Archive for the ‘Rock’ Category

'80s neo-psychedelic post-punk band Crippled PilgrimsMid-eighties Washington D.C. band Crippled Pilgrims were a bit ahead of their time, and this most likely contributed to their lack of commercial success. The best way to describe their music is neo-psychedelic combined with guitar-driven post-punk, which resulted in an indie sound that would come into popularity later in the decade. The band’s debut release was 1984’s EP Head Down-Hand Out. By the time their first full-length album came out, 1985’s Under Water, they had called it quits. The track “Undone” is off the ‘Under Water’ LP.

 

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.

 

I had a group of friends over for an ‘80s high school movie night this past weekend. Not wanting to go the John Hughes movie route, I chose films not everyone in the group had seen. The playlist for the night consisted of songs solely from the movie soundtracks. The goal was to watch three movies but as conversation and music flowed, time got away and we only got in two movies. The first film up was Valley Girl (which has arguably the best teen movie soundtrack of the ‘80s) followed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the final film on the agenda, The Last American Virgin. The film has a rather interesting soundtrack, where you’ll find arena rock songs alongside new wave classics and R&B love songs. I first came across the movie on late night cable TV, where my sister and I watched it more times than I care to mention.

A remake of an Israeli movie called Eskimo Limon (a.k.a as Lemon Popsicle), The Last American Virgin was released in 1982, within a month of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Unfairly dismissed as another teen romp akin to Porky’s, the film has since become a cult classic. Not to say the movie doesn’t have its share of raunch, which it certainly does, it also has some honest coming of age moments. It also has a surprising twist ending, that I won’t give away here. The soundtrack was promoted just as heavily as the movie, with good reason, as it includes songs from The Police, Human League, The Waitresses, Blondie, The Cars, Devo, U2, The Plimsouls, Oingo Boingo, REO Speedwagon, Journey, and the Commodores. I was really looking forward to screening the film for the group because if nothing else, they would have appreciated the soundtrack. Perhaps another ‘80s movie night might be in order.

Besides the heavy hitters, there were also some lesser known bands who contributed to the soundtrack, such as The Fortune Band. Formed in the late ‘70s, the band had some minor success in the early ‘80s and caught the attention of Columbia Records. They decided to include the band’s single “Airwaves” on the soundtrack. The song is a burst of new wave, power pop with plenty of catchy synth. The video for the song is a low-budget affair and has the band performing in a studio with plenty of cheesy visual effects.

 

The Gleaming Spires also appear on the soundtrack with their 1981 song “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?” (The song also appears on the 1984 Revenge of the Nerds soundtrack). The song was intended to be a B-side but eventually became the group’s only hit. It’s a bouncy, novelty song that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Sparks’ album, a band they would later join. The video has singer Leslie Bohem and drummer David Kendrick making a pie, of all things. After his tenure with Sparks, Kendrick would later drum for Devo in the mid-eighties.

 

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.

 

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.”

 

Who’s Michael Been, you might ask? Michael Been was the singer of the rock band The Call. In my opinion, one of the most underrated bands of the ’80s. Today would have been his 65th birthday so I thought I’d take the opportunity to repost a blog entry from last September.

Taking Another Look at The Call

The Call was an American band that had mediocre chart success in the eighties. Their lyrics were politically charged and there was a passionate, anthem-like quality to their music. They were considered rock but there was definite new wave influences. The Call were critically acclaimed and admired by some of the biggest acts of the time but for whatever reason they were never able to achieve commercial success. Maybe it was because lead singer Michael Been just didn’t have the look that the MTV generation wanted. He was stout and scruffy and wasn’t the flashiest of front men, but he could sure belt out a song with as much emotional sincerity as the best of them.

They also had quite a long run, having been active from 1980 to 2000. Their biggest chart success was with the single “Let the Day Begin,” which reached No. 51 on the Billboard Charts in 1989. (Side note, this was Al Gore’s campaign song for his run in 2000). But it was their earlier material that made me a fan. Sadly, Michael Been died in 2010 at the age of 60. He was on tour as a soundman for his son’s band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club when he had a heart attack at a show in Hasselt, Belgium. I’ve always regretted not seeing them in concert, as I hear they were a pretty great live band.

One of my favorites from the group is “The Walls Came Down.” A song that combines biblical references with an anti-war message. The year was 1984, after all. It’s a pulsating, urgent song with plenty of Michael Been howls.

 

“Everywhere I Go” is a single off of the 1986 album Reconciled. It was no secret that Michael Been was deeply religious, and it’s on full display on this track. Another guitar and drum-driven tune with Been at his growling best. Listen closely and you can hear Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Peter Gabriel on background vocals.

 

Merry Christmas from Billy Squier. “Christmas is the Time to say ‘I Love You'” performed in the MTV studio in December of ’81.

 

I’ve been a fan of the Pretenders since I saw the video for the song “Message of Love” back in the very early days of MTV (it was the 19th song played on the channel’s debut). Their videos were in heavy rotation back then, and I looked forward to seeing every one of them. Though they would go on to greater fame later in the decade, my favorite period from the band is the early eighties (before the drug-related deaths of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon). There was something quite magical about the original line-up of Chrissie Hynde, Martin Chambers, Honeyman-Scott, and Farndon that the mid-eighties lineup lacked.

My favorite album from the group is their self-titled debut, released in 1980. The album is a mix of hard rock, punk, and pop, and the songs move seamlessly from raw rock to lyrical beauty. Although “Brass in Pocket” was the most successful single, I preferred other songs such as “Kid,” “Stop Your Sobbing,”and “Tattooed Love Boys.” The album debuted at #1 on UK album charts and made the top 10 on the US charts. Rolling Stone ranked the album as the 155th best album of all time, and 20th best album of the ‘80s (Slate Magazine has it at #64 of the ‘80s).

One of the best songs off the album is “Tattooed Love Boys.” It’s three minutes of pure energetic rock, and has a great guitar riff by Honeyman-Scott. The video is smoky and sweaty and fits perfectly with the song.

 

“Kid,” the second single from the album, shows Hynde’s emotional range as a singer. It reached #33 on the UK charts and music critic Stewart Mason stated that it was “probably the Pretenders’ masterpiece.”

 

As Halloween is only a day away, I thought it was time to seek out more videos that embody the spirit of the holiday. Below are some clips that are creepy, eerie, or just plain strange (which there seemed to be no shortage of in the eighties).

A Flock of Seagulls’ video for “Nightmares” has adults dealing with severe mommy issues. The video contains an abundance of creepy dolls and a descent into madness, all of which go well with the eeriness of the song. The song is off the group’s second album, Listen, released in 1983.

 

The video for The Cure’s “Lullaby” finds Robert Smith as a victim of a man/spider hybrid, played by Smith. The rest of the band appear as cob-webbed, ghostly figures haunting Smith. The video ends with Smith being swallowed by a giant spider. Released in 1989, the video went on to win the Best British Video award in 1990.

 

“Why Me” from Planet P Project is a cross between a ‘60s B-movie and a Twilight Zone episode. The video features a woman driving at night with some unwanted visitors in the backseat, and an astronaut on a failed mission. Formed by musician Toney Carey in the early eighties, Planet P Project was an outlet for Carey’s love of prog/space rock. Watch for the Scanners-like ending of the video.