Archive for January, 2016

It’s time for another installment of ‘80s protest songs. In my last post, I focused on the anti-apartheid movement and how artists helped bring this issue to a broader audience. This time around I’ll be focusing on songs that dealt with the backlash against Ronald Reagan and his policies. There were countless artists who spoke out against the administration’s policies, such as cuts to social programs and taxes for the wealthy, deregulating the EPA, and the rise of capitalism. It would take another post to cover protests over the administration’s military policies.

The B-52s’ song “Channel Z” is pretty much an indictment of the Reagan administration as a whole wrapped up in a fun, upbeat tempo. But mostly this song is a condemnation of the deregulation of the media under the administration and the constant feeding of mass information to an all too eager public. It was the debut single off the 1989 album Cosmic Thing. Although not achieving the success of other songs from the album, such as “Love Shack,” and “Roam,” it did reach #61 on the UK Singles Chart.

 

One of my favorite songs off R.E.M.’s 1987 album Document is the opening track, “Finest Worksong.” The song is basically a rousing call to arms against Reagan capitalism delivered in an almost sermon-like form. It was the third, and last, single to be released off the album. It reached #50 in the UK but failed to chart in the U.S. A slightly lighter-sounding version of the song is included on the greatest hits compilation, Eponymous. It’s the brighter version that Pete Buck felt should have been on Document but I think I’ll have to disagree with Mr. Buck on this one.

 

The Ramones also joined the fray with their song “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg.” The single, released in 1985, was a protest to a visit Ronald Reagan paid to a military cemetery in Bitburg, Germany. Along with members of the German army, there were also several members of the Waffen SS (a branch of the Third Reich) buried there. The Ramones were joined in protest by holocaust survivors, US politicians from both sides of the aisle, and many countries in Europe. To stem the tide of criticism, a visit to a concentration camp was added to Reagan’s agenda. The single was not released in the US and as an import became a minor success on college radio. Retitled “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg),” the song was included on the 1986 album Animal Boy.

 

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There’s not much more to say about the Smiths’ third album, The Queen Is Dead. Released on June 16, 1986 to great critical praise, it has since garnered numerous accolades – #1 on NME’s 500 greatest albums of all time and #16 on Slant magazine’s top albums of the ‘80s. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t warm up to the Smiths until the ‘90s. Their mix of jangle pop and rockabilly didn’t appeal to me at the time. I eventually came to see the light and I’d be hard pressed to find a party playlist that didn’t have at least one Smiths’ song.

Since choosing one song off the album seemed too daunting a task, I’ve decided to focus on the songs highlighted in the Derek Jarman film. The film contains video clips for the songs “The Queen is Dead,” “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” and “Panic.” Although not on The Queen is Dead album, “Panic” was released as a single in 1986.

 

One of the best things about doing this series of posts is that I get to highlight some lesser known albums turning 30 this year, such as Strange Times by the Chameleons. Released on September 1, 1986, it was the group’s third album. Critically praised upon its release, it produced what is probably the band’s most well-known song, “Swamp Thing.” The album also contains several bonus tracks, including a great version of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows,” and a lighthearted take on David Bowie’s “John, I’m Only Dancing.” My favorite song off the album is a bonus track of the single “Tears.” It’s a haunting instrumental version that I prefer to the original acoustic.

 

Like many, I discover new music through music blogs and social media. (There’s still nothing like coming across a great find). This is how I first heard of Modern Eon, a post-punk band out of Liverpool. A page I follow – The 80s Underground – posted their song “Euthenics.” I took a listen and immediately wanted to find out more about the group. It turns out that they were a short-lived band, producing a handful of singles and only one full-length album. It’s no wonder I’d never heard of them before. Their dark and atmospheric sound drew comparisons to Joy Division but the use of offbeat drum rhythms and bursts of electronics and horns gave them a sound all their own.

Founding members Alix Plain and Danny Hampson started the band in 1978. At the time they were called Luglo Slugs but after a few lineup and band name changes they decided on Modern Eon. The group gained a following within the “New Wave Liverpool Scene,” which produced other notable acts such as Echo & the Bunnymen, OMD, and The Teardrop Explodes. After some success with the EP “Pieces” and the single “Euthenics” (and after more lineup changes), they released their only album, Fiction Tales, in 1981. Although the album didn’t do well commercially, it did receive critical acclaim. Later that year they were set to tour with The Stranglers when drummer Chris Hewitt critically injured his wrist. They went on with the tour but eventually had to replace Hewitt with drum tracks. After Hewitt’s recovery, they recorded demos for a second album that were never completed. By the end of 1981, the group had disbanded. It’s unfortunate, since it would’ve been interesting to see how their music would have evolved.

The song “Euthenics,” originally released as a single in 1980, also appears on the Fiction Tales album. It’s a soaring, atmospheric song with Hewitt’s off-kilter drumming on full display, along with a shot of special effects they were known for. The band was a big fan of composer Ennio Morricone, and he was asked but declined to produce their album. You can definitely hear his influence on this song.

  

“Mechanic” is another single off the Fiction Tales album. It’s a more melodic song off the LP with a steady bassline and great guitar work by Tim Levers, who would later go on to find success with Dead or Alive.

 

Who’s on Tour?

Posted: January 17, 2016 in Tour Dates

80’s Invasion Tour 2016 (Midge Ure, Big Country, Nick Heyward, Curiosity Killed the Cat) – through March: http://www.ticketline.co.uk/80s-invasion-tour#bio
The Smithereens – through April: http://officialsmithereens.com/shows/
The Cure – May through December: http://www.thecure.com/events/
The English Beat – February through March: http://englishbeat.net/shows/
Simply Red – February through August: http://www.simplyred.com/tour-dates/
Nick Lowe – March: http://nicklowe.com/tour-dates/
Duran Duran – March through August: http://duranduranmusic.com/?page=tour
Elvis Costello – March through June: http://www.elviscostello.com/dance-card
Billy Idol – February through May: http://billyidol.net/tour/
Agent Orange – February: http://www.ticketmaster.com/Agent-Orange-tickets/artist/734398
Jesus and Mary Chain – February through March: http://thejesusandmarychain.uk.com/
B52s – February through April: http://theb52s.com/tour/
Lene Lovich – April through June: http://www.lenelovich.net/tour.htm
Howard Jones – February: http://www.howardjones.com/tour_dates.html
Berlin – February through April: http://www.berlinpage.com/tour
Violent Femmes – March: http://www.vfemmes.com/tour/
The Monochrome Set – February through June: http://www.themonochromeset.co.uk/
The Stranglers – March through April: http://www.thestranglers.net/

I had some friends over last night to celebrate the music and films of David Bowie. The playlist spanned Bowie’s career from the early ‘70s to the 2010s. (It wasn’t easy narrowing down Bowie’s catalog to a three hour playlist). The movie we chose to watch was Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. As we were discussing Bowie’s music in movies, someone mentioned a film I had never heard of – Christiane F. It’s a German film about a teen growing up in a bleak part of West Berlin in the mid-70s who falls in with a drug crowd and eventually becomes a heroin addict. Bowie provided the soundtrack for the movie and also appears in the film. One of the first things I did today was watch the movie on YouTube.

Based on the non-fiction book Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo, the film is about a bored young girl sick of her uneventful life who finds excitement inside the walls of the Sound, a popular youth nightclub. While there she meets and falls in love with Detlev, a 15-year-old heroin addict who we later learn supports his habit by male prostitution. By age 14, Christiane is addicted to heroin and has also resorted to prostitution to feed her addiction. The movie, directed by Uli Edel, was released in 1981 and caused a sensation upon its release in Germany. Not only was the story shocking it also brought to light an epidemic of youth heroin addiction that was sweeping across Europe. The movie was also given a somewhat wide release in the US but didn’t make much of an impression, probably due to its grim subject matter.

With how much Bowie’s appearance in the film was promoted, I was surprised that he had so little to do with the storyline. Except for a live concert appearance (which seems somewhat out of place), his music is mostly used as a backdrop to the story. Most likely the studio was trying to cash in on Bowie’s popularity. Although the movie is set in the mid-70s, the soundtrack draws largely from Bowie’s Berlin trilogy recorded a couple of years later. As Christiane first enters the Sound, “Look Back in Anger” is blaring from the speakers, and “Boys Keep Swinging” is played during a gang fight prior to a Bowie concert (both songs from the 1979 Lodger album). Regardless, the music adds to the hopelessness and despair to one of the most disheartening movies I’ve seen in a while.

In the film, Bowie performs “Station to Station” off the self-titled album. Since Bowie was performing on Broadway at the time, some of the crew and cast members were brought over to New York City for filming. If I’m not mistaken, you can see the beginnings of his Let’s Dance look.

 

After Christiane meets some new friends at the Sound, they decide to have some fun by running, and falling, and wreaking general havoc in a subway station to Bowie’s “Heroes.”

 

Goodbye David Bowie

Posted: January 11, 2016 in General

Not much more needs to be said so thought I’d share this fan video tribute. Ah, the stars will indeed look very different today…

 

The Psychedelic Furs’ “Pretty in Pink” was a song with two lives, pre- and post-John Hughes. I prefer the grittier pre-Hughes version, which is probably an opinion shared by most Furs fans. The song was originally released in 1981 and is the first track off the album Talk Talk Talk. With its darker and moodier feel, the original is a much better fit with the cynical lyrics of the song. As many songs that fed my love of new wave, I first saw the video on MTV. I loved the song then and still do. The song reached #43 on the UK charts, but did not make a mark in the US until the mid-eighties.

Years later, Molly Ringwald brought the song to the attention of John Hughes and history was made. The band recorded a more upbeat and polished version of the song in 1986, and a new video was made to promote the Pretty in Pink movie. Even though they went along for the ride, the Furs weren’t too pleased with the changes and thought Hughes failed to capture the spirit of the song. As Richard Butler told Mojo magazine, “The song was about a girl who kinda sleeps around and thinks it’s really cool and thinks everybody really likes her, but they really don’t…It’s quite scathing.” Regardless, it was the song that really put the Furs on the US map and was their highest charting single in the UK, peaking at #18.

 

I’ve come across several lists of albums turning 30 this year. There are some great albums on these lists, and at one time I owned quite a few in some form or other. With so much good music having come out in 1986, I thought it’d be fun to do a series of posts on songs from albums released that year.

The first song I’m starting with is Public Image Ltd’s “Rise.” It was the first single released from PIL’s fifth album Album, released January 26, 1986, and is reportedly about apartheid. It was the biggest chart topper by the band, reaching #11 on the UK charts, and placing #206 on NME’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Although I wasn’t old enough to go clubbing upon its release, I do remember dancing to this song years later. After a while, the dance floor turned into one collective up and down motion. May the road rise with you…

 

I was a big fan of The Church in the early ‘80s but lost track of them until the single “Under the Milky Way” came out in 1988. I’ve since discovered the band’s music from the mid ‘80s, and glad I did. The album Heyday, released in the US in January of 1986, in my opinion, is one of their best. It’s also probably one of their most overlooked. My favorite song off the album is “Tantalized,” by far the most fast-paced and hard-edged song off the LP.

 

Ah, the New Romantics – the big hair, the makeup, the frilly clothes – and that was just the men. With my love of new wave music, I’m not sure why it took me so long to stumble upon the Blitz Kids, who originated the New Romantic movement. Those familiar with the Blitz Kids know how influential they were in this movement, and ‘80s culture in general. It was while researching the New Romantics that I became acquainted with this group of musicians, art students, and “unruly” teens who were so instrumental in shaping what ended up being the most dominant genre of music and fashion in the early ‘80s. Members of this prestigious set included Boy George, Marilyn, Steve Strange, members of Bananarama, and John Galliano, just to name a few.

Origins and Fashion

It all started in 1978 in London, where a club called Billy’s held regular Bowie nights. The themed night drew kids disillusioned with the punk scene, and art and fashion students from local colleges. After a few months the group moved on to the Blitz wine bar for regular Tuesday night gatherings. The crowds donned looks from the English Romantic period, Berlin Cabaret, to retro Hollywood, and androgyny ruled the day. The extravagant fashion was a rejection of the stripped down look of punk. Steve Strange (later of Visage) manned the door with an iron fist, and if you did not live up to his creative standards you were not getting through the door. If you were able to get in, you would get the chance to mingle with the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Midge Ure, and Billy Idol. Below are photos that capture the fashion and attitude of those Tuesday nights.

A shot outside the Blitz

Blitz Club

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Strange (middle) and Boy George (right)

Steve and George

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marilyn (left), DJ Princess Julia (Julia Fodor), Boy George (right)

Marilyn and George and Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Martin Degville, pre- Sigue Sigue Sputnik

Martin 2

The Music

But it wasn’t all about the fashion. It all started with the music. And the music at the Blitz was described as “electro-diskow.” This consisted of European disco (think Giorgio Moroder), German bands such as Kraftwerk, glam rock bands like Roxy Music and, of course, David Bowie. A favorite dance move saw partners hold hands, lift their knees up to their waist, and spin and hop in a new kind of jive, as seen in the video for Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth” (see the 2:53 mark). Duran Duran actually recruited some of their Blitz Kid friends for the shoot. David Bowie also had some Blitz Kids appear in the video for “Ashes to Ashes.” It wasn’t long before bands started to emerge from the scene. The most notable were Spandau Ballet, who got their start playing cabaret nights at The Blitz, and Visage. The heavy synth and electropop sound would dominate the airwaves well into the decade.

Legacy and Influence

Although nights at the Blitz only lasted a couple of years, the influence of the Blitz Kids and the New Romantic movement on music, club culture, and fashion could be felt for decades to come. Designers such as Vivienne Westwood based their whole collections on the New Romantic look, and the clothes were worn by such acts as Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow. Bands such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, Human League, and ABC, who were all heavily influenced by this movement, found regular rotation on MTV and helped shape ‘80s synthpop music. Steve Strange and his group also revitalized the London nightlife and created the idea of theme nights that have become a staple of club culture to this day. Oh, to be able to have just a peek at what went on inside the Blitz during those years. On second thought, I probably would have never made it through the door.

For more on the Blitz Kids, here’s a documentary from 2005.

 

30 Albums Turning 30 in 2016

Posted: January 2, 2016 in Albums, Alternative, General
Tags: ,

The folks at Sonic More Music took the time to put together a list of 30 alternative albums turning 30 this year. There are some true classics on here. What a great year for music!