Thursday, October 31, 2019

Armies of the Dead Surviving

The Misfits : Night of the Living Dead

On Halloween Day, 1979 The Misfits released "Night of the Living Dead", their fourth single, on singer Glenn Danzig's label Plan 9 Records. The punk band printed up 2000 copies to be sold at the door to their shows. In contrast, t-shirts sales featuring Misfit ghouls have sold well over a million by now. Even my daughter is wearing one today. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Life's Construction

Stevie Wonder : Race Babbling

On October 30, 1979 Stevie Wonder followed up his incredible run of masterful 70's albums ( Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, Songs in the Key of Life) with the double album Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants. It's actually a soundtrack to a documentary that suggested plants have feelings too. Wonder has said the album "was an experimental project with me scoring and doing other things I like: challenging myself with all the things that entered my mind from the Venus's Flytrap to Earth's creation to coming back as a flower." 

The full page ad Stevie Wonder took out in Billboard Magazine

Though it debuted at US#4 on the album charts, it quickly plummeted. Critics were baffled by what they saw as a huge misstep. Today only the visionary nine minute "Race Babbling" survives the critical bashing with Pitchfork recently praising its "disorienting effect in more ways than one, a queering of the biggest African-American male pop star of the era that’s still without precedent."

Writing for Rolling Stone, Ken Tucker had praise for "Finale", but then says after that:you’re on your own, since plucking the exhilarating moments from Journey through the Secret Life of Plants is a harrowing, highly subjective task. One person’s nectar is another’s Karo syrup, and the stamens of Wonder’s Plants are bursting with both.

The quivering single "Send One Your Love" peaked at US #4.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Stone Crazy's All We Ever Are

Motorhead : Dead Men Tell No Tales

On October 27, 1979 Motorhead released Bomber, their third studio album.  After reaching UK#24 with Overkill, the band teamed up for a second time with the legendary producer Jimmy Miller (Exile On Main Street, Sticky Fingers). 

The consensus is that Bomber is the unheralded Motorhead classic, and yet not as good as Overkill nor Ace of Spades, the album that followed. Lemmy admitted as much to Joel McQuiver in his book Overkill: The Untold Story of Motörhead: 

 ..I wish we'd played the songs onstage first, like we did with the Overkill album, if we could've played them for three weeks on the road it would have been less slick.....Listen to the way we play them live and compare that to the album.. 

The sessions were also impacted by Miller's heroin use, which inspired the opening track "Dead Men Tell No Tales." Drummer Phil "Philthy Animal" Taylor has said: 

...We used to think that we were bad at being late, but he would be, like, half a day late, or even more late, you know, and his excuses were marvelous...

Bomber reached UK#12 and suggested greater success was still to come.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Against A Tie And A Crest

The Jam : The Eton Rifles

On October 28, 1979, The Jam entered the U.K. pop charts at #29 with "The Eton Rifles" b/w "Seesaw". The Setting Sons track, pitting toffs against toughs, would peak at #3, thus becoming The Jam's first Top 10 hit. Its success would not, however, prevent Eton from pumping its elite graduates into the House of Commons decades later.

Weller grew up not far from Eton. He tells Mojo Magazine he wrote the A side while on vacation in a seaside town:

"We had a week off and I never even thought about going abroad for a holiday at that time. So I went down to my mum and dad's caravan in Selsey and it pissed with rain for the whole week, so I just ended up writing. And I wrote 'Eton Rifles.' I thought it was a powerful statement."

NME selected "The Eton Rifles" as the #1 single of 1979.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Just Take For Instance

The Fall : Your Heart Out

On October 28 The Fall released their second album, Dragnet, which was recorded in three days.  The traditionally mercurial lineup of The Fall has already shown itself. Only Mark E Smith and bassist-now-turned guitarist Marc Riley remain from the Witch Trials album.

In his memoir Renegade, Smith wrote:

Dragnet was so opposite to Witch Trials - which I think is still a powerful LP. But Dragnet is the other side: the horror of the normal. I like that sort of stuff; with writers like M.R James and Arthur Machen the stories are right there on your doorstep...We recorded it in three days. Most of it is purposefully out of tune...I don't know why people found the album so objectionable . With the journalists, I think it was a simple case of them expecting one thing, having written the copy for that one thing, and then getting something else and thinking "Fuck! I've now go to think about this". 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Heavy, Heavy Monster Sound

Madness : One Step Beyond

On October 26, 1979 Madness released their debut album One Step Beyond..., featuring the  ska band "duck walking" together on the cover. The album was released on the Stiff label after a feeding frenzy following the chart success of the London band's UK#16 tribute to Prince Buster, "The Prince". The first smart thing the band did on the album was cover a Prince Buster tune, "One Step Beyond". (Their rivals, The Specials, had scored a huge hit "Gangsters", a re-working of Prince Buster's "Al Capone" and recorded another, "Stupid Marriage", based on another Prince Buster tune).
     Trumpeter Chas Smith came up with the memorable intro: “Hey you, don’t watch that, watch this. This is the heavy, heavy monster sound …”

Recorded in 10 days with Deaf School's Clive Langer producing, the album is celebrated more for its exuberance than its musicianship. There are times when the instruments sound badly out of tune. 

England would embrace Madness, giving the North London lads more chart hits than practically any other British band in the 1980's.

Friday, October 25, 2019

High Rise Living

The Human League : Blind Youth

In October of 1979 The Human League released Reproduction, their first full studio album. Produced by Colin Thurston who co-engineered David Bowie's "Heroes" and Iggy Pop's Lust For Life with Tony Visconti, Reproduction is one of the first synth-pop albums that would define a sound of a decade. There is even that very 80's-ish trend, the sythn cover of a 60's hit ( You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling)

Johnny Rotten may have dismissed The Human League as "trendy hippies",  but the album received decent reviews. Red Starr of Smash Hits gave the album 8 out of 10, writing:

With their amazing slideshow, strong melodic songs, warm good humour and intriguing all sythesiser line-up, Sheffield's excellent Human League will certainly be among he leaders of the '80's. This first album suffers badly from lifeless presentation but is a grower and still a definite goodie. Greatness is inevitable--be the first one on your block etc. 

Sales were bleak until the world caught up in 1982. That's when Reproduction finally  charted at U.K.#34. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Screaming Blue Murder

The Boomtown Rats : Someone's Looking At You

On October 24, The Boomtown Rats released The Fine Art of Surfacing. The album would peak at U.K.#7 thanks to its distillation of Bowie, Thin Lizzy and Bruce Springsteen influences into a single new wave sound. The success of singles "I Don't Like Mondays", "Diamond Smiles" and "Someone's Looking At You" didn't hurt either.

David Fricke of Rolling Stone found a common theme running through the album:

Thematically, paranoia rears its nasty head an awful lot here: in "Someone's Looking at You," "Nothing Happened Today" and the schizophrenic exhibitionism of "Having My Picture Taken." This is especially true in "I Don't Like Mondays," the Boomtown Rats' controversial British smash in which the ostentatious wash of violins strikes a soap-operatic contrast with the unsettling notion of a young girl shooting people and blaming it on a day of the week.

Robert Christgau of the Village Voice gave the album a grade of B-:

Bob Geldof has a journalist's gift--he'd make a terrific topical songwriter if only he believed in something. Instead, he's taken to dramatizing the usual alienation from the usual inside. Too bad.

From Red Starr of Smash Hits a 3 out of 10:

Here we go again. Look, this exceedingly tiresome record "borrows" so heavily from Bowie and Springsteen that you might as well buy Hunky Dory and Darkness on the Edge of Town and have two genuine articles instead of none. Much frantic activity signifying absolutely nothing - the most overrated band of the century. Awful cover as well.

Geldof summed himself up in a Smash Hits interview at the time of the album release:

I describe myself as a rock and roll hack. I don't think any of our songs will stand up to immortality and I don't care. The last thing that I'm interested in is the eternal.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Remember Ridicule

Public Image Ltd : Memories


In October of 1979, a new Public Image Ltd single, "Memories", entered the U.K. charts where it would stall at #60. We are exactly one month away from the release of Metal Box.

David Hepworth of Smash Hits reviewed the single in this way:

The irony about PIL is that they could get on a whole lot better without That Singer, although they might find themselves without a recording contract. The band are relaxed but atmospheric, inventive but firm, but Lydon's caterwauling is nothing more than lazy and very bad singing. The absence of echo this time out exposes him even further. The result gives experimental music a bad name.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Ian Dury's Top Twelve

Ian Dury and the Blockheads : Waiting For Your Taxi

Ian Dury provided Smash Hits with this list of mostly oldies as he promoted Do It Yourself, which would sell platinum numbers in the U.K.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Love Explosion

Sparks : Tryouts For the Human Race

On October 21, 1979 the new Sparks single, "Tryouts For The Human Race" entered the U.K. charts at #74. The single, produced by Giorgio Moroder and very much sounding like it, peaked at #45. Sparks was even invited on the BBC children's program "Crackerjack" to perform the song which is probably the first and only time they've had a band sing about sperm: 

Pressure building, gettin' hot, give it, give it, give it all you got 
When that love explosion comes, my, oh my, we want to be someone

Sunday, October 20, 2019

If You Have Half A Brain

Rupert Holmes : Escape (The Pina Colada Song)

1 RISE –•– Herb Alpert
2 DON’T STOP ‘TIL YOU GET ENOUGH –•– Michael Jackson
4 SAIL ON –•– The Commodores
6 DIM ALL THE LIGHTS –•– Donna Summer
7 SAD EYES –•– Robert John
8 MY SHARONA –•– The Knack
10 STILL –•– The Commodores

On October 20, 1979 Casey Kasem announced a new song had knocked Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough" from the top of the charts. The new #1, across the land, was Herb Alpert's "Rise". I can hear the collective moans...but it doesn't get much better my friends. Because that very same week, a new song broke in at #85, one that would be the last to top the charts in the 1970's : "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes.  

Listen to the lyrics and you'll learn it's a song about a guy so bored of his girlfriend he answers a personal ad and discovers the women he's meeting on the sly is ....his girlfriend.

Rupert Holmes:

"The guy's so vain it never occurs to him that the girl is also bored so when he meets her it's kind of a comeuppance. She's the strong one because she instigated the thing. Hopefully, they see each other in a new light."

Out of curiosity, I listened to some more of the songs on the same album, Partners in Crime. "Him" was the other hit but "Lunch Hour", Holmes' update of "Afternoon Delight" is far more interesting.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Stop Your Messing Around

The Specials : A Message to You Rudy

On October 19, 1979 The Specials released their self-titled debut album in the U.K. Hailing from the industrial town of Coventry, the seven piece mixed race ska band, dressed up in tonic suits, button-down shirts, skinny ties, wraparound sunglasses, pork pie hats, and loafers. Keyboardist Jerry Dammers had not only written most of the songs and founded the band. He was also the brains behind the 2 Tone label that released this album and singles like "Gangsters", "The Prince", "On My Radio" and the upcoming "Tears of a Clown"/"Ranking Full Stop" by the Beat.

"I always had ideas of how I wanted it to go and part of the idea was for similar bands not to compete together and to work together," Dammers told BBC 4 in a radio documentary called This Are 2 Tone.

Elvis Costello offered to produce The Specials.

"Jerry Dammers was taking riffs from old Prince Buster records and Rock Steady obscurities and saying a number of things that needed saying right then. Like "You've done too much, much too young." And "It doesn't make it alright," Costello writes in Unfaithful Music + Disappearing Ink. "“My job was to get the band on tape before some more skilled producer got ahold of them and screwed it up completely, by perfecting things that didn’t need perfecting.” 

While punk bands were tossing out anti-Thatcher slogans, The Specials focused on the personal issues they faced every day in Coventry: racism, birth control, domestic violence. That said, half the songs are covers from artists like Dandy Livingstone ( A Message to You Rudy), Toots Hibbert (Monkey Man) and Clement Seymour (You're Wondering Now) 

The debut is one of the most highly rated albums of the year.finishing #10 on NME's list and #1 on the Sounds list. 

From Red Starr writing for Smash Hits gave the album a 9/10:

Sick of overnight ska trendies? Me too. But hang on --this album is actually very good with The Specials showing enough genuine talent to outlast any passing fashion. Good balance of old and new songs, some excellent original touches (especially the very strong lyrics), first rate production by Elvis Costello, fourteen tracks--a very promising debut and highly recommended. 

Vivien Goldman of Melody Maker was disappointed:

"A key word is pace. The Specials—a great band to party to—can't sustain the shock of having the speed of certain numbers halved. When the pace on record doubles—as in 'Too Much Too Young'—The Specials suddenly make sense".

When the album finally came out in America in 1980 Jim Farber of Creem wrote 

The sound on the album, captured by producer Elvis Costello, is wonderfully derivative of Nick Lowe's dial twisting. Musically, the album ranges from straight ska ("A Message To You Rudy") to the kind of nauseous pop XTC and The Pretenders do so well ("Gangsters"). A lot of it is as danceable as a B-52's record and on many levels as funny, with Terry Hall singing as though his tongue is miles thick and his saliva is green and sticky.

This is an album I bought on cassette in 1980 and have always treasured. So much so that I put off writing about it until the night before I posted this. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Revel in Your Abandon

Tom Petty + The Heartbreakers : Refugee

On that magical day, October 19, 1979, the day Prince released his second album and The Specials  released their debut, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers released Damn The Torpedoes, one of the greatest rock + roll albums of the decade. It was promoted by their label as "their long awaited new album" and that was true. The band has spent much of the year dealing with a lawsuit when ABC Records, Shelter's distributor, was sold to MCA Records. Petty refused to be transferred to another record label "like a piece of meat", even asking an assistant to hide each day's session tapes in a secret location without his knowledge. Eventually Petty even filed for bankruptcy as a tactic against MCA. Surprisingly, the label caved and Petty won back his songs , his own Backstreet label and a more lucrative contract.

It wasn't until the lawsuit was settled that Damn the Torpedoes, produced by Jimmy Iovine and Petty, was released. Our dorm master would crank side one to the entire floor. 30 seconds into "Refugee", I had a new favorite album.

Producer Jimmy Iovine, who engineered Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run and produced Patti Smith's hit "Because the Night" remembers the first time Petty played him the new songs for the band's third album.“It’s the first and last time I’ve ever said to anyone that they don’t need any more songs. I’ve never said that to anyone since.” Petty recalls Iovine announcing to the room "We;'re all gonna be millionaires!".

Iovine put The Hearrtbreakers to work. According to the band "Refugee" took between 100 and 200 takes.  Remarkably, it sounds as fresh a band playing live in the studio. "Here Comes My Girl" blends the streetwise banter of Mink Deville, an Iovine favorite, with the 12 string guitar and vocals of The Byrds' Roger McGuinn.

Damn the Torpedoes is the big breakthrough. American critics were instantly taken. Ariel Swartley , writing for Rolling Stone, called Torpedoes the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album we've all been waiting for adding:"

What makes Damn the Torpedoes the Hearbreakers' best album yet isn't so much its sound (though that's clearer and punchier than before, thank heaven and coproducer Jimmy Iovine) but its assurance. Mechanical rhythms are hip, but something more fluid makes better time with the flowing organ and guitar surges Petty uses so well, and Damn the Torpedoes glides like a supertanker. What starts out tough ("Someone must have kicked you around some"), and might have stayed there, turns tough-minded ("You don't have to live like a refugee") -- certainly a more durable attitude.

The album finished #9 on the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Poll. Christgau has graded the album a B+,writing 

This is a breakthrough for Petty because for the first time the Heartbreakers are rocking as powerfully as he's writing. But whether Petty has any need to rock out beyond the sheer doing of it -- whether he has anything to say -- remains shrouded in banality. 

In his year end essay he admitted he was relieved Graham Parker's Squeezing Out Sparks has won the year's poll. 

Damn the Torpedoes is a pretty good record, but a measure of its appeal is that of 18 first-string daily critics, always the conservatives, 12 voted for it... if Tom Petty ends up defining rock and roll heaven, then Johnny Rotten will have died in vain. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

More Than Just a Physical Dream

Prince : I Feel For You

On October 19, 1979, the greatest record release day of the year, Prince's self titled album hit record stores ( along with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Damn the Torpedoes and the debut album by The Specials ). To these ears, Prince is a giant leap forward from the debut, For You,  and would be followed by another giant leap forward with 1980's Dirty Mind.

Like For You, this album was written, arranged, composed, produced and performed entirely by Prince. Among the deep tracks is "I Feel For You", a US#3 hit for Chaka Khan in 1984.

The demo released in 2019:

The critics would finally catch on with this album. Rolling Stone's Stephen Holden who writes:

Not only does Prince possess the most thrilling R +B falsetto since Smokey Robinson, but this nineteen-year-old. Minneapolis-bred Wunderkind is his own writer-producer and one-man band, playing synthesizer, guitar, drums and percussion. Whereas Prince's debut album (last year's For You) stressed his instrumental virtuosity, Prince teems with hooks that echo everyone from the Temptations to Jimi Hendrix to Todd Rundgren.

That Hendrix reference comes through on "Bambi", another song that took decades for his fans to discover. Here he is playing the song about a lesbian love interest (All your lovers/they look just like you/ But they can only do the things that you do/ Come on, baby, and take me by the hand /I'm gonna show what it's like to be loved by a man) in 2004...for Ellen DeGeneres. Not sure she would have appreciated the song's contention that straight sex is better than gay sex or that line "Bambi, maybe you need to bleed!"

Robert Christgau was another critic who caught on thanks to the second album, which he graded with a B+. (Every album that followed would score higher until LoveSexy in 1988):

This boy is going to be a big star, and he deserves it--he's got a great line. "I want to come inside you" is good enough, but (in a different song) the simple "I'm physically attracted to you" sets news standards of "naive," winning candor. The vulnerable teen-macho falsetto idea is pretty good too. But he does leave something to be desired in the depth-of-feeling department--you know, soul.

In the U.K. critics would still need some convincing. A 1980 review by Red Starr of Smash Hits scores the album a 5/10 with the dismissive line "different, but hardly electrifying".

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

California Punk On Record

Germs : Manimal


In October of 1979 the LA-based Germs released (GI), "Germs Incognito", often considered the first hardcore punk album. Produced by Joan Jett, the album consists of 15 songs written by the self destructive, Scientology-reared, closeted homosexual Darby Crash along with future Nirvana and Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear. Smear's riffs set the standard for hardcore. Crash's lyrics are smarter and sharper than you'd ever guess upon first listening to the album. Crash may have cemented the legend of he Germs with his intentional suicide in December of 1980.

Avengers : Corpus Christi

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Penelope Houston's seminal punk band, The Avengers released a self titled four song EP on the White Noise label. Among the first female fronted punk bands in the US, The Avengers played more than 100 shows and supported the Sex Pistols at the band's legendary final show at Winterland. Some even claim the Avengers blew the Sex Pistols off the stage!

Visit Penelope's website and you'll see how the artists has grown without dismissing her adventurous side. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

On The Brink of Tears

Ian Lloyd : Slip Away

In October of 1979, Ian Lloyd ( who sang the 1973 #1 hit "Brother Louie" with Stories) returned to the U.S. charts at #88 with "Slip Away", a Ric Ocasek song The Cars had recorded between their first and second albums. Lloyd even gets some help from Ocasek on backing vocals and from The Cars' Benjamin Orr on bass and vocals. Despite everything that's going for the song, it only peaked at U.S.#50 a month later. 

The Cars original demo appears on the 1995 Just What I Needed: The Cars Anthology.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ready Freddie

Queen : Crazy Little Thing Called Love

On October 14, 1979 Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" debuted on the U.K charts at #33. The single, anticipating the return of rockabilly and even the stardom of the Stray Cats, would peak at U.K. #2, but top the U.S. charts for four weeks beginning February 23.

In 1981 Freddie Mercury told Melody Maker he thought of the song in a bubble bath and wrote it quickly:

'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can't play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It's a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn't work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.

The song, a tribute to Elvis Presley,  appears on The Game, released nine months later.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Power, Passion

Blondie : Union City Blue

On October 13, 1979 Blondie released Eat to the Beat, a #1 album in the U.K. The band teamed up with Parallel Lines producer Mike Chapman for an album notable for its diversity. There's power pop, ("Dreaming")  funk ("The Hardest Part") , reggae ("Die Young Stay Pretty") even a lullaby ("Sound-A-Sleep").

"They wanted to try anything," said Chapman. "And I was right there with them. We also had a title for the album at a very early point, so we had a concept of sorts: Eat to the Beat."

Chapman also says there were a lot of drugs in the studio.

"The more drugs, the more fights. It was becoming a real mess. ... The music was good but the group was showing signs of wear and tear."

Anticipating the marketing power of music videos, Blondie made a video for every song on the album. "Union City Blue" was shot at Union Dry Dock, Weehawken, New Jersey, while the rest were shot in New York City. 

After "Dreaming" ( U.K.#2/ U.S. #27) , Blondie released "Union City Blue (U.K.#13), "The Hardest Part" (U.S. #84) and, following "Call Me" from the American Gigolo soundtrack, "Atomic" (U.K.#1/ U.S. #39).

In her review for Rolling Stone, Debra Rae Cohen praised the album:

Faced with the challenge of following up the million-selling Parallel Lines, Blondie has delivered a record that’s not only ambitious in its range of styles, but also unexpectedly and vibrantly compelling without sacrificing any of the group’s urbane, modish humor.

Robert Christgau gave Eat to the Beat an A-, writing:

This makes it in the end, but not by much--a tour de force like Parallel Lines it ain't.

David Hepworth of Smash Hits was also a fan:

Brasher, more rocking followup to the enormously successful Parallel Lines...Perfectly organised rock and roll that sounds as good in your living room as it does on the radio. As hard and as shiny as glass and I love it. Shake and fingerpop.

Critic George Arthur's 1979 Pazz and Jop  ballot

Blondie: Eat to the Beat (Chrysalis) 15; 
Dave Edmunds: Repeat When Necessary (Swan Song) 12; 
Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros.) 12; 
Lene Lovich: Stateless (Stiff/Epic) 12; 
Nick Lowe: Labour of Lust (Columbia) 10; 
Kinks: Low Budget (Arista) 9; 
Rachel Sweet: Fool Around (Stiff/Columbia) 8; 
Jerry Lee Lewis (Elektra) 8; 
Tom Petty + the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet/MCA) 8; 
Get the Knack (Capitol) 6.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Last Call For Everyone

Fleetwood Mac : That's All For Everyone

On October 12, 1979 Fleetwood Mac released Tusk, the double album follow-up to their smash hit Rumours. Nobody would have complained if Tusk sounded like Rumours 2, and there are a few songs on the album that fit that billing (the singles "Think About Me" and "Sara"), but Lindsey Buckingham had no interest in repeating himself.

"I was following my heart," Buckingham told BBC Radio 4. "And I was flaunting the expectations of not only the record company but to some degree the fans perhaps and even members of the band in a small way".

Buckingham had been inspired by punk rock bands like The Clash, new wave bands like Talking Heads and the studio high jinks of Smiley Smile-era Beach Boys. The latter really comes across in "That's All For Everyone".

The band used some of their Rumours royalties to build their own studio. That may sounds a good, thrifty way to save money, but Tusk would cost more than a million dollars. Money spent on a lot more than recording equipment and producer fees.

"We had the studio completely decorated," says Stevie Nicks. "We had shrunken heads hanging from the ceiling. We had two big glorious ivory tusks on each side of the big, huge board. By the end of the first week we had brought in so much stuff-- pillows and blankets and portraits and frames and so when you walked into it I used to say this is like we're going up to the sacred burial ground at the top a mountain in Africa or Tibet. It became like this is kind of sacred tribal room."

Christine McVie tells Uncut "The studio contract rider for refreshments was like a telephone directory. Exotic food delivered to the studio, crates of champagne. And it had to be the best, with no thought of what it cost. Stupid. Really stupid. Somebody once said that with the money we spent on champagne on one night, they could have made an entire album. And it’s probably true.”

And of course there was plenty of cocaine.

Despite all the excess in the studio, Buckingham was in pursuit of a sparser sound. He had a 24 track machine at his home. He was making his own musical discoveries, and he brought that experimental mindset to the studio, much to the consternation of producer/engineer Ken Caillat.

"He'd say 'Ok you got the sound the way you like it?' I said 'Yep'. He'd say 'OK. Good. Turn every knob you got 180 degrees the other way' and of course I did and it sounded horrible and he'd say 'Now, let's record'".

Buckingham also played his own drums and bass on some tracks. Mick Fleetwood, who was seeing Stevie Nicks on the side, merely shrugged. It was either let Buckingham have his way or Buckingham would bolt.

Caillat told BBC Radio 4 if he had a chance to remix the album, he could possibly produce something brighter and more perky.  Tusk only sold four million albums, less than a quarter of the number Rumours sold, making it the highest selling "failure" in rock history.

Finally, we can't visit Tusk without mentioning the title track, the first single from the album. Based on a riff Buckingham would play at sound check, the tune involves the The Spirit of Troy,  the University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band. It's outrageous. It's audacious and to this day, Nicks believes it's the best thing that came out of the whole record "because it was so crazy and the song was so insane."

If you can track down the expanded two-CD version of Tusk, it's well worth it. There is also a 3 CD version available, but like Tusk itself, that just might be too indulgent.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

This Girl, She's Tough

The Searchers : Hearts In Her Eyes

In October of 1979, sixteen years after "Sweets For My Sweet", The Searchers released "Hearts In Her Eyes", a dandy confection of its own. The song was a gift from power-pop masters The Records, whose "Starry Eyes" was climbing the American charts to #56 the very same month. Impossible to understand why this one didn't chart as well. I believe the same Sire Records album contained their cover of Mickey Jupp's "Switchboard Susan". The next one, Love's Melodies, would feature a cover of Big Star's "September Gurls". Sadly, they only got to make two records before Sire bounced the band. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Hey It's Me Again

Cheap Trick : Voices


In the Fall of 1979 Cheap Trick finally released Dream Police, an album Epic decided to hold back when the group's Live At Budokan and the singles"I Want You To Want Me" and "Surrender" made them superstars. Creem Magazine readers enthusiastically voted Cheap Trick the second best group of the year after Led Zeppelin ( and ahead of The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Clash). 

The live album only raised the stakes higher for the hardest rocking band from Rockford, and Dream Police failed to deliver the needed home run. The title cut, "Voices" and the last track "Need Your Love" are all solid. But the nine minute long "Gonna Raise Hell"is just as awful as its title suggests. This is the deep cut Cheap Trick puts high up in their set lists when they know they're performing in front of drunk crowds. I saw them at a casino a year after they were playing their great albums in their entirety. I think they started with "Hello There", then played "Clock Strikes Ten". I was thrilled. Then came "Gonna Raise Hell" and the concert ...kinda went to hell for me.

Dave Marsh, writing for Rolling Stone, actually called "Voices" disastrous and adds:

The issue isn't whether or not Cheap Trick can become the great American rock band we lost when Lynyrd Skynyrd's plane went down, but whether Rick Nielsen has the guts to probe deeply enough to let loose what's there. Dream Police doesn't offer any answers, yet it does suggest some dire possibilities. I hope that the deterioration I think I'm hearing is something else -- maybe Nielsen really is struggling to come to terms with rock + roll demons -- because Cheap Trick is too fine a group to be buried in the circle of hell reserved for those who had potential and squandered it.

Robert Christgau gave Dream Police a lukewarm B-, writing

What's always saved this band for me was the jokes, but this time they're not just in the grooves, and there's only so much you can do with funny hats on the cover. A good heavy band, sure -- be thankful for the fast tempos. But probably not a great heavy metal band. And you know what happens to a good heavy metal band long about the fifth album.