Archive for March, 2016

Like many, I was first introduced to The Plimsouls through the 1983 movie Valley Girl. They appeared as a club house band in the film, where three of their songs were featured. (If only I were so lucky to have had them as the house band at my regular haunt back in the day). The group’s dynamic power pop, garage sound was hard to resist. Well-known on the thriving L.A. music scene for their energetic lives shows, they seemed primed for bigger things but it was not meant to be. Unfortunately, the band disbanded in the mid ’80s due to solo career pursuits.

The group was formed by singer/songwriter Peter Case in California in 1978, after toiling around in two previous bands. They quickly became favorites on the early ‘80s L.A. club scene, and Case was gaining critical attention for his songwriting. They released their first EP in 1980, Zero Hour, which showed promise and received heavy airplay on the legendary L.A. KROQ radio station. Their first album, 1981’s The Plimsouls, managed to capture the vitality of their live shows but had poor sales. They would go on to record the 1983 LP Everywhere At Once, before parting ways due to Case’s pursuit of a solo career. They did reunite in the mid ‘90s and released the album Kool Trash but it received little notice. Case found some success as a folk-rock artist and continues to tour to this day.

Featured prominently in Valley Girl, “A Million Miles Away” was the song that propelled the band into the spotlight. With no record contract in place, the band self-funded the single. After the song was selected for the movie soundtrack, and with a new contract with Geffen, they quickly re-recorded and included on the Everywhere At Once LP.

 

The song “Everywhere At Once” is the reason I bought the cassette of the LP, and played it to ruin. It also appears in the Valley Girl film. From the first guitar chords I was hooked. The song then builds to a rousing, almost perfect power pop anthem.

 

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I was a fan of Tears for Fears from the beginning but much like OMD, it wasn’t until years later that I truly came to appreciate their music. Although Songs from the Big Chair was their breakout album, it’s 1983’s The Hurting that finds the most play on my IPod. “Mad World” was the third single released from The Hurting, and it was also the band’s first video. The song was originally intended as a b-side and became the group’s first UK hit, reaching #3 on the singles chart. With its driving percussion and playful use of synth (belying the dark lyrics), it was a standout on the LP.

Roland Orzabal wrote the song. Not happy with how he sounded on vocals, he handed singing duties over to Curt Smith. The video was filmed on a country estate in Bath, England and the party scene is made up of family and friends – that’s Smiths’ mom as the birthday girl. About that funny dance, Orzabal made it up while recording the song in the studio. Having been relegated to the sidelines, with Smith on vocals, the record company insisted that he perform it in the video. I think it’s a nice touch.

 

I wasn’t a fan of Devo’s in the early ’80s, probably because my older brother would play “Whip It” nonstop. It wasn’t until seeing the video for “Beautiful World” years later that things changed. I’ve since gone back and listened to their early catalog and count them among one of my favorite bands of the ‘80s. Released in 1980, Freedom of Choice was the band’s third and most successful album, reaching #22 on Billboard’s pop album chart. The album is made up of short, polished synth-infused songs. The 12 tracks clock in at just over 32 minutes. Although “Whip It” put the group on the map, I prefer the lesser-known songs off the LP like the electro “Snowball” and “That’s Pep!,” which sounds kind of like a new wave Hand Jive. In my opinion, the album is one of their best and ranks behind only 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

The video for the title track has the group dressed as aliens singing about how ultimately freedom of choice is not what we want. It also has skateboarders, donuts, and Mark Mothersbaugh in a dog costume.

 

“Girl U Want” has the band performing in front of an audience of 1950s teenyboppers. Just as the video for “Freedom of Choice,” it’s quite a low budget affair and relies heavily on color saturation. I’m pretty sure they used up all their video production money on the video for “Whip It.”

 

Released on July 8, 1986, Lifes Rich Pageant is where R.E.M. really found their political footing. They also brought attention to environmental issues with songs like “Cuyahoga” and “Don’t Fall on Me.” The former being about the polluting of the Cuyahoga River and the latter about acid rain. It was the band’s most successful album to date, reaching #21 on the Billboard charts, and #43 in the UK. In my opinion, it ranks right up there with the best from the group and I remember being ecstatic that they played several songs from the album when I saw them in ’87. There were only two singles released from the LP, “Don’t Fall on Me” and “Superman,” but my favorite track is “I Believe.”

 

It took The Feelies six years to release their second album, The Good Earth. Received well by critics, the band traded in some of their trademark jangle for a more mature, developed sound. Championed by R.E.M.’s Pete Buck, they opened up for the band on a leg of the Lifes Rich Pageant tour. Although never reaching mass success, they did grab the attention of director Jonathan Demme who cast them as the high school reunion band in his 1986 film Something Wild. Watch for their interesting rendition of David Bowie’s “Fame.” Director Noah Baumbach also took notice of the band and featured the song “Let’s Go” from The Good Earth album in the 2005 film The Squid and the Whale.