Monday, October 19, 2020

U2 releases its cinematic debut Boy


U2 : I Will Follow


On October 20, 1980 U2 released their debut album Boy. You can hear the early influences on a band that would influence so many bands of the 1980's. I can hear the guitars of the Buzzcocks, the anthemic lyrics of The Clash, the energy of The Skids and the propulsion of Joy Division. The members of the Irish band were all still under 21years of age and under the influence of Steve Lillywhite who would produce the first three albums.

Bono told BP Fallon:

For the LP we wanted a more cinematic sound.We wanted this big screen Panavision feel. There was a lot of little music about at the time. A lot of underground bands making little noises: beep beep and squeak squeak and they were doing it all in the name of art. And we felt we should stamp on this music. That we should develop a big and a broad sound.




 

The result is an album full of energy and grandeur, a sound that would propel U2 through the decade. The debut paved that way, especially among the critics. Red Starr of Smash Hits sums it up"

Smash Hits

Right from the start U2 had the glory. These are songs that must be played loudly and in front of large crowds. U2 may have been young but they seemed to know exactly what would it take to be the biggest band of the 80/s.




Sunday, October 18, 2020

Japan finds its signature sound on Gentlemen Take Polaroids


Japan : Gentlemen Take Polaroids


On October 19, 1980 Japan's new single, the title cut from the forthcoming Gentlemen Take Polaroids, had peaked at #60 in the UK charts. The band's sophisticated euro-pop sound was a perfect distillation of Roxy Music and David Bowie, augmented by the fretless bass of Mick Karn. For many this album, with its cover featuring a heavily pancaked David Sylvian, was an entry point into the Japan catalogue but critics familiar with their earlier glam rock work called them out for being phony. 

Said Patrick Humphries of Melody Maker :

"There's something infinitely unsatisfying about this album. From the false image of the band to the hollow songs they perform. "




As the decades have obscured the question of Japan's credibility, more music lovers have discovered one of the era's most irresistible signature sounds. There is substance behind all that pancake makeup after all. 

 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Gen X hits UK charts with "Dancing With Myself", a social distancing classic


Gen X : Dancing With Myself


In October of 1980 Gen X released the UK#62 "Dancing With Myself". Former Rich Kids guitarist Steve New, former Sex Pistol Steve Jones and former Tom Robinson Band guitarist Danny Kustow all play guitar on the single which was remixed by Billy Idol after Gen X broke up. In 1981, the new Billy Idol single, heavy on vocals and percussion, became a hit on the US dance floor. A music video for that single earned heavy rotation on MTV for Idol's performance as an Omega Man character fighting off mutants on the roof of a skyscraper. From punk rocker, Idol became a

The song has taken on new meaning during these times of social distancing. 






 

Friday, October 16, 2020

With Making Movies, Dire Straits releases cinematic third album


Dire Straits : Skateaway


On October 17 1980, Dire Straits released Making Movies, their third album. Featuring the UK#8 hit "Romeo and Juliet" and the future MTV hit "Skateaway", the album was a Top 20 hit in the US and a Top 5 hit in the UK.  While recording with the difficult producer Jimmy Iovine ( Patti Smith's Easter and Tom Petty's Damn The Torpedoes), Mark Knopfler's brother David left the group. The E Street Band's Roy Bittan came in to play keyboards.

"We had a great time playing with Roy," Mark Knopfler told Trouser Press. "I want to get a keyboard player in the band on a permanent basis and go on that way."

The songs are longer with the lead off track "Tunnel Of Love" clocking in at 8:11. 



"Maybe it's because a lot of people write one-and-a-half minute songs that I felt like writing songs that are eight minutes long. It's probably I've just got a lot more garbage to say."

Rolling Stone's David Fricke was impressed by the album and its lyrics, giving Making Movies 4 out of 5 stars:

Making Movies is the record on which Mark Knopfler comes out from behind his influences and Dire Straits come out from behind Mark Knopfler. The combination of the star's lyrical script, his intense vocal performances and the band's cutting-edge rock & roll soundtrack is breathtaking—everything the first two albums should have been but weren't. If Making Movies really were a film, it might win a flock of Academy Awards



Iovine is also impressed by the album.

"I think (Mark) wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It's a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature."

 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Springsteen released his #1 album The River and hits the road on a sold-out tour


Bruce Springsteen : The Ties That Bind


On October 17 1980 Bruce Springsteen released  the double album The River, a #1 LP that would sell more than 2 million copies. The first single, "Hungry Heart", would be Springsteen's first Top 10 hit. If Born To Run was an album for dreamers hitting the highway, The River is for those who stayed home and resigned themselves to lives of quiet despair. Or maybe it's not so quiet. The album kicks off with four straight rockers, including the Byrdsy "The Ties That Bind", which may be my favorite song on The River.




Work began on the album in April of 1979 and went on for a year and a half, during which Springsteen appeared on stage only twice. It was at this time that Dave Marsh released his book Born To Run: The Bruce Springsteen Story so the legend of The Boss was firmly established when Springsteen finally hit the road again on The River Tour that crisscrossed the United States twice. The band also played 20 dates in Europe. Every show as a marathon lasting between 3 to 5 hours. The band tried out something new on the tour. Springsteen would invite a female member of the audience to come on stage and dance with him during "Sherry Darling", track two from the new album. (Wouldn't you know it doesn't happen on the live version I found).


Paul Nelson of Rolling Stone called The River a rock n roll version of The Grapes of Wrath, writing:

What makes The River really special is Bruce Springsteen’s epic exploration of the second acts of American lives. Because he realizes that most of our todays are the tragicomic sum of a scattered series of yesterdays that had once hoped to become better tomorrows, he can fuse past and present, desire and destiny, laughter and longing, and have death or glory emerge as more than just another story. By utilizing the vast cast of characters he’s already established on the earlier LPs – and by putting a spin on the time span – Springsteen forces his heroes and heroines into seeing themselves at different and crucial periods in their lives. The connections are infinite (and, some would say, repetitious).



David Hepworth scored the album a 9.5 out of 10 writing 

The E Street Band couldn't put a foot wrong if they tried and Springsteen has rarely sung better, approaching each composition as if it were his last --an object lesson in drama, conviction and involvement. Soul? Everybody talks about it but Springsteen's got it. 





From Robert Christgau a grade of A-:

These are the wages of young romantic love among those who get paid by the hour, and even if he's only giving forth with so many short fast ones because the circles of frustration and escape seem tighter now, the condensed songcraft makes this double album a model of condensation--upbeat enough for a revery there, he elaborates a myth about the fate of the guys he grew up with that hits a lot of people where they live.


As a special bonus here's Howard Kaylan of Flo and Eddie talking to me about "Hungry Heart":

We had been recruited to sing with Bruce Springsteen on stage the first day we met him in Cleveland Ohio. He brought us up to sing with Ronnie Spector and we sang "Baby I Love You" and "Walking in the Rain" . We had a great time. He remembered that blend--Mark and me --when we sing together have this specific sound. He brought us into the studio with Jon Landau. We recorded the song "Hungry Heart". It was the only song on The River that we sang on. And when we left the studio, Mark and I looked at each other and went "This is not going to work" This is the most anti-Springsteen song we'd ever heard. There's no Thunder, . There's no Night. There's no Cars. There's no Screen Door Slamming. It doesn't sound like Bruce. What does he mean "every body's got a hungry heart" What does that even mean? 

 And then we heard from Max Weinberg: "I think its going to make the album" and then we heard its definitely on the album. And then we heard it was coming out as the first single and we went "Oh no Oh no . We're gonna be responsible for the end of Bruce Springsteen, and then it was a #5 record! I still don't hear it to be quite honest with you compared to every other brilliant thing Bruce has run past these ears.


 
I still listen to that song and I don't hear it. To me its like the #3 hit "She'd Rather Be With Me" for the Turtles. I understand it was a hit. I understand it was a bigger international hit than "Happy Together" even but i don't hear it. I didn't hear it when we cut it and I don't hear it 47 years later I don't hear it and "Hungry Heart" is one of those songs. I will take the gold records. we went on tour with this guy all over the world for the better part of a year trying to get a good live version of it in Amsterdam and in London and in New York and in LA. So we had a great time but I don't get it.
 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

"Dog Eat Dog" unleashes a new hit sound for Adam and the Ants


Adam and the Ants : Dog Eat Dog


On October 16, 1980 Adam and the Ants performed their monumental single "Dog Eat Dog"on Top Of The Pops launching the single,  b/w "Physical (You're So)", to UK#4. The performance, featuring Adam Ant in his finest foppery and make-up leading bandmates in chants, captured the imaginations of UK fans everywhere even though the sound of two drummers bashing away Burundi style was already familiar. It was a big moment for Ant, who had teamed up with Malcolm McLaren only to have the latter steal his band and copy his sound with Bow Wow Wow.

"If I learnt anything from him," Ant would tell Smash Hits, "it's that if you've got an idea you've got to keep it to yourself. An idea shared is an idea halved."

 


The single and the forthcoming album King Of The Wild Frontier are the moment Ant says he learned the difference between rock'n'roll and showbiz :

 It took me a long time to discover they were two very different things and that one was more appealing to me than the other. I felt that rock'n' roll had lost all of its colour, all its flair. Show business has got more life to it. You have to be of a much higher calibre to survive it. 

I realised that the most important thing was not to compete with any other groups. Not to feel jealous of anybody else. Just to get on with your own career. Also to be vert\y colorful - and to push that to an extreme- and be very 'total' about what you do.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

"People Who Died" poet Jim Carroll releases debut LP Catholic Boy


The Jim Carroll Band : People Who Died


On October 13, 1980 The Jim Carroll Band released its debut album, Catholic Boy. Two years earlier, Carroll had published his legendary memoir, The Basketball Diaries, recounting the years between 12 and 15 when he was both a basketball star and a heroin addict. The six foot three poet stopped playing basketball but he didn't give up heroin. 




In 1973 Carroll moved to California get a fresh start, and with the encouragement of former girlfriend Patti Smith, to whom he'd be often compared, he formed a rock band with Steve Linsley (bass), Wayne Woods (drums), Brian Linsley and Terrell Winn (guitars). Keith Richards was an early fan who helped the band get a record deal with Atco.

The best known song on the debut album is "People Who Died", a list of friends who died from drug overdoses, disease and by accident.



Life turned on a dime for Carroll. The song helped make The Basketball Diaries a best-seller and he became a heroin-chic celebrity.

"When I came back to New York, it was such a joke, because I was always referred to as the pure young poet who wasn't in it for what he could get out of it," he later told New York magazine. "And all of a sudden, the pure young poet comes back... and I'm hanging out with the Rolling Stones." 

In 1981 the ABC version of Saturday Night Live, "Fridays",  had the Jim Carroll Band on the show to perform "People Who Died" and "It's Too Late", which opens with the line "It's too late/ To fall in love with Sharon Tate". You'll have to fast forward through the show to see the performances. ( at 28:00 and 41:00) Carroll looks like a red-headed version of Bowie. He's not much of a singer. The band doesn't play with much imagination. But the lyrics are incisive and street wise:

Teddy sniffing glue he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine



Catholic Boy was met with mostly unenthusiastic reviews. In a three star review for Rolling Stone Ken Tucker :

The Jim Carroll Band play like a well-rehearsed New York Dolls–blunt, loud and catchy, but lacking that late, great group's vehement humor and spontaneity. Yet what's most striking about their debut album, Catholic Boy, isn't the music but the words. There are reams of them, and they flood almost every line with endless detail. Unifying metaphors, even when they're overwrought, are exhaustively and exhaustingly sustained.

Robert Christgau gave the album a B+ writing :

He's got a great eye, a great memory, great connections. He knows how to put himself across. And he wrote "People Who Died."



The band made the strange decision to appear in the 80's film Tuff Turf starring James Spader and Robert Downey Jr who plays drums with Carroll's band in the scene above. There were more albums and books before Carroll died of a heart attack at the age of 60. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

INXS debut kicks off a decade the Australian band would dominate


INXS : Just Keep Walking



On October 13 1980 INXS released their self-titled debut album, featuring "Just Keep Walking", their first Australian Top 40 hit. The set of energetic new wave pop would most likely have been forgotten by now if the band hadn't blown up by the mid-80's. Even lead vocalist Michal Hutchence dismissed the debut:

 I'm not a great fan of the first album. It's naïve and kinda cute, almost. It's these young guys struggling for a sound. All I can hear is what was going to happen later and it's probably an interesting album because of that. "Just Keep Walking" was the first time we thought we'd written a song. And that became an anthem around town. It's funny, I remember kids in pubs saying it and hearing it on the radio the first time. We'd never heard that before.


Hutchence makes a good point. From the very start you can hear the three Farriss brothers find the groove. They are Andrew on keyboards and guitar, Jon on drums and Tim on guitar. Kirk Pengilly is already finding some catchy riffs on saxophone.And Hutchence is already slipping into some Jaggeresque posturing. There's a but more XTC than white funk on the debut, but by 1983's Shabooh Shabooh and the single 1984 Nile Rodgers produced single "Original Sin", the band would be well on its way to super stardom.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Jacksons' Triumph is truth in advertising




The Jacksons : Lovely One


On October 12 The Jacksons released Triumph (US#10 pop, #1R+B) . Recorded in the wake of Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, the album sold a million copies and prompted a 39 city tour that grossed $5.5 million. Triumph's opening track, "Can You Feel It", wasn't a hit but a special video produced to open every concert was the most technically advanced made so far .



Triumph sounds like the great lost Michel Jackson album. He handles most of the writing and lead vocal duties. The brothers produced the album. The first single, "Lovely One" (#12) , which sounds like another infectious dance track from Off The Wall, is the highlight, but the whole album is joyful.



While the album only finished #83 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop critics poll, it made Robert Christgau's top 10 for the year.





 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Australia's Flowers release one of 1980's greatest growers


Flowers : Can't Help Myself


On October 10, 1980 the Australian band Flowers released Icehouse, a post punk/new wave effort that produced three Top 20 hits in their home country, including "Can't Help Myself", "We Can Get Together", and "Walls". The album went 5 times platinum in Australia and 3 times platinum in New Zealand .

So as not be confused with the Scottish band of the same name, in 1981 when the band signed with Chrysalis they named themselves after the opening track on their debut, re-recorded the album,  and released it in the UK and US, where it hit #83. 




In her 1981 Sounds review, Betty Page wrote

 "...anyone knows you only have to think about making an album in Australia and it goes gold, but you punters shouldn't let those silly Bruce-Fosters-and-Kangaroo-based prejudices mar your objectivity with regard to this one...Not an album that smacks you between the eyes, but a real warm grower that creeps up from behind and forms a romantic attachment with you . Super for softies! Icehouse have been compared with everyone from Genesis ands T.Rex to Talking Heads and Television, but musical influences don't matter, it's the essential feeling imbued in Iva Davies' songs mixed with a fresh exhilarating pop/rock sensibility that does. There is no life inside the Icehouse."



Like New Musik, this is a band I don't remember ever hearing until this year when I decided to take a deep dive into 1980. Both may be a bit faceless but every time a track from these bands has popped up on my playlist I've been delighted. An absolute grower!
 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Teardrop Explodes release dreamy debut with Kilimanjaro


Teardrop Explodes : Poppies In The Field


I think we're very poppy. To me pop is something you hum. What I'm trying to do is strike a balance between triteness and greatness. 
-Julian Cope

On October 10, 1980 Teardrop Explodes finally released their long-awaited debut album Kilimanjaro. The Liverpool band emerged from the same neo-psychedelic sound that gave us Echo and the Bunnymen and Wah!Heat and had already released four of the songs on the album as singles "Sleeping Gas", "Bouncing Babies", "Treason", a UK Indie #3 hit and the UK#47 "When I Dream". 

The deep cuts offer more rewards. "Poppies In The Field" even has backwards guitar sounds, an incessant Krautrock bass line and the line "I can't explain at all/ I can't explain what I feel" which seems to sum up how I feel writing about this influential album which I often plucked from the shelves at my college radio station. When you wanted your 80's college radio show to sound like an 80's college radio show Kilimanjaro was a great way to do that. And it flowed so well out of 60's psychedelia like Love, The Doors and later Byrds.






Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of B, writing

If Bunnyman Ian McCulloch favors the schlock mysterioso Jim Morrison, Droplet Julian Cope prefers the schlock heartthrob, complete with romantic authoritarianism ("Well I don't think this is real/To criticize our love" is prime hippie bullshit, no?), "Touch Me" horns, and AM potential. No, really, "Sleeping Gas" was once a very poppy indie single, and some of this stuff would probably sound pretty neat on the, er, radio is what we used to call it I guess. But why anyone who didn't acquire an addiction that way would prefer this to Blondie or the Box Tops is beyond me. I mean, Cope is a little smarter than Jay Black or Gary Lewis, but that just makes him harder to take.

 

The album spent 35 weeks on the UK charts and that's despite a muddy mix and one of the least inspired album covers of all time. Anyone paying attention to the lyrics ("The parachute's in the bag/ I'm throwing it over to you") would guess Julian Cope wasn't your typical pop star frontman. In the early 80's U2 and Duran Duran may have considered the Teardrops rivals, but Cope walked out of recording sessions for what would have been the third album to pursue a fascinating, often psychedelic drug induced musical career that only sometimes bounced back into the pop world. 

Why More Specials sounds nothing like The Specials


The Specials : Stereotype


"It's time for 2-Tone bands to begin getting experimental. Some of the home-grown ska has started to become a cliche. We've got to start all over again."
-Jerry Dammers

On October 4, 1980 The Specials released the UK#5 More Specials, one of the most surprising albums of the year because the band had expanded its sound to include lounge music, easy listening and film scores. If you're put off by the new direction, you can blame it on the elevator music the band heard on their American tour, Said Dammers :

"On that tour in America, I was listening to music in the hotel bars and elevators. Vibraphone music in elevators. Obviously this was classed as rubbish. I don't know if it was my state of mind, because I was so zonked, but it struck me as a really weird, psychedelic music, which is now called lounge or exotica. It's been rehabilitated, but at the time, to say you actually liked that music was mad. It completely freaked out some of the band."

It also freaked out the fans. Guitarist Roddy Byers said the Specials "went from With the Beatles to Sgt. Pepper's without doing Rubber Soul."



   While side one features some reggae and ska, side two is where things get strange, especially on "International Jet Set" which tells the nightmarish tale of a hellish plane journey over elevator music:

Spread the disease, from the south China sea/ To the beach hotel Malibu /Phone my girlfriend to ask her "How's her weekend?" /I say "Hi, Terry here", and she says "Terry who, the hell are you?"



Befuddled critics decided Dammers must have known what he was doing. NME critics ranked the album #32 for the year and future critics would say here is where you'll find the origins of trip-hop.

From Smash Hits:




Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Talking Heads release Remain In Light, the album of the year


Talking Heads : Born Under Punches

[Purchase]

On October 8 1980,  Talking Heads released Remain In Light, arguably the best album of the year.  

The songs began with single chord jams inspired by African polyrhythms and recorded at Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas where drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth rented a house. David Byrne, who had alfeady recorded most of My Life In The Bush With Ghosts with Brian Eno,  would tell the the Daily News that this record “wasn’t intended to be a Talking Heads LP at all, but after we put some tracks down, some of the sounds started taking shape and became songs. I was very unsure of it, but toward the end of the rehearsals I was really pleased with the progress, and I thought to myself, anybody who doesn’t like this is nuts.” 

This is how the German experimental band Can recorded songs, which is why all of the musicians are credited on every song.



 

For the longest time, the songs had no lyrics or even titles. Byrne struggled with words, eventually finding some of his best remembered lyrics in books ( the world moves on a woman's hips) in newspaper headlines ( the heat goes on) or inspired by the up and coming sounds of rap music ( Facts are simple, facts are straight). Adrian Belew came in to record on a song that would become "The Great Curve" not knowing where Byrne would be singing. It would be up to Byrne to sing around the solo.

Talking Heads and producer Brian Eno originally agreed to credit all songs in alphabetical order to "David Byrne, Brian Eno, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison and Tina Weymouth" after failing to devise an accurate formula for the split, but the album was released with the label credit: "all songs written by David Byrne & Brian Eno (except "Houses In Motion" and 'The Overload", written by David Byrne, Brian Eno & Jerry Harrison)".

"We had been told another untruth by David Byrne and so had our listeners,” Frantz wrote in his 2020 memoir Remain In Love. “This was especially hurtful because without our persistence, love and musicianship, Remain in Light would never have been made.”

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Prince shocks the world with his Dirty Mind


Prince : Dirty Mind


On October 8 Prince released Dirty Mind, his exhilarating third album that combines funk and new wave in a way that's never been duplicated. To this day, I believe it's his best album. From his home studio in Minneapolis, Prince had stripped down the music to explore new themes that would get some attention : oral sex, incest, threesomes and ejaculation. Forty years later, it's more than a bit shocking. 




The critics were certainly shocked by what they heard. Ken Tucker of Rolling Stone wrote "Prince's first two collections established him as a doe-eyed romantic. Nothing could have prepared us for the liberating lewdness of Dirty Mind. Dirty Mind jolts with the unsettling tension that arises from rubbing complex erotic wordplay against clean, simple melodies. Across this ELECTRIC surface glides Prince's graceful quaver, tossing off lyrics with an exhilarating breathlessness. He takes the sweet romanticism of Smokey Robinson and combines it with the powerful vulgate poetry of Richard Pryor. The result is cool music dealing with hot emotions. At its best, Dirty Mind is positively filthy." 


 Robert Chrisgtau of the Village Voice gave the album an A, writing:

After going gold in 1979 as an utterly uncrossedover falsetto love man, he takes care of the songwriting, transmutes the persona, revs up the guitar, muscles into the vocals, leans down hard on a rock-steady, funk-tinged four-four, and conceptualizes--about sex, mostly. Thus he becomes the first commercially viable artist in a decade to claim the visionary high ground of Lennon and Dylan and Hendrix (and Jim Morrison), whose rebel turf has been ceded to such marginal heroes-by-fiat as Patti Smith and John Rotten-Lydon. Brashly lubricious where the typical love man plays the lead in "He's So Shy," he specializes here in full-fledged fuckbook fantasies--the kid sleeps with his sister and digs it, sleeps with his girlfriend's boyfriend and doesn't, stops a wedding by gamahuching the bride on her way to church. Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home

The album finished #9 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll. My guess is not all of the critic were aware of the album or it would have finished in the top 3.


Monday, October 5, 2020

Seconds of Pleasure; Hours of Bickering


Rockpile : When I Write The Book


On October 7 1980, Rockpile released the US#27  Seconds of Pleasure, a collection that showed there was still a place of catchy rock'n'roll in the 1980's. As the New York Times put it in 1982, "Rockpile was probably the best traditional rock-and-roll band in the world, and when it broke up, fans howled."  But before Rockpile broke up they recorded some of the best albums in my collection: Nick Lowe's Jesus of Cool/Pure Pop For Now People and Labour of Lust, Edmunds' Get It and Repeat When Necessary as well as Carlene Carter's Musical Shapes



Despite the pleasure listeners would get from these albums, there was often bickering in the studio. Lowe earned his nickname "Basher" from recording quickly, going more for feel than perfection. Edmunds was a student of rock and more of a perfectionist. 


As long as they were playing on each other's album, someone always had the final say. But when they finally recorded as Rockpile, the bickering became too much for both. "He's not the most loveable creature in the world," Lowe says of Edmunds.





"Now that Nick and I are out with our own bands, people are starting to realize that we really did break up over musical differences," said Edmunds. " The fact that he produced his albums and I produced mine for so long was really the only thing that held Rockpile together.'' 



But before the break up they gave us Seconds of Pleasure. Lowe wrote six of the twelve tracks, though two of the songs are revivals of Brinsley Schwarz's "Fool Too Long" and "Play That Fast Thing (One More Time)." Billy Bremner sings lead on Lowe's  "Heart." Best of all, I'd argue is Lowe's :"When I Write The Book". At east that was always my go-to on my college radio show. Of the covers "Teacher, Teacher." was the near hit. It reached #51 on the Billboard Hot 100. The remaining covers include Chuck Berry's little-known "Oh What a Thrill," Joe Tex's "If Sugar Was as Sweet as You," and Kip Anderson's "A Knife and a Fork." 


Early pressings included a bonus EP of four Everly Brothers remakes, which the CD version also has. Hard to believe two men who could harmonize like this, could wind up hating each other's guts.



 

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Killing Joke unleashes its snarling debut


Killing Joke : Requiem


On October 5, 1980 Killing Joke released their self-titled debut album, a UK Top 40 album. A soundtrack for the cynical and disaffected subject of Thatcherism, this is an album that assaults its listeners. 

"Requiem"  features the lyrics Man watching video /The clock keeps on ticking/He doesn't know why/ He's just cattle for slaughter .



The band has already found its unique sound. Seriously, there was nothing in the world that sounded like this.

Co-founder Paul Ferguson described it as "the sound of the earth vomiting. I’m never quite sure whether to be offended by the question of 'are we punk' or not, because, I loved punk music, but we weren't. And I think our influences were beyond punk. Obviously before punk, there was Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and there was Yes even and King Crimson, and those had all influenced me as a player, and the other guys would say other things, but I'm sure they were all part of their history as well" 

Killing Joke knew how they wanted the debut  to sound so no producer was hired, just technical help. Reviewers latched on to the debut's dark, heavy, bleak and bitter energy. But it is that energy, that "sheer punch" that captured the attention of fans. It's a foretaste of the industrial sounds we'd hear from Ministry,  Nine Inch Nails, even Metallica who covered "The Wait".


 There are only a handful of albums that have inspired as many artists as this debut. Check it out!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Pylon debut reveals the new sound of the South


Pylon: Weather Radio


In October of 1980 Pylon released its debut album, Gyrate. Named for the Faulkner novel this Athens, GA quartet is made up of Vanessa Ellison on vocals,  Randy Bewley on guitar, Michael Lachowski on bass and Curtis Crowe on drums. It’s dance music for late night basement parties with cheap beer, fogged up windows and music that’s loud enough to compete with the cicadas buzzing outside.

 The guitar riffs are playful like The B-52’s but the lyrics are dark, made up of economical phrases about anything other than love. Were they aware of the equally spare sounds of Gang of Four and Joy Division , or was there something in the air? 



 The record was released on Danny Beard’s DB label which took out ads in magazines like Trouser Press to get the word out. The ad quoted reviews of the prior Pylon single “Cool” b/w “Dub. “Pounding rhythms, sinister tunefulness” (Trouser Press); “Bears scant resemblance to anything” (NME); “Best American Independent single I’ve heard all year”(Robert Christgau). 

 Robert Christgau gave Gyrate a B+, writing: 

 I wish they'd come up with a few more riffs/melodies as deliberate and haunting as those of "Volume" and "Stop It" and the foolishly omitted "Cool." And while I admire their bare-boned lyrical concept, often the unpretentiousness seems mannered, like some comp-lit cross between Robbe-Grillet and Ted Berrigan. 



The band has recently released a box set. They’ve had liner notes written by both the B-52’s Fred Schneider and REM’s Michael Stipe. The surviving members recently talked to NPR. 

 “When it comes to who is influencing who and the legacy and all of that, to me, it just keeps folding onto itself, “ said Lachowski. “I mean, we were pretty cocky when we were doing our first two albums and broke up. Maybe that energy made music that lasts for people in a certain way, but I don't really know how to measure it and put it all into a narrative.” 

"We were just being ourselves and we weren't really beholden to anybody who was trying to mold us or shape us into anything, “said Ellison, now Hay. "Danny Beard didn't do that. He just let us be ourselves. And so I think some of that shines through; there's a lot of authenticity in that we were being ourselves."
 



As much as I admire Vanessa’s yowling, my favorite track is the instrumental “Weather Radio” which sounds like the best starting point of everything great that came out of the Athens scene in the 1980’s.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Is Zenyatta Mondatta the best Police album or the worst?


The Police : When The World Is Running Down...


On October 3, 1980 The Police released Zenyatta Mondatta, an album that would sell millions of copies cementing the trio's reputation as the most popular rock band in the world. If you haven't listened to it in a while you might be surprised by how good it is, thanks in large part to Stewart Copeland's drumming. You might also be thinking why is there so much filler on this album? ( What Police album doesn't have filler, though?)

The band takes a bit of a dim view of Zenyatta Mondatta, claiming the recording in The Netherlands was a rush job, knocked out in fewer than four weeks. Sting would call it the band's weakest album.  Short of material, Andy Summers offered up an instrumental he'd written called "Behind My Camel". He recalls the reaction in his memoir One Train Later:

There is some resistance to this. Granted, it's not A-list pop song material, but it's interesting. Sting refuses to play on it, which is a drag, but Stewart is willing, so I put down the backing track with me playing bass and later I add the guitar parts. Somewhere in the middle of this action Sting-half joking, half serious- hide the tape in the garden at the back of the studio . I get what's going on and a day later manage to dig up the tape, and the song ends up on the album


"We had bitten off more than we could chew" Copeland recalled. " ... we finished the album at 4 a.m. on the day we were starting our next world tour. We went to bed for a few hours and then traveled down to Belgium for the first gig. It was cutting it very fine."




Like "Don't Stand So Close To Me",  the single that preceded it, the album enters the UK charts at #1. Most of the reviews are good. Leonard Bernstein writes a letter to the New York Times claiming The Police are better than The Beatles. David Fricke of Rolling Stone favorably described its offering of "near-perfect pop by a band that bends all the rules and sometimes makes musical mountains out of molehill-size ideas" and complimented the band's "elastic" interplay. Robert Christgau says "Stewart Copeland's rhythms skank plenty while looting the whole wide world. Andy Summers's guitar harmonies are blatantly off-color, his melodic effects blatantly exotic. And Sting's words are about stuff--itchy general, teacher not petting with teacher's pet, plus, ahem, the perils of stardom. Summing it all up is their first true hit and only true masterpiece: "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da."  


The Police are kind enough to put both good reviews and bad on their webpage for Zenyatta Mondatta. Among the bad, there's  Julie Burchill of NME who wrote Zenyatta Mondatta is the third in an unbroken line of stupid titles that attempt to clothe plain fare in mystery, like the menu in a greasy French Bayswater cafe....The Police's 'Metal Machine Music'? It sounds like something some shyster would dredge up from the vaults - out-takes and such to milk the nostalgia market should The Police meet their maker in an aeroplane disaster. "




It's odd how the album's reputation keeps bouncing back and forth.

 The 1992  edition of The Rolling Stone Album Guide gives Zenyatta Mondatta five stars, its highest score.  But the last time Rolling Stone put out its 500 Greatest albums list in 2012 , it was the only Police album left off. ( The 2020 list only has one Police album, Synchronicity, at #159). Spin's Alternative Record Guide gave the album 4 /10, adding "Docked a point for the butt-ugly orange cover".


Thursday, October 1, 2020

Wire's Colin Newman releases a creepy and dark solo debut


Colin Newman : Alone



In October of 1980, Wire guitarist/ vocalist Colin Newman released his debut solo album A-Z. Here Newman is extending the off-kilter synth sounds and art school attitudes of Wire's 154 album with help from Wire drummer Robert Gotobed and Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154 producer Mike Thorne. Wire hadn't officially broken up but it would be five years before the band ever played together onstage. Graham Lewis teamed up with Bruce Gilbert to make electronic music in He Said and Dome, but he and Newman co-wrote A-Z's most memorable track, "Alone". It appears on the Silence of the Lambs soundtrack and would later be covered by This Mortal Coil. 

Alone, with too much generosity 
A theatre mask of hostility attracts 
Assaults occur infrequently 
 And those who come, to conquer? 
Need strength But damage accumulates 
Still Moving him to tears 
Retained a sense of humour



Newman told NME 

"..the lyrics are just noises that you can make with your mouth. They don't really mean anything. I can never make statements. If I say something I also say the opposite as well, and then I want to say something that states the middle ground, so I end up at the end of a piece of writing saying absolutely nothing!"

The album is a genuinely creepy and a challenging listen. The ultimate grower, it is rising in prestige as the decades go by and is considered by some to be Wire's "fourth album".