Saturday, August 24, 2019

Swimming To My Destiny

Modern English : Drowning Man

In August of 1979, three years before "I Melt With You", Modern English released their debut single, "Drowning Man", on their own Limp Records label. The glum, somewhat gothic post-punk tune earned the band enough attention to get signed to 4AD a year later where they would release more bleak singles and an album before scoring their worldwide pop hit.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Killing Time

Fashion : Killing Time

In August of 1979, Birmingham new wave band Fashion released Product Perfect, their debut album ( As Fàshiön Music). The band is made up of three members who only have one name, the nearly 7 foot tall Lûke on guitar and vocals, Mulligán on bass and synth, and Dïk on drums and vocals ( or should that be vöcäls?) You can hear elements of punk, dub, Krautrock and new wave on just about every track. They would tour with IRS label mates The Police, lose Lûke and gain other members, earn a minor hit in 1982 and be completely overshadowed by their Birmingham brethren, Duran Duran.

The album scored an A- grade from Robert Christgau who wrote:

Order of topics on first side: consumerism, imperialism, racism, sociopathy, "rock culture," apathy (right-wing), apathy (left-wing). Sounds predictable but it isn't--all of these songs are based on post-Marcusian cliches sophisticated enough to get the average rock fan thinking hard, and some of them are based on post-Marcusian ideas sophisticated enough to get the average post-Marcusian thinking hard. Sounds unmusical but it isn't that either--the singing is clever and impassioned, the punkish, futuristic reggae-synthesizer fusion often catchy and always apt. If only I were a post-Marcusian myself I'd be in heaven. And a second side as good as the first might convert me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

It's The Only Way To Live

Gary Numan : Cars

On August 21, 1979 Gary Numan released "Cars", the biggest single of his career and one of the definitive songs of the New Wave era. Numan says the lyrics were inspired by a road rage incident: 

I was in traffic in London once and had a problem with some people in front. They tried to beat me up and get me out of the car. I locked the doors and eventually drove up on the pavement and got away from them. It's kind of to do with that. It explains how you can feel safe inside a car in the modern world... When you're in it, your whole mentality is different... It's like your own little personal empire with four wheels on it.

Sounding like a singing dalek swept up in a wash of synthesizers and a catchy bass line, Numan drove "Cars" to #1 in the U.K and Canada and peaked at US#9 in 1980. His Pleasure Principle album also hit #1 in the UK and peaked at #16 in the US. His fans may have been thrilled but David Bowie was not so amused at what he thought was a copycat act. Bowie had Numan thrown off the set of a Kenny Everett's holiday Special. 

 "Before then I thought he was a god," Numan told the Independent. "I used to get into fights at school protecting his name. Then, all of a sudden, this bloke I'd adored for years was throwing me out of a building because he hated me so much. It really upset me at the time, especially when I thought of how many thumps I'd taken for him. I can only imagine he was going through an insecure patch. At the time I was outselling him about four to one."

Maybe next time, don't rip of "Warsawa" on the B side of your hit single? 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

You May Call Me Bobby

Bob Dylan : Gotta Serve Somebody

On August 20, 1979 Bob Dylan stunned the music world by releasing his born-again Christian album, Slow Train Coming. Recorded at Muscle Shoals , the album sounded great, thanks to producer Jerry Wexler and guitarist Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. Neither knew that Dylan believed Jesus Christ visited his Tucson hotel room in November of 1978 and had then joined T Bone Burnett's Christian organization, the Vineyard Fellowship where he spent three straight months in bible study. He became convinced we were all living in the end times, telling audiences :

I told you 'The Times They Are A-Changin' ' and they did. I said the answer was 'Blowin' in the Wind' and it was. I'm telling you now Jesus is coming back, and He is! And there is no other way of salvation ... Jesus is coming back to set up His kingdom in Jerusalem for a thousand years."

Wexler would help Dylan win a Grammy for the single "Gotta Serve Somebody", but he wasn't ready to convert just to make a decent album.

 "Naturally, I wanted to do the album in Muscle Shoals - as Bob did - but we decided to prep it in L.A., where Bob lived", recalled Wexler. "That's when I learned what the songs were about: born-again Christians in the old corral... I like the irony of Bob coming to me, the Wandering Jew, to get the Jesus feel... [But] I had no idea he was on this born-again Christian trip until he started to evangelize me. I said, 'Bob, you're dealing with a sixty-two-year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I'm hopeless. Let's just make an album.'"

This is about as risky and radical a career move as any rock star could make, but Dylan had some critics on his side. Rolling Stone editor in chief Jann Wenner took it upon himself to review the album:

It takes only one listening to realize that Slow Train Coming (Columbia Records) is the best album Bob Dylan has made since The Basement Tapes (recorded with the Band in 1967 but not released until 1975). The more I hear the new album — at least fifty times since early July — the more I feel that it’s one of the finest records Dylan has ever made. In time, it is possible that it might even be considered his greatest.

Robert Christgau gave the album a  B+, noting the anger in Dylan's lyrics:

The lyrics are indifferently crafted, and while their one-dimensionality is winningly perverse at a time when his old fans will take any ambiguity they can get, it does serve to flaunt their theological wrongheadedness and occasional jingoism. Nevertheless, this is his best album since Blood on the Tracks. The singing is passionate and detailed, and the pros behind him--especially Mark Knopfler, who has a studio career in store--play so sharply that his anger gathers general relevance at its most vindictive. And so what if he's taken up with the God of Wrath? Since when have you been so crazy about the God of Love? Or any other species of hippie bullshit?

Slow Train Coming climbed the album charts all the way to #3, selling platinum. But Dylan followed it with two more albums featuring born again lyrics, but less interesting songs and production, audiences stopped buying what Bob was selling. With the exception of the Knopfler produced Infidels, the 80's would not be a good decade for Dylan.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Your Future's A Clam

The Jam : When You're Young

On August 19,1979, The Jam entered the U.K. charts at #25 with their second stand alone single , "When You're Young" b/w the rock version of "Smithers-Jones". The A-side is a straight up Jam rocker. For the video, Weller breaks the news to a some freshly-scrubbed children that the world has "got you in its grip before your born/ It's done with the use of a dice and a board /They let you think you're king, but you're really a pawn", but still manages to get them to sing along at one point.

Steve Bush of Smash Hits was a fan of the new single, writing:

Now, this is better. The Jam aren't trying to be clever or trying to confuse us. Their familiar sound and distinctive vocals, great guitar, and the lyrics a little less contrived than usual. A biggie.

Well, not that big. The single peaked at U.K.#17.

The gem of the 45 is the B side, Bruce Foxton's "Smither-Jones" might be his best contribution to The Jam. This is the version that should have appeared on Setting Sons instead of the orchestral version below. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Real Dirk Diggler

Dennis Parker : Like An Eagle

If you think the plot of Boogie Nights was crazy, you haven't heard the story of Dennis Parker. He starred in straight porn films like the infamous Barbara Broadcast as Wade Nichols. Then in 1979, he recorded a disco album for Casablanca Records. It was called Like An Eagle and was produced by Village People creator Jacques Morali. Only an actor could pull of the music video below, shot guerrilla style in New York City. Love the reaction of the people behind him. 

After a role playing  Derek Mallory on daytime soap The Edge of Night, Parker would sadly become one of the early victims of the AIDS epidemic.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Just A Spineless Wobbly Jellyfish

XTC : When You're Near Me I Have Difficulty

On August 17, 1979 XTC released Drums and Wires, an extraordinary album that combines the band's eclectic new wave sound with a surprising talent for melody that only had been hinted at in earlier recordings. The  album marks the debut of guitarist Dave Gregory who replaced keyboardist Barry Andrews who would join Iggy Pop's tour, then League of Gentlemen with Robert Fripp before forming Shriekback. 

Red Starr of Smash Hits kicked off his contemporaneous review with the line "This record is so-o-o-o good--a small classic from Britain's most underrated band". 

What the hell. Let's read the rest:

As clever as ever and just as tuneful, humorous and powerful, but slower and more subdued in mood. Two guitarists/no keyboard XTC are also more sophisticated and experimental so this may take longer to penetrate but it is wonderful. Packaging also contains all XTC's vinyl lyrics ever, and early copies also get a free unreleased single. Nuff said--get it. Best trax: "Making Planes for Nigel", "Helicopter" and most of the rest. ( 9 out of 10).

When it was suggested that Drums and Wires is commercial enough to be considered a sell-out, drummer Terry Chambers responded :

When a group gets signed by a record company they have to be a bit fashionable or a little bit 'next year's thing', otherwise the record company won't touch 'em. If you just stick like that ... if, you don't progress with the times, then you become a bit of a dinosaur. Like Budgie or something.

And from Colin Moulding, who wrote the hit single above: 

We just have this basic need to be interesting, but not to be so different as to be out of the game. We're trying to do things that are interesting to ourselves; things with a bit of a tune, a bit of melody. Just...interesting. 

On a personal note, this is the first XTC album I ever bought. I must have heard "Ten Feet Tall" on my college radio station before I started DJ-ing there. I love the whole thing.