Thursday, April 30, 2020

An Octogenarian Nurse Makes a Major Label Comeback

Alberta Hunter : My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More

In 1980, retired nurse Alberta Hunter, made one of the most remarkable comeback album of all time, releasing the John Hammond produced Amtrak Blues at the age of 85.

For 23 years she was the spunky old nurse at Roosevelt Island's Goldwater Memorial Hospital, healing patients with wise-cracks and care,  until hospital administrators forced her into retirement at the age of 82. That's when Alberta Hunter returned to her first love and her first career, singing the blues. 

For decades, from the 1920's to the 1950's, Hunter sang in nightclubs. She toured Europe, starred in films and even recorded with Louis Armstrong. Now she was back, performing at the Greenwich Village club, The Cookery, accompanied by pianist Jimmy Rowles. She'd stand on stage, a little stooped by age, tell stories and sing bawdy songs like "My Handy Man Ain't Handy No More".

Released on Columbia Records, Amtrak Blues is a one of a kind album. Robert Christgau gave it an A- grade writing:

A hot rhythm section, anchored by pianist Gerald Cook and jazzed up by hornmen Vic Dickenson, Doc Cheatham, and Frank Wess, pitch in with undeniable verve on material from "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" to "Always" to several worthy Hunter originals. Timing and intonation are as savvy as you'd figure, and though the voice isn't quite as full as it must have been, it packs an amazing wallop--when Hunter gloats about getting her butter churned, the memory sounds quite fresh, like maybe the dairy man poked his head in that morning. More good news--she'll be back in the studio with Hammond soon.

Hunter's personality shines through on this album. She's recently been celebrated by New York Times Magazine writer Jody Rosen, who has Hunter on his Covid Quarantine playlist:

There’s something, I think, bracing — or maybe it’s reassuring in hearing the voice of this elderly person that’s so full of spirit and is so sly at this super frightening time. To hear that voice of longevity, I guess, a voice that really embodies this idea of a long life that’s fully lived, that’s festively lived, that’s just something that I need to hear right now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Fischer Z releases a classic toe-tapper

Fischer-Z : So Long

On April 29, 1980 Fischer Z popped its quartet of heads up on the UK charts briefly with the single "So Long" at UK#72. This slice of catchy new wave cheese would fare better in the Netherlands and Australia where it was a Top 20 hit. The video even got played in the early days of MTV in America.

As part of my hobby I make playlists for each month and I have to say it was always a pleasure when this number popped up on random. I've never hired a private detective myself but I imagine I'd get a call someday saying "He managed to trace you/He said you were living in France." 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The English Beat score a UK#4 hit with "Mirror In The Bathroom"

The English Beat : Mirror In The Bathroom

On April 28 The English Beat had a new single in the UK charts. "Mirror In The Bathroom" debuted at UK#58 but it would peak at UK#4, the Beat's highest charting single until a slightly remixed version of "Can't Get Used to Losing You" returned to the charts in 1983. 

Dave Wakeling told A.V. Club how he came up with the lyrics :

The lyrics were written when I was working on a construction site. I’d had a couple of drinks the night before, and forgot to hang up my clothes to dry for the next day. It gets very wet on those construction sites, and it was the winter, so it was a snowy wet. I got into the bathroom and realized my clothes were all on the floor in a wet, sandy pile. So I hung them up and thought, “Well, if I steam them, at least I’ll be puttin’ ’em on warm.” I had a shower, and then I was shaving in the mirror, with the hangover and the wet clothes, and the thought of trying to break up frozen sand to put into the concrete machine was not that tasty. And I started talking to myself in the mirror, and said, “Dave, we don’t have to do this, mate. We don’t have to do this.” And in the mirror behind me, the door of the bathroom had a tiny little latch on it, and I said to myself, “The door’s locked. There’s only me and you. Just me and you here. We don’t have to do this.” And of course we did, because we needed money for Guinness that night. [Laughs.] 

 So on the motorbike we got, and skidded our way back to the construction site. And while I was on the bike, I was pondering it. “The door is locked, just you and me.” Had a nice feel to it. “Mirror In The bathroom.” That’s a great idea, but you can’t have a pop song called “Mirror In The Bathroom,” can you? That’s stupid. You’re meant to have pop songs called, “I Love You, Lady,” or something. Anyway the poem started, and continued during the day, and kept me warm while my clothes weren’t, and I’d got the germ of it from there. And when I heard David Steele’s bassline, I was like, “Wow, that poem I was writing on the motorbike fits it like a glove.” 

The B-side, "Jackpot", is a cover of a 1968 song by the Jamaican ska trio, The Pioneers.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Dexys Hit #1 with "Geno"

Dexys Midnight Runners : Geno

On April 27, 1980 Dexys Midnight Runners topped the UK charts with "Geno", a tribute to Geno Washington, "the greatest soul singer in the world," according to Dexys leader Kevin Rowland.

Rowland defended Geno's talent with as much vigour as The Osmonds defended Marie's virginity. It transpires that in 1968, when only 11, not only was Geno Washington the first live act he ever saw- his older brother took him along to a gig - but when the idea of Dexys Midnight Runner was first conceived in January of 1978, Rowland turned to the recorded output of the flamboyant soulster. "I was totally fed up with everything else at that time and so I started listening to all of Geno's old records and any other soul single I could pick up for 10p around the markets." 

The song would briefly coax Washington out of retirement. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

X releases its first shot with debut album Los Angeles

X: Johnny Hit and Run Pauline

On April 26, 1980 X released their debut album, Los Angeles, on Slash Records. It would sell 60,000 copies, considered an incredible number for a small label, and prove that the West Coast punk scene has something both loud and intelligent to say. Sounding like a guided tour of the bleakest aspects of life in Los Angeles, the album would place #16 in the year's Village Voice Pazz and Jop Critics Poll.

The band was made up of John Doe and Exene Cervanka, who met at a poetry workshop in Venice, California. They would get married in Tijuana. They were joined by guitarist Billy Zoom who had played with Gene Vincent in the 70's and drummer D.J. Bonebrake. Charles Bukowski would have been proud to have written some of these uncompromising lyrics:

She had to leave Los Angeles 
All her toys wore out in black and her boys had too 
She started to hate every nigge‍r and Jew 
Every Mexican that gave her a lotta shit 
Every homosexual and the idle rich

The Doors' Ray Manzarek produced the album after catching the band's performance at The Whiskey.

"It was love at first sight," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I thought (vocalist) Exene was the next step after Patti Smith. She takes it further than any woman has ever taken it. Next to her was this striking, strong bass player (John Doe) and the two of them did the strangest things. It wasn't atonal harmony, but it was bordering on that...Then I looked over and there was Billy Zoom playing the loudest guitar, yet doing it so smoothly and effortlessly. I was amazed at the edge and the rawness but he attacked the guitar strings with such grace and finesse, And the drummer, DJ Bonebrake, is so solid and strong and powerful...Don had the power to make that damn thing crack like a rifle shot..."

The album received rave reviews. Robert Christgau gave the album a grade of A-, writing:

From poet-turned-chanteuse Exene to junk-guitar journeyman Billy Zoom, these aren't mohawked NME-reading truants who think Darby Crash is God or the Antichrist. They're sexy thrift-shopping bohos who think Charles Bukowski is Norman Mailer or Henry Miller. This may not be exactly the aura they crave, but combined with some great tunes it enables them to make a smart argument for a desperately stupid scene. Of course, when they're looking for a cover (or a producer), they go to the Doors, prompting L.A. critic Jay Mitchell to observe: "Their death and gloom aura is closer to the Eagles, which is to say it is all Hollywood." But only in L.A. is that an insult, elsewhere the distinction between a city and its industrial hub is more like a clever apercu.

I think the band would top the debut three times, with 1981's Wild Gift, 1982's Under The Big Black Sun and 1983's More Fun In The New World.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Bard of Salford releases a Top 30 poetry album

John Cooper Clarke : Evidently Chickentown


In April of 1980 English performance poet John Cooper Clarke released Snap Crackle + Bop, a UK#26 album. The bard of Salford's new album came out months into the Margaret Thatcher two prong attack on the working class and trade unions. There wasn't much to look forward, reflected in Clark's "Evidently Chickentown": 

The bloody pubs are bloody dull 
The bloody clubs are bloody full 
Of bloody girls and bloody guys 
With bloody murder in their eyes 
A bloody bloke is bloody stabbed 
Waiting for a bloody cab 
You bloody stay at bloody home 
The bloody neighbors bloody moan 
Keep the bloody racket down 
This is bloody chicken town

Clarke made little money from his brief flirtation with fame, telling The Guardian in 2012 "No. I ain't waving the victim flag, but considering the massive impact I've had on British culture, it's fucking diabolical how poor I am." It's true he has inspired all kinds of teens making music these days.

Another highlight of Snap Crackle + Bop is "Beasley Street", a form of reportage on life in poverty:

The boys are on the wagon
The girls are on the shelf 
Their common problem is 
That they're not someone else 
The dirt blows out 
The dust blows in 
You can't keep it neat 
It's a fully furnished dustbin 
Sixteen Beasley Street

The Jam have seven singles in the UK Charts and a catchy hit by New Musik

New Musik : This World of Water


On April 23, 1980 New Musik returned to the UK charts at #59 with "This World of Water", one of five singles from the album From A to B. The catchy single would peak at UK#31. The English synth pop band had a way with catchy, quirky numbers and the vocal modulations on "This World of Water" caught many a pop fan's attention that year. 

At the same time The Jam were re-releasing singles on picture discs so in addition to "Going Underground"/Dreams of Children" at UK 20, "In The City" (UK#43), "All Around the World"(UK#49), "News of the World" (UK#53), "Modern World"(UK#54) ,"Strange Town" (UK#57) and "David Watts"/"A Bomb in Wardour Street" (UK#63) had all returned to the charts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

With Seventeen Seconds The Cure releases their first masterpiece

The Cure : Play For Today

On April 22, 1980 The Cure released Seventeen Seconds, the band's second album. During the recording of the song Robert Smith played four totally unrelated songs on a cassette he'd brought with him : Van Morrison's "Madame George" from Astral Weeks, Nick Drake's "Fruit Tree" from Five Leaves Left, Aram Khachaturian's ballet piece "Gayaneh Ballet Suite No. 1 Adagio" which could be heard on the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jimi Hendrix's live cover of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". He also listened to David Bowie's Low on repeat.

"[With Seventeen Seconds] I was trying to get a combination of all the things I liked about those four things,"Smith would explain, "even though they were so disparate."

Somehow the album sustains the same melancholic mood throughout.

Critics didn't immediately embrace the album. Here's Ian Cranna writing in Smash Hits:

After a brilliant debut of dynamite songs in"Three Imaginary Boys", The Cure now expand into more ambitious territory. Their powerful melodic intensity is still there, along with the distinctive insistent drumming, jangling guitar and pent-up vocals, but now the numbers are longer, slower and more exploratory with obscure lyrics and synthesisers lurking in the dark background. An impressive and maturing talent though not quite such a memorable end product this time. Investigate. (8/10)

For NME Nick Kent wrote

To many Seventeen Seconds may seem a valid progression. I , however, find it depressingly regressive. Even so, I await their next move with great interest.

With time, the album has gained the respect Robert Smith sought. It is one of the band's very best.

Years later Smith would tell Rolling Stone :

"I knew exactly what I wanted to do with Seventeen Seconds. I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound and I didn't want anyone to interfere with that. Anyone who wanted to play more than one piano note could go and do it somewhere else...From this point on , I though every album was going to be the last Cure album, so I always tried to make it something that would be kind of a milestone. I feel Seventeen Seconds is one of few albums that genuinely achieve that."

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Pete Townshend gets honest on Empty Glass

Pete Townshend : Rough Boys


On April 21, 1980 Pete Townshend released Empty Glass, an album that honestly dealt with his issues with drugs and alcohol, a marriage going south, and the death of Keith Moon and other friends, all while maintaining his devotion to the Hindu guru Meher Baba of “Baba O’Reilly” fame.

I called it Empty Glass, 'cause of this idea that when you go to the tavern – which is to God, you know – and you ask for His love – He's the bartender, you know – and He gives you a drink, and what you have to give Him is an empty glass. You know there's no point giving Him your heart if it's full already; there's no point going to God if your heart's full of Doris.

Produced by Chris Thomas, the first sessions for the album occurred at Wessex recording studios, where he'd recorded The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks. The sessions moved to A.I.R. Studios where Townshend says Thomas helped him find "a new voice on tricky songs like 'Jools and Jim', 'Empty Glass' and 'A Little Is Enough'". The latter and the US#9 hit "Let My Love Open The Door" were both inspired by conversations he's had with his wife Karen, who admitted she had reached the point where she maybe loved him a little.

One evening, by some miracle, [my wife Karen and I] were in bed at the same time. Before she dozed off I asked her a question. ‘Do you still love me?’ 
 ‘I don’t think so.’ 
 ‘Not even a little?’ 
 ‘Maybe a little,’ she replied. ‘Now please go to sleep, or go down and work. I’ve got to be up early.’

The album is exceptional. I got my copy as a used cassette from a Reno pawn shop, a year after Dave Marsh's Rolling Stone review in which he wrote:

If Empty Glass suggests anything, it’s that the new Who music might be very different, without sliding into the pomposity of “Music Must Change.” Pete Townshend’s current songs are mostly quiet declarations, not strident ones — another sharp departure from his past. And, after all, those of us who still hold out much faith and devotion for rock + roll at this point must grasp at any straw. The ones offered here are far stronger than most, because they’re bonded with real love.

 In fact The Who's next album Face Dances would pale in comparison to Empty Glass, leading to accusations that Townshend was saving his best material for his solo album.  Roger Daltry might have done better job singing "Gonna Get You", but he never would have sung the homoerotic lyrics of "Rough Boys" ( "I want to bite and kiss you") and "And I Moved".

Even some UK critics that didn't have nice things to say about Tommy and Quadrophenia liked Empty Glass. Red Starr of Smash Hits gave the album 7/10 writing:

This sees Pete well down the road to recovery with its honest songs with real melodies, though the lyrics still lean too heavily on unloading his complexes on to us rather than true inspiration or focused ideas. Hardly essential listening, but the enjoyable raw edge and concentrated energy show he's still a force to be reckoned with.

Monday, April 20, 2020

With Hypnotised The Undertones deliver another thrilling album

The Undertones : Wednesday Week

On April 21, 1980 The Undertones released their second album, Hypnotised. Mostly recorded at Wisseloord Studios in the Netherlands, where Elvis Costello and the Attractions had just finished Get Happy!!, Hypnotised might even top the self-titled debut in inventiveness, energy and using the word "girl" in song titles. Smash Hits' David Hepworth gave the album 9/10 writing:

This was going to be called "Fifteen Rockin' Humdingers" and that says it all. Without sacrificing an ounce of attack they've started to widen their range, putting together stronger songs and, in addition to covering The Drifters' masterpiece "Under The Boardwalk, they offer their own perfect sad love song "Wednesday Week" which proved conclusively that Feargal Sharkey is the finest natural singer to come out of punk. The Undertones make everybody else look like they're playing charades in a shop window.

On the Undertones website bass player Michael Bradley says 1980 was the best year the band ever had. They toured Europe, America and the UK Twice.

It was an extended childhood, being in the Undertones. There was the time I phoned up the New Musical Express, the music paper, pretended to be our press agent and told them Billy Doherty had been killed - run over by a bus in Derry - I said this with Billy standing beside me, in O'Neill's house, laughing. Next thing we know, a DJ on Radio One, Kid Jensen, is saying how sorry he was to learn of the death of the Undertones drummer, Billy Doherty. Our manager, sitting in England, heard this - he immediately rang O'Neill's - not to find out what happened to Billy, but which one of us had made up the story. Eventually the truth got out that it was a hoax, but we never got the blame. It was stated, by our real press agent, that an anonymous person had made the call.

In America, where Sire Records distributed Hypnotised, the album got rave reviews from Robert Christgau of the Village Voice:

From the opening chorus--"Here's more songs about chocolate and girls/It's not so easy knowing they'll be heard"--the good-kids-of-the-year are as honest as power pop (remember power pop?) ever gets. They're also as powerful, which I bet has something to do with why they're so honest. The improved melodies have something to do with why it's not so easy any more. ( A-)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sex Pistol Glen Matlock's All Time Top Ten

In April of 1980, former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock had nothing to promote ( especially his role in the  forgettable Iggy Pop album Soldier) when he gave Smash Hits this list of his All Time Top 10. It's jam-packed with blues and oldies ( including Dave Berry's original version of a Ray Davies tune), but the last number is from T-Bone Burnett's group, The Alpha Band.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Human League still searching for their first big hit

Human League : Marianne

By April of 1980, it had been a year since David Bowie called The Human League the future of rock. Now they were being ridiculed by an Undertones song climbing the UK charts called "My Perfect Cousin ("His mother bought him a synthesizer / Got the Human League in to advise her"). They may have been famous but they still hadn't recorded a hit.

The EP they released, Holiday '80, would not change the band's fortunes. The songs include a reworking of the 1979 single "Being Boiled", a cover of Gary Glitter's "Rock N Roll",  the Bowie-penned "Nightclubbing" and, as the lead off track,  "Marianne". Every sound but the vocals is made with a synthesizer, which rivals Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark could not claim. 

Despite failing to reach the Top 40, Top of the Pops invited The Human League to perform "Rock n Roll" on the show. What you don't see is the contribution of Adrian Wright. At the time he was "Director of Visuals", running slideshows and lighting during concerts.

A new album, Travelogue, would be released in May but this version of Human League would not last. Co-founder Martyn Ware would leave with the year to form Heaven 17, leaving Phil Oakley little but the name and a tour starting up within days. He'd hire two teenage girls to join the band as back up dancers and vocalists.By necessity Wright would have to learn to play synthesizers. A quick learn, he's co-write the UK#1 and US#1 hit "Don't You Want Me".

Friday, April 17, 2020

Name-checking in April of 1980

Family Fodder : Debbie Harry

"Debbie Harry" is the English post-punk band Family Fodder's offbeat love letter to Blondie's front-woman from a bargain 12" single titled "Sunday Girls".

Deborah Harry I'm aiming at you 
You got your raygun and I got mine too 
I'm gonna stun you with my transgalactic lasers 
I'm gonna blast you with controlled vector phasers 

Stains : John Wayne Was A Nazi

Based in Austin, Texas, The Stains released 500 copies of "John Wayne Was A Nazi" before moving to California and changing their name to Millions of Dead Cops.

John Wayne slaughtered our Indian brothers 
Burned their villages and raped their mothers 
Now he has given them the white man's lord 
Live by this, or die by the sword

Splodgenessabounds : Simon Templar

Signed to the Moody Blues label Deram Records, Splodgenessabounds released their "Simon Templar" EP in April of 1980 about the Leslie Charteris character The Saint. 

Simon Templar is so hunky
All his birds are very funky
Simon's got a hairy chest
Goes to bed without his vest on

        By July the octet would grace the cover of Smash Hits. On page 15 Roger Rodent explains the band philosophy:

"It's getting sillier all the time, and we work on the principle that if we're having a good time, the people are going to have a good time. If we've got a philosophy it's that".

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The All Time Top Ten of The English Beat's Dave Wakeling

The English Beat : Mirror in the Bathroom

IN April of 1980, the month The English Beat would release the UK#4 hit "Mirror in the Bathroom" b/w a cover of the Pioneers' song "Jackpot", singer and guitarist Dave Wakeling presented Smash Hits with his All Time Top Ten. It's a good list, mixing up reggae tunes with some eccentric rock from the likes of Captain Beefheart and Tim Buckley.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Devo's back with "Girl U Want"

Devo: Girl U Want

In April of 1980 Devo released their new single, "Girl U Want". Because of its herky jerky sound that might remind some of "My Sharona", the record company thought this would be a bigger hit from the upcoming Freedom of Choice than "Whip It". The song didn't chart.

The reviewer for Smash Hits wrote 

"The usual fidgety disco sound, the usual stops, starts and detours, the usual clownish, mildly inquisitive vocals, the usual vaguely sinister playground music. Would you believe a love song? Well, sort of".

Here's Mark Mothersbaugh, wearing a red terraced Energy dome hat and singing"Girl U Want"  into an ice cream cone on French television.

The official video:

Remarkably, the song was covered by Robert Palmer in 1994:

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

With "Breathing" Kate Bush releases a single for our times

Kate Bush : Breathing

On April 14, 1980 Kate Bush released the UK#16 single "Breathing". Most of the lyrics sound as though they were written for these times, locked inside our homes , afraid to breathe in what strangers are breathing out.

Sung from the point of view of a foetus frightened by the effect of nuclear fallout, Bush says the song --with its lyrics 'Chips of plutonium are twinkling in every lung' --was inspired by a documentary she had seen on the effects of nuclear war.  

"It's about a baby still in the mother's womb at the time of nuclear fallout, but it's more of a spiritual being," she tells Smash Hits. "It has all its senses: sight, small, touch, taste ad hearing and it knows what is going on outside the mother's womb, and yet it wants desperately to carry on living, as we all do of course.

"Nuclear fallout is something we're all aware of, and worried about happening in our lives, and it's something we should all take time to think about. We;'re all innocent, none of us deserve to be blown up."

For the video, Kate performed the song in what appears to be a womb. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Blasters release a blast from the past

The Blasters : Marie, Marie

In April of 1980 Rolling Rock Records released 2,000 copies of The Blasters debut album, American Music.The album contains a handful of originals ("Marie, Marie" and the title track being exceptional)  mixed in with covers by original artists like Willie Dixon, The Hollywood Flames and Jimmie Rodgers. 

 Raised in Downey, California brothers Dave and Phil Alvin were blues enthusiasts who got to meet T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner and Big Joe Williams. They played in various bands together until the mid-70's when they briefly gave up their dreams to pursue regular careers. Phil taught math at Colorado State College in Long Beach while Dave worked as a fry cook. When a new underground scene began happening in Los Angeles, the brothers reunited calling their band The Blasters. They played mostly covers, but the brothers were writing some rockabilly numbers that would become legendary.

Dave Alvin told BAM:

 "In the 70's there was nothing and the kids were just kind of lost. Then all of a sudden The Sex Pistols came along and all this energy came back into the scene that hadn't been there for years. We tried out punk rock, but it would be phony for us to be real punk rockers. We figured if we took the music we loved-country/blues and rockabilly-and put all the energy into that the Sex Pistols put into their music, that it would be just as modern today as it was in 1950.

Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the debut album a grade of B+, writing:

One of two bands cited as proof that L.A. punks aren't just bigots with mohawks (the other, the Go-Go's, has--gulp!--girls in it), these rock and rollers don't quite fit their rockabilly revivalist pigeonhole. Where the average Whitecat is so pencil-necked he can hardly hold up an acoustic bass, they have muscles, and where the average Rockin' Ronnie Weiser signing is a barely literate has-been who never really was, they have brains and potential. Or so songs like "Barn Burning" and, believe it or not, "American Music" lead one to believe. They do get that chickenshit Scotty Moore guitar sound right, though. With Ronnie at the boards, they don't have much choice.

Queen invited the band to open their 1980 American tour, much to the dismay of the British band's fans. Shakin' Stevens would take "Marie, Marie" into the UK Top 20 in October. In another year The Stray Cats would steal some of the Blasters' thunder as well. Both brothers remain creative contributors to the sound of American music.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The surprising Paul McCartney smash that got John Lennon recording again

Paul McCartney : Coming Up

On April 13, 1980 Paul McCartney's UK#2 hit "Coming Up" debuted on the charts at #62. Recorded during the Summer of '79 at High Park Farm in Scotland, the song was part of a session that was never intended to be released commercially.

I originally cut it on my farm in Scotland. I went into the studio each day and just started with a drum track. Then I built it up bit by bit without any idea of how the song was going to turn out. After laying down the drum track, I added guitars and bass, building up the backing track. I did a little version with just me as the nutty professor, doing everything and getting into my own world like a laboratory. The absent-minded professor is what I go like when I’m doing those; you get so into yourself it’s weird, crazy. But I liked it. 

Then I thought, ‘Well, OK, what am I going to do for the voice?’ I was working with a vari-speed machine with which you can speed up your voice, or take it down a little bit. That’s how the voice sound came about. It’s been speeded up slightly and put through an echo machine I was playing around with. I got into all sorts of tricks, and I can’t remember how I did half of them, because I was just throwing them all in and anything that sounded good, I kept. And anything I didn’t like, I just wiped.

In the memorable video for the songs McCartney plays dual roles impersonating Ron Mael of Sparks, Hank Marvin of The Shadows, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, and his own self as a young Beatle playing a Hofner bass. 

American DJs preferred playing the B side, a live version recorded on the last night of a 1979 tour in Glasgow. In the US the song topped the charts at the end of June, for two weeks.

The song is believed to have inspired John Lennon to get back in the studio, as McCartney relates:

I heard a story from a guy who recorded with John in New York, and he said that John would sometimes get lazy. But then he’d hear a song of mine where he thought, ‘Oh, shit, Paul’s putting it in, Paul’s working!’ Apparently Coming Up was the one song that got John recording again. I think John just thought, ‘Uh oh, I had better get working, too.’ I thought that was a nice story.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Buy the new Members album and get a necktie

The Members : Romance

In April of 1980, The Members, the band that gave us "The Sound of the Suburbs", released the Rupert Hine produced 1980-The Choice Is Yours. Early buyers got a necktie with The Members logo. And Joe Jackson plays some practically inaudible piano.

The album still sounds pretty fresh today. "Romance" is so catchy my 15 year old son was singing "Ro-ro-ro-ro-ro-ro-ro-romance" the second time I played it for him.  And he doesn't sing out loud ever.

Which is what makes the last line of David Hepworth's 7 1/2 out of 10 review for Smash Hits so confusing:

No great departures here; just standards maintained. Tough, nifty songs that treat serious subjects (employment and the opposite sex) in witty, sympathetic terms. Repeated plays reveal thought has gone into the songs, each one a soap opera with a sting in the tail. Their very lack of glamour is what makes them so strong. Sadly though, there's no hit single here.

Maybe Madness just did it better.

Jim Green says this for Trouser Press:

The material seems thin — a cover of ex-Pink Fairy Larry Wallis' "Police Car" is far and away the most memorable track — and any spark and grit the band might have mustered is sterilized by Rupert Hine's production.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The Morbid song that revived a country legend's career

George Jones : He Stopped Loving Her Today

In April of 1980 country legend George Jones released "He Stopped Loving Her Today", his first #1 country hit in six years. Written by Bobby Braddock and Curly Putman, the song didn't make much of an impression on Jones when he first heard it. "He thought it was too long, too sad, too depressing and that nobody would ever play it," said producer Billy Sherrill. "He hated the melody and wouldn't learn it."

The song is about a man who is so deeply in love with a woman that he keeps all of her letter and old photos and only stops loving her "today" because that's the day he dies.

When Jones recorded his last vocal he hung up his headphones with the line "Nobody'll buy that morbid son of a bitch". 

False. More than half a million people bought the single, reviving the career of The Possum, who won a Grammy for his performance.

Bobby Braddock , who also wrote Tammy Wynette's "D-I-V-O-R-C-E"  and "(We're Not) The Jet Set", tells the story of the song below. 

Thursday, April 9, 2020

That funky down home Leeds sound

Delta 5 : You

In April of 1980 Leeds art schoolers provided the music world with two great singles. The first, "Anticipation" b/w "You",  came from Delta 5,  a punk-funk band made up of three women and two men ( and two bass players). The women wrote from a feminist perspective. They were aloof, self-assertive and funny. "You" is full of accusations: 

"Who left me behind at the baker's/You, You, You, You/
Who likes sex only on Sundays/ You, You, You, You." 

"Personal relationships are like a microcosm of the whole world and in that was we are commenting on things in general," argued one of the bassists , Bethan Peters, in Simon Reynolds' Rip It Up And Start Again.

Gang of Four : Outside the Trains Don't Run On Time

April also saw the release of Gang of Four's "Outside The Trains Don't Run On Time" b/w "He'd Send in the Army", the band's first single in nearly a year. Both rock hard while ridiculing out of step beliefs. The first is about a fascist longing for a leader like Mussolini, who was famously credited with fixing the notoriously inefficient train system in Italy. ( He didn't really). "He'd Send in the Army" is about a firm believer in patriarchy who thinks men should rule the world and women should pay back the male breadwinner in the bedroom. The single did not chart.

This review for Smash Hits did not help with sales:

Usual spartan sound and tuneless vocals conspiring to be "hypnotic" or something. You can admire Gang of Four's attempts at forging their own style without finding them remotely attractive. I can't imagine this getting any repeated turntable exercise.