Thursday, March 31, 2011

the B-52's - Wild Planet

On August 27th of 1980, the B-52's were coming off a solid debut album. They kept the momentum going with their second album Wild Planet, which included their first use of electronic drum machines. It performed very well on both the US and UK charts, breaking into the top 20 on both. It spent twenty-seven weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 18.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wham! - Fantastic

Before Wham! “made it big” with their second studio album, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley (along with over a dozen musicians and a few back-up singers) released their 1983 debut album (on July 9th) that was - appropriately titled - Fantastic. Powered by a trio of singles that quickly became dance club favorites, the duo was soon on their way to international super-stardom.

The album charted at number 83 on the US Billboard Hot 200, eventually going Gold. It also reached number 25 in Switzerland, number 17 in Japan, number 15 in Sweden, number 8 in the Netherlands and Norway, number 7 in Germany, number 5 in Australia, and number 1 in the UK (where it went triple Platinum in sales).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

On September 30th of 1982, the New Jersey rocker Bruce Springsteen released his sixth studio album. Unlike previous albums, Nebraska was recorded on a cassette-tape Port studio (a four track recording device). If the songs sound a lot like demos, that was the intention. Everything is stripped down and simple. It is just Bruce doing the vocals, the guitar, the harmonica, the mandolin, the tambourine and the organ.

The album went to number 78 in Ireland, number 37 in Germany, number 8 in Australia, number 7 in the Netherlands, number 2 in Sweden, and number 3 in Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the UK and on the US Billboard Hot 200.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Midnight Star - No Parking On the Dance Floor

Midnight Star was an electro funk band that originated from Frankfort, KY. On June 6th of 1983, they released their fourth and most successful album of their careers - No Parking On the Dance Floor which went to number 27 on the US Billboard Hot 200 and number 2 on the US Billboard R&B chart.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Xanadu (soundtrack)

Welcome back to Soundtrack Sunday. This one goes out to one of my Twitter followers (a fellow lover of all 80's music) who shares my immense appreciation for this album.

On August 8th of 1980, Universal Pictures released a film starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck. It is the story of Sonny Malone (Beck), a talented artist who was unsatisfied with his day job of painting larger versions of album covers and longs for something more. Into his life comes a mysterious girl named Kira (Newton-John) who turns out to no only be an artistic muse for him but also an actual muse (i.e. daughter of the Olympian god Zeus). Add to the mix former big-band leader Danny McGuire (Kelly) who is looking for one more big adventure and you get the $20 million dollar musical extravaganza Xanadu.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Boston - Boston

Welcome back for another edition of "Seventies Saturday".

The second best-selling debut album of all-time (to date) goes to the American rock band Boston for their self-titled 1976 record Boston. It has been certified as 17x platinum, it peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200 album charts, and it is one of the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Unless you've been living on a deserted island for the last 35 years, though, I am sure you've already heard it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Comic Books of the Week (3/23/11)

Green Lantern #64 - the "War of the Green Lanterns" arc kicks in with this issue and I have to say I'm impressed with this opening chapter. Everything about it worked for me. Is that enough to get me to follow the story into the other two GL titles? Probably not. Still, this should prove to be epic which is what I've come to expect from Geoff Johns on this title.

Justice League of America #55 - the "Reign of Doomsday" arc crosses into this book for an issue, taking away time from the Eclipso arc. Booo! I could have done without the Doomsday stuff. I have no plans to follow the story in the other titles I don't get. It was a distraction for me. Still the art by Booth and Rapmund was very nice. Also glad to see what has been happening over in JSA is being acknowledged here.

Justice League: Generation Lost #22 (of 24) - and the crossing over continues. Now we get stuff from Wonder Woman's title. Yawn. Two more issues and this mini will be over. I for one am glad. While it has its moments, I found that for the most part it has been pretty uneven. And I was always a fan of the JLI. Oh well. Lesson learned.

Legion of Super-Heroes #11 - this book is on fire (and I'm not talking about Sun Emperor here)! Levitz and his art team are reminding me why I loved the Legion so much in the 70's and 80's. This book is back to its former glory and fans should be checking it out if they are not. Turst me, you won't be disappointed. This issues focus on Timber Wolf was nice.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

the Waitresses - I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts

Hailing from Akron, OH, the Waitresses were a new wave band led by guitarist/songwriter Chris Butler with lead vocals by Patty Donahue. In 1982, they put out their first album (which I'll review at a future date) and followed it late in the year (November 8th) with the five-song EP I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts.

I got the aforementioned EP (do you really want me typing the title again? We'll just call it "the EP" from here on out.) from my local record store when it hit. My main reason for doing so had a lot to do with a little show called Square Pegs (click here for my earlier blog post about the show) which debuted in the Fall of 1982.

Sheila E - the Glamorous Life

Sheila E. is the singer/drummer/percussionist daughter of percussionist Pete Escovedo. From her father, she developed strong roots in Latin and jazz. When she met Prince, who penned four of the six tracks on her debut, she added to the mix some funk and sex. The results are her amazing June of 1984 debut album The Glamorous Life.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

REO Speedwagon - Hi Infidelity

By request from one of my Twitter followers...

Hi Infidelity, released in November of 1980, was the ninth studio album by REO Speedwagon. The band was formed in the late 60's and had growing success in the 70's. But it was this album that represents the peak of their career, going nine-times platinum in sales in the US alone, five-times platinum in Canada, and even more so world-wide. It held the number 1 spot on the US Billboard Album chart for fifteen weeks, with a total chart run of one hundred and one weeks. It also went to number 34 in New Zealand, number 25 in Sweden, number 18 in Germany, number 17 in Norway, number 6 in the UK, and number 1 in Canada. Six singles were released from the album with four making it into Billboard's Top 40 and one achieving the number 1 spot.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time (2010)

Yesterday afternoon while scrolling through On-Demand, I ran across the 2010 films Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time which starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley, and Alfred Molina. I remembered the trailers and thought it was interesting at the time, but never saw it in the theatres. Since all I had to invest was time (it was a free flick on Starz HD), I gave it a go.

This is a Jerry Bruckheimer film and it had lots of those elements to it: lots of action, exotic locals, and the potential for a franchise (think Pirates of the Carribean or National Treasure). In some ways, it even had the feel of a live action Aladdin for me.

The story itself was typical fantasy-adventure fare. I bought into the plot and loved the element of the dagger/sands-of-time. The ending was fairly predictable but really how else would the story go? It worked for me. It definitely was a good way to unwind on a Sunday afternoon and worth checking out if you like these sorts of films (as I do).

Michael Jackson - Thriller

So much has already been said (and can still be said) about Michael Jackson's November 30th, 1982 release Thriller. This was his sixth solo album and without a doubt his most successful. It ranks as number 20 on the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list and as number 7 in their Top 100 Albums of the 80's list, and it appears on the 1001 Albums You Must Listen To Before You Die list.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can't Stop the Music (soundtrack)

Welcome back to Soundtrack Sunday.

Poll one hundred people over the age of forty and ask them if they recall the 1980 movie Can't Stop the Music, which starred Steve Guttenberg, Valerie Perrine, Bruce Jenner, Paul Sand and the Village People. At least half will say they never heard of it, most others will say they heard of it and it stunk (it was the winner of the Worst Picture at the first annual Razzie awards) and maybe one or two people will say they like it. I'd fall into that last category.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Welcome back to Seventies Saturday.

In 1977, Fleetwood Mac released their 11th studio album Rumours which became the highest selling album of the band's career. Rather ironic too since the relationships within the band were starting to break apart just as they hit the pinnacle of their success. I guess that makes for good song writing topics.

I heard this album a lot growing up. I was in 7th grade when it came out, and my brother had it on vinyl. I think everybody had it. Tracks from it were played heavily on the album oriented rock stations for many years after, and a number of songs crossed over to the top 40 charts as well.

The album appears on a number of lists: Q magazine placed it at number 3 in their list of top 50 albums of the 70's, VH1 ranked it number 16 on their 100 Greatest Albums list, USA Today ranked it number 23 on their Top 40 Albums list, Rolling Stone ranked it number 25 in their 500 Greatest Albums of All-Time, and it also appears on the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die list. Clearly a favorite of many critics as well as music fans.

I find the majority of the album very enjoyable - songs I'm very happy to listen to time and time again. They all take me right back to the 70's when I was riding my bike all over town, collecting Wacky Packages and first getting into collecting super-hero comic books. It reminds me of summer time too since that's when a number of the singles were dominating the pop charts.

Side one starts out with "Second Hand News" with its catchy chorus. Next up is "Dreams", the bands only single to hit number 1 on the US Billboard charts. I love the drums on this one - they give a feel of a thunder storm outside a rain soaked window. "Never Going Back Again" is next with its wonderful guitar accompanyment (very minstral like in tone). "Don't Stop" reached number 3 on the Billboard charts; it was also used by Bill Clinton in 1992 as a theme for his Presidential election campaign (don't hold that against the song though - it is classic rock number despite any political ties). "Go Your Own Way" was the first single from the album and it made it to number 10 on the US charts. The side then ends with "Songbird".

Side two begins with "the Chain" and the return of that minstral guitar sound. I love that it sounds like it is done and then comes back with another minute and a half of great guitaring. "You Make Loving Fun" was the final single from the album, and it too cracked the top 10 (getting up to number 9). I find this one soothing thanks to Christine McVie's vocals. The album then ends with "I Don't Want To Know", "Oh Daddy" and "Gold Dust Woman". These three are really lesser remembered tracks for me. The first side of the album was so solid that I hardly got around to listening to the back side that often. Still, all solid tunes.

I'd rank this one easily in my top 25 of albums from the 70's. It is certainly my favorite album by the band.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Film Comments: Paul (2011)

We just got home from the 7:40pm showing of Paul, the new comedy that starts Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Jane Lynch and Seth Rogen as the voice of "Paul". While the film has been out in the UK for over a month, it just opened in the US this weekend. The theatre was fairly full - there is a lot of competition with new releases today.

Now relax, dear readers, I'm not about to give any spoilers away. Trust me, I want everyone to be able to go into this one as open as my wife and I did. If you've seen the commercials or trailers though, you know it is about two British comic-book geeks who travel across the US mid-west and stumble across an alien (the aforementioned title character Paul). That's all the plot you will get out of me.

Suffice to say, this card-carrying, proud-to-be geek loved the film. The opening moments immediately had me sucked in (trust me, you'll know why once you see it - my good buddies will know what I mean - SDCC, baby!). There are also so many nods to great sci-fi here that the inner-nerd will be loving it. It is all done so well. The story might seem predictable in spots but that's okay - it works. I even loved the choice of songs used as part of the soundtrack. Make sure you watch the credits as final scenes are interspersed during them (with a song I love being used during them - it is from another film which I enjoy, but I'm a dork that way).

One thing I do have to talk about though is the fact that this is not a kids' movie. It is rated R for a reason - the language is very strong - very funny for adults, but not for kids. It's language I wouldn't want to be sitting in the same room with my parents hearing, either.

We were shocked to see people come into the showing with their children under 10 years old. Hello! Irresponsible parenting much? I think so. Unless you're fine with your kids hearing the F-bomb (among other things) dropped a few dozen times, you shouldn't be bringing them to this film. This isn't a cute E.T. alien kind of movie - this is an adult comedy. This isn't the first time we've seen folks in our town do that; a few years back we witnessed a couple bring their two under 10 kids to a 10pm showing of Watchmen, also rated R for a reason. I just don't get the thought process behind this.

We have a teenager. He expressed interest in seeing this film. We told him that since it is rated R, we have to see it first. That's how we do things in our home with films - we evaluate first to determine whether it is appropriate for him or not. Until he is of age, it is our job to do our homework. Our conclusion? Well, we're on the fence. The very strong language is the factor that might tip it onto the side of "you'll have to wait another couple years, okay?" side of the scale. We'll discuss that more.

As for my recommendation, if you're comfortable with course language and some crude humor (and absolutely if you're a huge comic-book/sci-fi geek like me!), you'll want to check this one out. Even my wife, who's only geek cred is being married for over two decades to a big geek (okay, she does like Tolkein and Dune so she qualifies for a geek permit at least) enjoyed it. We both laughed out loud a number of times.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Comic Books of the Week (3/16/11)

Adventure Comics #524 - only the second issue of the Levitz/Jimenez feature on the Legion Academy and I am 1000% sold. This is an awesome companion to the main LSH title. I love the new characters and how their stumbling upon something really big going on. This reminds me of the Levitz run on the Baxter title of the Legion back in the 80's - great cast, many subplots, lots of action. And the artwork is sheer prefection - Phil was a perfect choice for this series as his style is perfect for the 31st Century team.

Brightest Day #22 (of 24) - Firestorm vs. the Anti-Monitor? Oh yeah! Nice issue. I would so buy a Firestorm monthly title with Johns and company behind it. Now that this issue finally gives the hero a new direction, I so want to see him in a title soon - either his own or in JLA or something. I've been a Firestorm fan since Gerry Conway and Al Milgrom created him back in the 70's, and it finally feels like this character is back to old form now. Well done issue.

DCU Legacies #10 (of 10) - this mini ends by covering events from Identity Crisis and the beginnings of Infinite Crisis. We also see what is going on with lead narrator Paul as his story comes to an end. I must say I've been underwhelmed as a whole on this mini. Sure, the art was awesome at times but the story was kind of clunky. And now we find out why some of the continuity "gaffs" in these issues were there - maybe Paul isn't quite remembering the old facts as well as he should? I'm really glad this one is over.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #26 - with only a few more issues left before cancellation, the story kicks into overdrive - and I loved it! Lobo was in fine form, the cracks are showing in Starro's forces, and Rann is in serious trouble! I am not sure how this will get wrapped up in two more issues, but I expect it to come at a fast and furious pace. I'm going to miss this book when it is off the schedule.

Survivor: Redemption Island

I have to say that as Survivor: Nicaragua closed and they announced the changes coming for Survivor: Redemption Island, I was skeptical. Messing with formulas can be tricky, especially for a show that has been successful for over 10 years. Would changing the game herald a new era for the competition or would it crash and burn as badly as American Idol adding a fourth judge?

Well, we're five weeks into the new season and three where the "Redemption Island" has been a factor in the game, and I am loving it! I like how the last three weeks have opened with the arena challenge between the current "survivor" of Redemption Island and the newly voted-out challenger. The competitions have been interesting and suspenseful. The story-line of Matt (who was ousted by Rob for becoming too close to another person in their allaince of six, and then having bested the other three - including mega-villain Russell) has been a compelling one. Add too the "spectators", two people from each tribe to view the competition each time - and to interact among themselves and with those on Redemption Island - well that's just icing on the cake. We don't know when this last-person-standing will return back to the main game, but they will and it should be a big factor in the fight for the final prize. I hope this change to the game is permanent for future seasons.

But the other parts of the season have also re-ignited my torch for this show.

We have the return of Boston Rob and Russell, two immensely popular former players from a number of previous seasons. Putting them on opposite tribes right from the get-go made for an interesting study in human behavior (the main reason I watch shows like Survivor, to see how people interact and react to one another based on situations). Rob's tribe has embraced him (mostly). Russell's tribe had scorned him (mostly) - so much so that they'd throw a key challenge to vote him out! Rob continues each week to show why he's a master-player at this game, influencing votes and working behind their backs to insure he's handling his solo play (for after the merger hits) as well as the important team play needed early on.

But there are also the interesting new players. Stephanie, a Russell follower, is finding she needs to scramble now that her main supports are both voted out. Can she make it to the merge? I hope so. Ralph is proving to show that there is more to him than a hayseed-stereotype but will his ego be his downfall? I think so. Then there is Phillip, the questionable former federal agent. He is all sorts of entertaining on so many levels. I'm glad Rob is keeping him around - just for the sheer unpredictability that could come from him when/if he makes a move. Is Phillip crazy like a fox or just plain crazy?

Last, but not least, is Jeff Probst and his unique contributions to this season. Yes, he's doing his regular hosting job which he has done so well these many seasons. All good there. What Jeff is doing this season though is taking it to another level - with his new website for weekly episode commentary blog and other interesting bonus features (like a Skype interview with Russell after his final-eviction episode aired). Jeff has also started live Tweeting for the East coast and West coast broadcasts (follow him @JeffProbst if you want to get in on the fun). He does Q&A, commentary, polls, etc. during the broadcast. It is like watching a TV season with commentary, from a person who is there in the mix for some of it and is also seeing a lot of the footage at the same time as the rest of us viewers. Jeff thinks that TV viewing should be a communal experience, and these offerings help take advantage of 21st century technology to do just that.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Billy Idol - Don't Stop

In 1981, Billy Idol left behind his position of lead singer for Generation X and struck out on his own solo career. Don't Stop was his first release, a four song-EP that helped put him firmly on the 80's music map. Idol even penned three of the four songs on this record.

"Mony Mony" is a cover of the 1968 hit by Tommy James and the Shondells. His version was a huge dance hit back in the day. Everyone got out on the floor, bouncing up and down, thrusting their fists into the air and chanting some rather interesting things in-between Billy's lyrics. It was always a highlight of the night. Brings back lots of great memories. The song had such staying power that a live version of the song hit number 1 on the Billboard charts in 1987, six years after the original release.

"Baby Talk" continues to show Idol's love of classic rock and roll. This song has the feel of a song from decades before, with the punk/new-wave attitude to give it an equally modern feel. A perfect balance.

"Untouchables" slows things down a hair, but still maintains that rocking edge. I find it to be a solid song.

"Dancing With Myself" surprisingly never charted, but it is probably one of the songs folks immediately think of when they think of Billy Idol. It has appeared in a number of movies over the years, and they even covered it on season 1 of Glee. Again, this is another dance favorite - having "dancing" right there in the title. It was first recorded by Generation X in 1980, and Billy released it again on his self-titled album in 1982.

If you're not familiar with Billy's catalog, this is a good place to start.

Monday, March 14, 2011

the Time - Ice Cream Castle

The cosmic influence of my iPod's shuffle must be trying to tell me something. The 1984 album Ice Cream Castle by the Time has come up now two weeks in a row while playing my 1980's playlist in shuffle-by-album mode. That's a rare occurance since almost a third (5176 tunes) of my total music library is in that decade playlist. I'm thinking "someone" is telling me I should blog about this one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Comic Books of the Week (3/9/2011)

Batman: the Brave and the Bold #5 - the Caped Crusader teams up with the abrasive Green Lantern Guy Gardner to battle an army of Manhunters. The story also features another surprise guest-star. It was an okay issue with a good plot and decent art.

Birds of Prey #10 - "the Death of Oracle" story line concludes. The plot was interesting enough with some decent character moments, particularly for the Huntress and the Calculator. Gail Simone's writing is solid as always. I wasn't as thrilled with the art though. I understand a new regular artist is coming on board soon, so I hope that helps elevate the series for me. So glad to see the letter column back in this book.

Booster Gold #42 - yawn. Wake me up when Dan Jurgens gets back to this book. I have little interest in this final arc by Giffen and DeMatteis. Best part for me was the return of the letter column in this book as well.

Justice League Generation Lost #21 (of 24) - the ramifications of the end of last issue are felt this time, showing us how the various cast members deal with grief. The ending wasn't a surprise for me at all - I knew things would be rectified soon enough. Now let's get to taking out Max Lord, please.

JSA All-Stars #16 - the end of the Puzzlemen arc. It all felt a little too "convenient" how everything came together for a quick defeat after such a big build-up. I was a little disappointed. Since this is a "dead book walking" with only two more issue left until cancellation, I'm not expecting a lot before the final curtain. I do hope some of these characters fold back into the main JSA title though.

Legion of Super-Villains one-shot - the greatest villains of the 31st Century get the spotlight in this one. I always enjoy getting into the motivations of the super-villains; it gives them depth and makes you appreciate their roles more. The writing and art are outstanding, what I come to expect from a Legion title. This is a must-read for anyone who is following the current Legion series as this is just the beginning of what looks to be an incredible story arc (the places the LSV go to gain power will show you this is truly a huge DCU event for their time period).

Wonder Girl one-shot - this was actually from January. I didn't pick it up then but read recently how the issue introduced Solstice, a new heroine that would be joining the Teen Titans. For that reason, I went back and grabbed this one. I found it to be an okay intro - a shame Wonder Girl had to share her spotlight with a new character though. And the threat seemed to just be an opening volley to something bigger. I guess we'll learn more about all this in Teen Titans soon enough.

Flashdance (soundtrack)

Welcome back to "Soundtrack Sunday".

The 80's was known for producing a number of popular film soundtracks that climbed up the charts. And in 1983, one of those albums was the soundtrack to Flashdance, the story of female welder at a steel mill (played by Jennifer Beals) who aspired to be a professional dancer. The film opened in theatres on April 15th of that year.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Styx - the Grand Illusion

Welcome back for another edition of "Seventies Saturday".

In 1977, the American band Styx released their 7th studio album. All those sevens were very lucky for them indeed as the Grand Illusion was the first of their albums to reach Triple Platinum sales and earned them one top 10 single and another top 30 single on the US charts. My older brother who was in high school at the time had it on vinyl, so I heard it a lot at home. Yet even the kids at the junior high school I went to were into it as well. Some consider it Styx's breakthru album, the one that propelled them into superstar status. It is certainly a memorable album from that year and the decade.

Side one is about as perfect as any first side of an album can get. All of these songs could be heard heavily on the radio at the time (and for many years afterwards), leaving a permanent impression on our collective musical landscapes.

The album opens with the fanfare of "the Grand Illusion"; that's Tommy Shaw and James Young on guitars. You can almost see a carnival barker addressing a crowd eager to spend their money. The song is theatric with a solid prog-rock feel to it. The theme is a simple one of overcoming self-delusion and affirming who we really inside. It is a theme that extends over a number of the album's tracks.

Next is "Fooling Yourself (the Angry Young Man)", a title that is fairly self-explanatory really; it is a message that being angry at the world is pointless and will not solve your problems. Again, another awesome opening - this time with Dennis DeYoung on synthesizers. This is one of those songs I know the lyrics by heart and often would sing along to. The song reached number 29 on the US singles charts in April 1978.

"Superstars" is one of those songs I haven't heard for a long time (I downloaded it earlier this week and it was like welcoming an old friend). It is about a singer who rose to stardom yet knows he is no different than the fan in the 14th row (same dreams and aspirations). The melodies on this one are outstanding, just like the other songs. Again, this is another one of those songs I like to sing along to on the chorus.

"Come Sail Away" was the big hit from the record, reaching number 8 in late October of 1977. This song is one of discovery, and it is just so beautiful. The first part is like a minstrel's song with the piano and orchestration. It then explodes in the second half with its rock and space-aged sounds. Again, another song I know by heart and can't help but sing along too. Heck, even Eric Cartman knows the words to this one (come on, you've seen the South Park episode, right?). It was also used nicely in an episode of Freaks and Geeks. It is a pop-culture landmark that cannot be denied.

I have to admit that the side two tracks are quite a bit less familiar to me. I don't think my brother played them as often. I don't recall them as much on the radio either.

"Miss America" opens up side two. I have a live version of this one in my library. It is a decent rocking song that takes a swipe at beauty pageant winners and the image they have to portray to get there. "Man In the Wilderness" and "Castle Walls" are my least favorite tracks - most likely because they are the ones I've heard the least over the decades. Musically though they are very solid compositions. I'm sure they were amazing in concert.

The album ends with "the Grand Finale", a two minute reprise if you will of the opening album song. It serves as closure to the concepts of the albums, bringing the listener right back around to where we started, much like a Broadway show might do.

I like this album a lot. It can take me back to my early teenaged days very quickly. Still, it is a solid album that has stood the test of time to be one of the many classics to come out of the 70's.

What do you think?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Thomas Dolby - Blinded By Science

The January of 1982 EP release Blinded By Science was my first exposure to the musical master-works of British new wave/synthpop artist Thomas Dolby. It was during my Junior year of high school when I was listening to the local college radio station when I heard the songs on this disk. It didn't take long for me to seek out the vinyl at the local Record Giant.

The record charted at number 20 on the US Billboard Hot 200.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stars On 45

If you think about it, the medley as a musical art-form was hardly new when the 80's began. Bands had been doing mixes of their hits in concert, on TV variety shows and occasionally on albums for a few decades prior to that. But Dutch novelty act Stars On 45, created by Jaap Eggermont, brought it back with a vengeance - by combining songs by various artists together in a whole new way, throwing in a catchy new refrain for a hook and adding a disco beat to support it all with an undulating foundation. The result was pure pop magic which gave the group a number 1 US single in 1981 - "Stars on 45: Medley..." (it also reached number 1 in their home Netherlands and reached number 2 in the UK).

That first single was an interesting mix to be sure. It pulled in tunes by the Buggles, the Archies, Lipps Inc., Heatwave, Shocking Blue and a healthy dose of one of the biggest acts of all time, the Beatles. The original track was 4:05 of pure cotton candy. This gave way to an album called Stars On Long Play, released in March of 1981, which rearranged that first medley into a 15:48 complete side one track celebration of the Beatles. Side two took elements of the first single release and added a few more hits from the 50's and 60's into an eight minute track. The rest of that side was devoted to two 50's rock and roll medleys performed by Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers, another Dutch act. Like the original single, this first album rocketed up the charts - clearly the novelty of these novelty acts had caught fire. At the time, you could often hear the shorter version on the radio and the longer mixes in dance clubs.

It didn't take long for the producers to cash in on the popularity of that debut. In August of the same year, they released Stars On Long Play II album. Side one focused on various 60's and 70's songs (by the Temptations, Sly and the Family Stone, America, the Mamas and the Papas, Barry McGuire, Neil Diamond and more), including a healthy dose of the Supremes. The other track jumped on the popularity of Star Wars and added in other instrumental cues (from Tommy, M*A*S*H*, "Baker Street", "Layla" and more). Side two provided an ABBA centric medley (one I'm sure any fan of Mamma Mia! would love) and the second track with various artists mixed together.

In March of 1982, the last major release hit record stores, the aptly titled Stars On Long Play III. Side one of this album was devoted fully to a medley of the Rolling Stones that covered their entire career up to their most recent hits in 1980. Side two provided a Stevie Wonder medley and a track called "Stars On Get Ready".

Clearly, Stars On 45 was on to something, or at least started something that others were quick to emulate. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra released a number of albums in their Hooked On Classics series. Larry Elgart and His Manhattan Swing Orchestra followed suit with a Hooked on Swing album. In 1981, the charts saw "The Beach Boys Medley" do very well. And in 1982, there was also single release of "the Beatles Movie Medley" by their label.

I was raised on AM radio and FM top 40 stations. During those years, I had weekly appointments with Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Casey Kasem's American Top 40 and the glitter-coated Solid Gold. As such, it would surprise no one that I ate up these medley releases eagerly. I owned many of them on vinyl (and discovered recently my brother still has them - so I'm so going to burn them onto CD on my next visit).

Yes, one could easily argue that they were hardly original - after all, the musicians were taking established songs and mashing them together, which would be very easy to produce. But that didn't matter to me. These albums brought me a simple kind of enjoyment where I didn't have to think about the music. That's what music is supposed to do sometimes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Huey Lewis and the News - Huey Lewis and the News

The San Francisco based band Huey Lewis and the News started out as a six piece combo. Huey Lewis lead the group with vocals and harmonica, with Bill Gibson on percussion and Sean Hopper on keyboards. On lead guitar was Chris Hayes, on bass was Mario Cipollina, and on rhythm guitar and saxophone was Johnny Colla.

They recorded their self-titled debut album Huey Lewis and the News in December of 1979 and released it on June 25th of 1980. As such, it straddled two decades - the departing disco-tinged 70's and the growing new-wave 80's. The band had more rock and blues roots, so they really didn't fit either of those styles - though they did try to touch upon the new-wave vein a little with this album.

Huey Lewis and the News didn't chart well in any of the major markets (the US, UK, etc.) but clearly their label Chrysalis Records saw potential in the band. It spent three weeks on the US Billboard Album chart, peaking at number 203.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dirty Dancing (soundtrack)

Welcome to another edition of "Soundtrack Sunday".

It was the fall of 1987 and I was having one of those "times of my life". It was my final quarter of my last year in college - four classes away from graduation and moving on from RIT, which had been my home for the last four years or so. I had a pretty reasonable schedule, classes from Monday through Thursday with a three day weekend to go out and cut loose dancing. I was also involved in a rather serious relationship at the time.

At the movies Dirty Dancing was the big blockbuster film, having made its debut in last August. It is the story of a teenager Francis "Baby" Houseman (Jennifer Grey) who was vacationing with her parents at a Catskills Mountain resort. There she meets and falls in love with a handsome dance instructor Johnny Castle (played by Patrick Swayze). I saw the film for the first time with my then-girlfriend, and I owned a copy of the soundtrack on cassette. I since own the CD and the DVD.

The music on the soundtrack is a mix between new tracks and songs from the early 1960's (given that the film was set in 1963). The album produced five top-10 hit singles, including one that reached all the way to number 1. Let's check it out.

Side one opens with the biggest hit - "(I've Had) the Time of My Life", a duet by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes. This song appears at the end of the film and is probably the signature song from the film - an instant karoake classic. This song ended up being a favorite of a lot of couples at the time, myself included; this was "our song" for my girl-friend and I that fall. A little known fact: the song was co-written by Franke Previte, better known as the lead singer of Franke and the Knockouts.

Next up is the 1963 classic "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes. It was written by Phil Spector, and sets the tone nicely for the time period of the film. It is also number 22 on Rolling Stone's Greatest 500 Songs of All-Time list.

Patrick Swayze then provides another hit from the album, "She's Like the Wind". He does a pretty good job delivering on this one. He is also the co-writer of the song, having written it three years earlier for another film (for which it was not used).

"Hungry Eyes" is next, another single, performed by Eric Carmen. This song was also written by Franke Previte. Then comes "Stay", the 1960 doo-wop hit by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs. This one too is a signature classic from the film's time period.

The first side ends with "Yes", another hit single, from Merry Clayton. This one has the sound of early 80's songs by the Pointer Sisters or Patti LaBelle. I consider it one of those "lost hits" of the decade, one that I'd certainly throw on to an 80's dance mix-tape. It really gets you moving.

Side two opens with "You Don't Own Me" by the Blow Monkeys. It is a cover of the 1964 song by Leslie Gore; their take is one I like a lot though. This version is very cool, with a smoke-filled jazz club feel to it. The Blow Monkeys had a hit a year earlier with "Digging Your Scene".

Jumping back to 1962, we get "Hey! Baby" by Bruce Channel. Like "Stay", it makes me want to get up and dance, which is kind of the point of the film really. In that case, the song serves the film quite well.

Alfie Zappacosta provides "Overload" with its driving beat and rhythm. It has a little bit of a feel like Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love", which is a good thing.

Next is the 1957 hits "Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia. The film has a great lip-sync to this song between Baby and Johnny. And, humorously, the comedy How I Met Your Mother paid homage to this in one episode where the character Barney Stintson (played by Neil Patrick Harris) references the song with his head super-imposed onto Swayze's body in a clip.

"Where Are You Tonight?" by Tom Johnston is the last original song on the album. Relegated the the back side near the end, I don't think it is as strong as the other original songs on the album. It does have a nice doo-wop feel to it at the start, making it a good fit with the older tracks on the album. The last song on side two is the 1956 classic "In the Still of the Night" by the Five Satins.

The first soundtrack album did so well, the studio rushed out a second More Dirty Dancing with other original songs and classic tracks from the film. Sadly, without the star-power of the first soundtrack's hits, it didn't do as well. I did have a copy of this one on cassette as well, just because I'm a completist. However, I didn't listen to it as much as I did the first.

The 80's was known for a lot of great movie soundtracks and Dirty Dancing was one of them. There is a good chance if you're into music from that decade either you or someone you know has this one (even if they aren't willing to admit it). Me, I'll gladly embrace it even if it comes with some cheesey-baggage with it. Hey, compared to some of the other soundtracks I've blogged about (or will in the future - trust me on this), this one is not nearly as cheesey.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Cars - The Cars

I thought I would treat everyone to a second helping of "Seventies Saturday" this week.

It's not surprising that a lot of debut albums ended up on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" and on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All-Time. There are quite a number of outstanding first records by bands in the history of rock and roll. The Cars 1978 debut (released on June 6th) falls into that category (it appears at #279 on the Rolling Stone list).

Meat Loaf - Bat Out of Hell

Welcome back for another edition of " Seventies Saturday".

Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina. Famous singer/songwriter combos of the 1970's.

Add to that list Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman. This combination was a marriage made in musical heaven (or would that be Hell?). The former delivers theatric rock performances with an amazing voice and the ability to master complex lyrics precisely. The later is a musical savant with an equal flare for dramatic and a vision of grand compositions. Together, they created the amazing debut album Bat Out of Hell. Released in the Fall of 1977, the album is ranked number 343 on Rolling Stone's Top 500 Albums of All-Time and also is on the list of "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die".

Friday, March 4, 2011

Comic Books of the Week (3/2/11)

Giant-Size Atom #1 - this one-shot special finishes up the storyline from the Atom back-up feature that was running in Adventure Comics. DC cut out the back-up features on books when they went down to $2.99 leaving this tale stuck in the middle. I have to say that this was just an average conclusion to an average run. I appreciate that Lemire was trying to come up some new advesaries for the Atom, and pulling Hawkman for a guest-star in the end probably helped but it was just so-so for me. To make the Atom interesting you have to make it brilliant.

Brightest Day #21 (of 24) - full focus on the Martian Manhunter as his story arc ends and he joins the others for the final event. Gotta say that of all the arcs, the one featuring J'Onn was my least favorite. It just didn't do anything big for me. I love the character, love him in team environments. I think I just don't like him enough solo. Ah well.

Green Lantern #63 - the prologue to the "War of the Green Lanterns" arc. While I like the further fleshing out of Krona this issue seemed slow to me. I'm hoping for a big pick up soon - especially with the GL movie coming out.

Secret Six #31 - outstanding issue from Gail Simone and J. Calafiore. The Six is back after a few cross-over arcs, back to what they are doing best - in-fighting. I am so looking forward to their time in Hell - it always brings out the best and worst in characters. Is it next month yet?

John Byrne's Next Men #4/34 - so now we get a little back story of what happened between series and how the various members of the group got lost in time. This is typical Byrne to throw in the flashback as an issue, just when folks have so many questions, without any fanfare or anything else. I've gotten used to his irregular story-board flow over the years yet it sometimes throws you off for a second or two. Still, loving that this book is back.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - the Message

I grew up in a small western New York town on the shores of Lake Erie. I knew very little about urban life except for what I saw on TV on shows like "Good Times" and big city police dramas in the 70's. I only knew a couple black kids (yes, that's the term we used back then - before the days of political correctness) from elementary school but they moved away by the late 70's. In junior high I got to know my first Hispanic people (our town had a growing Puerto Rican population).

When it came to exposure to R&B, soul or even the up-and-coming rap/street-music styles, again my only real expsoure was television and the radio. Then in 1982 while listening to the local college radio station, I discovered a lot more. One of those discoveries was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five with their debut album the Message.

Side one is a full-out celebration with a trio of upbeat tunes. "She's Fresh" is pure R&B/funk that sounds right at home at any early 80's house party. "It's Nasty" samples the Tom Tom Club's "Genius of Love" for its baseline, allowing the guys to put some old school raps over a recent dance club favorite. "Scorpio" is solid electronic-funk in the same vein as Newcleus.

The guys move to the social commentary with the track "It's A Shame". The sample here is a classic though. "Dreamin'" drops the tempo down with a fairly standard slow jam. "You Are" continues along that same vein. While I appreciate the varying styles here, these aren't really the songs I typically associate with this group. You can tell this is their debut album with a lot of the group providing input as to what they wanted to see on the record. It leads to a hodge-podge though.

The real star of this album is the last track - "the Message". This song was huge release, with the single going platinum in just one month. Everybody who was into club music and the now-growing popular hip-hop/rap genre had this record. I had the 12 inch single on Sugar Hill Records. It ranked as number 51 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (the highest placing song of any released in the 1980's and the highest ranking hip-hop song on the list). The lyrics paint a detailed picture of life in the ghettos at the time (and yet the lyrics are still relevant today). This is one of those songs that I know by heart and will "rap along" to any time I'm listening to it aloud.

The original vinyl for the album The Message stopped at those seven tracks. But later CD releases added "the Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel', a track that showcases his supreme sampling skills by cutting in some well-known songs; "the Message II (Survival)", a worthy sequel to the "the Message"; and "New York New York", yet another rap classic social commentary by the group. These two along with "the Message" are the first songs I think of when I hear Grandmaster Flash. They really stuck with me, even after almost thirty years from their original release.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bertie Higgins - Just Another Day In Paradise

It was the winter of 1982 and I was in my Junior year of high school at the time. I was all about listening to the radio in my room while working on homework or dabbling in writing fiction on my electric typewriter.

There was a song, inspired by a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, that was climbing up the US pop charts at the time. Of course, I am referring to "Key Largo", the soft-rock hit by Florida singer/songwriter Bertie Higgins.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

ABC - The Lexicon of Love

On June 25th, 1982, the British pop band ABC made their amazing debut with the album The Lexicon of Love. It is one of the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die", and, in my opinion, well worth looking into it if you've never heard it before.

Martin Fry has soulful vocals in the grand tradition of some of the 60's greats, perfectly suited for singing about the quest to find true love and the frustrations of not achieving it. David Palmer provides the precise percussion, Stephen Singleton serves superb sax, and Mark White rounds things out with guitars and keyboards. There are also many guest musicians who further add to this album's lush orchestration and sound.

The release went to number 1 in the UK, New Zealand and Finland.  It reached number 3 in Canada and Sweden, and in the US it went to number 24 on the Billboard Hot 200.  It produced four Top 20 hits in the UK and two top 25 hits in the US.