a few albums for the disco market, which sold very well in both Europe and the United States, from 1978 through 1981; this was her one song that hit the Billboard Hot 100. “You Can” also hit the top of the dance charts.  To my knowledge, he hasn’t released anything new since 1982.

Chubby Checker, “Running, “ #91, 2/27/82
Geez, this guy’s been around forever.  Yeah, everyone knows “The Twist,” but he had a #1 dance hit in 2008 with “Knock Down the Walls.”  Anyway, this was one of his many comeback hits, although this one barely scraped onto the charts.  Nevertheless, he’s still out there singing, and his Super Bowl halftime show in 1988 (Washington vs. Denver; I didn’t see it because I was escaping a partyful of Bronco fans after the Redskins racked up 35 points in the second quarter) has to have been better than anything Up With People did.