Posts Tagged ‘1984’

In an alternate synthpop universe, the 1984 song “Away, Away” by UK band The Promise would have been a hit. It had all the makings of a classic – ear-grabbing intro, emotional vocals, and a soaring chorus. There’s not much information available on the band, but I believe this is their first release. A bit of research turned up a couple more singles, but nothing that quite reaches the heights of this track.

 

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If any song could fill a dance floor back in the day it was Killing Joke’s “Eighties.” The relentless beat combined with an infectious guitar riff made it hard to stay in your seat. The video for the song perfectly matched the frantic pace. It features singer Jaz Coleman behind a presidential podium shouting about the struggles of living in the eighties, interspersed with images of religious and political leaders, war, punk rockers, and the frivolous extravagance of the decade. As I was doing a bit of research on the song, I came across an interesting tie it has to Nirvana that almost resulted in a lawsuit.

Released as a single in 1984, “Eighties” would later be included on Killing Joke’s fifth album Night Time. The song didn’t chart in the US but did appear on the soundtrack for the 1985 John Hughes’ movie Weird Science. It also had minor success in the UK, peaking at #60 on the singles chart. The song would come into the spotlight again in 1992, when the band claimed Nirvana plagiarized the riff of the song (at a slowed down pace) for the single “Come as You Are.” There are disputes of whether a lawsuit was ever filed but by 2003 all was forgiven, as Dave Grohl took leave from the Foo Fighters to record with the band. As I listened to both songs, there is a definite similarity but I’ll take “Eighties” over “Come as You Are” any day.

 

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.

 

Thirty years ago today, the single “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was released. For a child of the eighties, and a British new wave music fan, it was an amazing moment in history. The biggest names on the UK music scene coming together to record one song, on one day, for Ethiopian famine relief. I recall the buzz around the release of the song and, of course, the video. I waited patiently for MTV to finally play the world premiere of the video and it didn’t disappoint. Besides being made for a good cause, the song was also catchy and embodied the spirit of new wave music at the time – plenty of drum machines and synth. Written by Bob Geldof with Midge Ure of Ultravox providing the music, it was also unlike any charity single before with intentionally dark lyrics made to grab attention.

Originally inspired by a BBC documentary on the famine plight in Ethiopia, Geldof felt compelled to do something to combat what he was witnessing. With the help of Ure, he quickly put together a plan for a charity single. (Although Geldof received most of the credit for the undertaking, it was Ure that recorded, mixed, and ensured that the actual session went smoothly). The song was recorded in one day at Sarm West Studios and released four days later. It was the biggest selling single in UK at the time and reached #1 and stayed there for five weeks. The song didn’t reach #1 in the US, only peaking at #13 on the Billboard charts.

With media in place, the artists began arriving at 9am that morning – Duran Duran, George Michael, Paul Young, Phil Collins, Spandau Ballet, members of U2, Status Quo, Ultravox, Culture Club, Heaven 17, Marilyn (although not having been invited), among several others. After noticing that Boy George was absent, Geldof had to quickly arrange for a Concorde transatlantic flight to get him from New York. In order to get all members involved, the chorus was recorded first and then Ure had to have someone volunteer to sing the body of the song. Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet bravely took the challenge and was followed by singers that had already been assigned lyrics.

Although appearing cheery in disposition, many of the musicians arrived with hangovers and many a drug and alcohol were consumed to keep the musicians going through the all-day session. There were small feuds that were put aside – Boy George continually trying to out George Michael and rivalries amongst some of the bands. There were also some who questioned the lyrics. Bono had some concerns over the line “Tonight thank god it’s them instead of you” and was convinced by Geldof that the lyrics had to be brutal in order to be effective.

Other musicians who were not able to make it to the session but contributed to the b-side were David Bowie, Paul McCartney, members of Big Country and Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The opening lines of the song sung by Paul Young were originally intended for Bowie. Since the original recording, the song has been rerecorded several times with different musicians and for different causes, the latest the fight against Ebola, but in my opinion nothing comes close to the original.

 

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ debut album, Rattlesnakes, turned 30 yesterday. I wasn’t much interested in the group back in the ‘80s. Their brand of folksy alt pop and whimsical guitar didn’t appeal to me at the time. As I got older, I found my way back to the band and, specifically, this album. Upon its release, Rattlesnakes received mostly positive reviews. Among all the synthesized music coming out of the UK, it was a breath of fresh air. The album is a delightful mix of irresistible guitar hooks, a bit of blues, and some good storytelling. Rattlesnakes has gone on to make many critics’ best of the ‘80s lists and is considered a defining album of the UK “jangle scene.”

Lloyd Cole wrote most of the songs for the album and was heavily influenced by Bob Dylan, along with his English and philosophy studies. There are philosophical and pop culture references throughout, and the name of the album is a reference to the Joan Didion novel Play It as It Lays. Although the lyrics were considered witty and intelligent at the time, they now seem a bit naïve and adolescent. Cole admits to now being a bit embarrassed by some of the lyrics but claims it was the writing of “a very young man.” The album never charted in the US, but reached #13 on the UK charts and had minor international success. The group would go on to release two more albums before disbanding in 1989.

“Perfect Skin” is the debut single. Here’s a live performance with Cole singing about a girl with “cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin.”

 

The album’s namesake, “Rattlesnakes,” was the third single and gives reference to Eva Marie Saint, Simone de Beauvoir, and the film On the Waterfront.

 

U2’s The Unforgettable Fire was released 30 years ago today. The album was very important to me growing up, and still continues to resonate with me. Although Boy might be my favorite album from the group, The Unforgettable Fire is a close second. I have to admit, I don’t listen to much of U2’s post ‘80s music. When I do add them to playlists, it’s mostly material from their first four albums (“Gloria” currently being the song of choice). To some degree, they were my favorite band during this time. In retrospect, my appreciation of their earlier work has waned but at one time they were my rock & roll heroes.

Partially recorded in Slane Castle in Ireland, The Unforgettable Fire is U2’s fourth album. It was a big change from the previous War, with its militaristic sound and pulsating guitar. Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois were brought in to produce the album (after the mutual parting with Steve Lillywhite), ushering in a more atmospheric and experimental sound. The whole second side of the album has a dreamlike quality that flowed like no other previous recording. The biggest hit off the album, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” is the only song that sounds like a traditional U2 song. It peaked at #3 in the UK, and reached #33 on the US charts.

The lead song off the album, “A Sort of Homecoming,” shows how much their sound had changed. Instead of the hard drumming sound of War, it has a soaring, rhythmic quality with a toned down guitar. Although not on the video clip below, the album version has Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders on backup vocals. She also sings backup for other songs on the album but is credited as Christine Kerr, having been married to Jim Kerr of Simple Minds at the time.

 

“The Unforgettable Fire” is the most orchestrated single off the album. Back in the mid-eighties, MTV started showing world premiere videos and this was one of them. I remember eagerly anticipating getting my first glimpse.

 

“The Killing Moon” is a single off of Echo & the Bunnymen’s fourth album, Ocean Rain, released in 1984. The album marked a change in the group’s music, moving away from their post-punk roots to a lighter sound incorporating strings and piano. The song remains one of the band’s biggest hits – peaking at #9 on the UK charts. The single didn’t make much of an impact in the U.S. and is probably most well-known for its use in the opening scene of the 2001 film Donnie Darko (one of the great marriages between film and song). The video is dark and full of wind-swept images that perfectly fit the mood of the song.

 

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Alphaville’s debut album “Forever Young.” With an estimated 2,000,000 copies sold, it was the German group’s most successful album. Besides producing the single of the same name, it also yielded the hit “Big in Japan.” Although quite successful in Europe, the album had little chart success in the US, peaking at #180. The single “Forever Young,” which has gone on to achieve pop culture status, only reached #65 on the US charts. Despite this, numerous artists have covered the song and it’s been used prominently in movies, commercials, and television throughout the years. The video for the song was filmed in a sanatorium in Surrey, England. If features the group performing before a ragtag audience of young and old, and sporting matching jumpsuits, which were quite popular at the time.

 

A critical and box office failure upon its release in 1984, the movie Streets of Fire has since gone on to obtain cult status, mainly due to the film’s soundtrack. Taking place in an “unknown” place and time and promoted as a rock & roll fable, the movie has a futuristic retro look. There was high hopes for the film and with its fast pace and musical performances that jumped off the screen, it was certain to be a success with the MTV crowd. In the end, it might have been a case of the music being more than the movie.

Directed by Walter Hill, the film stars Michael Pare as the stone-faced hero, a very young Diane Lane as the rock star in distress, and Willem Dafoe as the slithery villain. The soundtrack is an odd mix of rock & roll, Motown, and over-the-top operatic power pop, which adds to the timeless feel of the film. The soundtrack did produce one major hit, Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You.” The song reached #6 on the Billboard charts and had heavy rotation on MTV. Other artists who contributed to the soundtrack include Stevie Knicks, The Fixx, The Blasters as a bar band (they forwent the opportunity to perform in the movie 48 Hours to be in the film), Ry Cooder, and Maria McKee of the band Lone Justice.

“Nowhere Fast” is the first track of the film, and features Diane Lane at her rock & roll best. It’s a pulsating, energetic song written by Jim Steinman. The song is performed by Fire Incorporated, a studio band put together for the movie.

 

The final performance of the movie is another Jim Steinman number, “Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young,” also performed by Fire Incorporated. The song is bursting with all the melodrama you’d expect from Steinman and provides the perfect ending to the film.

 

What would the eighties have been without protest songs? Just as every decade prior, and since, the eighties were filled with protest songs. There were protest songs about nuclear war, oppressive regimes, gang violence, and anyone who was president at the time. The whole of 1982’s Combat Rock album from The Clash was pretty much a protest to all things wrong in the world. Besides the videos of the impending doom of a nuclear holocaust, the ones that readily come to mind had to do with anti-apartheid.

For all its faults, one good thing that came out of MTV was bringing awareness to causes outside my small world. Before being exposed to these videos, I wasn’t even aware of apartheid or Nelson Mandela. Musicians from all genres were getting involved. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, The Specials, and the whole eclectic mix of musicians in Artists United Against Apartheid all participated in this effort and it was hard to not take notice.

One of the first references I have of Nelson Mandela, and apartheid, was the video “Nelson Mandela” by The Special A.K.A. The song was released in 1984 and became a hit around the world, except the U.S. where it didn’t chart. With its upbeat African rhythms and catchy beats it’s easy to see why this became a hit. Some say this song was focal in the anti-apartheid movement, largely due to its mass appeal.

 

Recorded under the name Artists United Against Apartheid, and led by Steven Van Zandt, the song “Sun City” brought together the likes of Bruce Springsteen, The Fat Boys, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Lou Reed, Afrika Bambaataa, U2, George Clinton, Stiv Bators, Keith Richards, Hall & Oates, and Joey Ramone among many others. Released in 1985, the song was a pledge by these artists to not perform at this large resort town. The song is a fusion of hip hop, rock, and African beats. It peaked at #38 on the U.S. charts with only half of radio stations giving it airplay – the other half having issues with its anti-Reagan sentiments.

 

Then there is Peter Gabriel’s song “Biko,” a song about Steve Biko, a well-known anti-apartheid activist who was arrested and jailed in South Africa in 1977. He died in police custody a month later. Released in 1980, the single was off of Gabriel’s self-titled album. It reached #38 on the British charts but didn’t get much airplay in the U.S. until its promotional use for the 1987 film Cry Freedom.