Poi

March 31, 2011

The mashed foodstuff of Polynesian people is what this particularly stressful stretch of work has reduced my brain matter to.

(and one of these days I do intend to seek clarification as to when, if ever, it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition…I thought it was verboten…or maybe not in certain situations…)

Today about the only thing that I was able to hold in my head after the commute was TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) by MFSB.

(better known as the theme for the music show Soul Train)

I happened to hear it on the Sirius ’70s hits channel on the morning commute when my brain existed in its usual, relatively unpulpified state and, since then, my headspace keeps defaulting to the song and voices singing “People all over the world!”

I recall seeing commercials for Soul Train as a kid and seem to recall that, at least when I was pre-school age, that the show aired mid-day on Saturdays, following the conclusion of the morning’s cartoons.

The show’s animated intro, that colorful train boogieing down the tracks, duped me more than once into thinking that there might be a half hour more of cartoon hijinks.

Instead, I probably switched the channel to Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

As March ended in 1974, I was finishing first grade and having no way of knowing that, thirty-seven years later I’d still be spending my days sitting at an assigned desk performing mindless tasks ad nauseum as someone – someone who the universe has seemingly placed in charge most arbitrairily – drones on and on and has everyone compete for gold stars.

If I had known, I could have had my brains removed and head filled with poi three decades ago.

As April arrived in 1974, MFSB’s TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) was a Top Ten hit. Here are four other songs that were on the charts at that time…

Elton John – Bennie And The Jets
from Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

I vividly recall hearing Bennie And The Jets playing from the jukebox in a pizza place our parents would take us as kids. I was six at the time, had little interest in music, and had no idea who Elton John was – even though he was having a run of hits rivaled pehaps only by The Beatles

But I loved the spacey, hypnotic Bennie And The Jets.

(though I was certain I was hearing him sing something about “electric boobs”)

The song is still near any list I would make of favorites by Sir Elton.

Billy Joel – Piano Man
from The Complete Hits Collection: 1973-1997

I’ve noted before that I’m strangely ambivalent about Billy Joel. If you asked me if I liked Billy Joel, I’d probably shrug and say something like, “He’s OK.”

But when I do hear one of his songs, I’m surprised at how often I pause, mentally list his songs in my head, and realize that the guy does have some truly fantastic tracks in his catalog.

I’ve always loved Piano Man even if it has been played into the ground, but I don’t remember hearing it in ’74.

Terry Jacks – Seasons In The Sun
from Super Hits Of The ’70s: Have A Nice Day, Volume 12

Apparently Canadian Terry Jacks decided to record Seasons In The Sun when the Beach Boys abandoned recording a version of the song. In the same Wikipedia entry it is noted that the song is one of less than thirty to ever sell over ten million copies worldwide.

Oddly enough, I heard Seasons In The Sun the other morning for the first time in years on the Sirius ’70s station. But I certainly remember it from its time as a hit.

I like the song. It is maudlin, but the bouncy melody hooks me. The song’s got a bit of a split personality.

Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells
from Rock On: 1970 to 1979

Though I didn’t see the movie until I was much older, I remember the buzz surrounding The Exorcist when it was in theaters. I seem to recall my parents (or at least my mom) walking out on it.

(whatever possessed them to go see a horror film about Satanic possession in the first place is baffling)

It is an evocative piece of music that no doubt is made more so by its association with the movie. The only other thing I’ve ever heard by Mike Oldfield is his very cool original version of Family Man, later a hit for Hall & Oates. I do know that he seems to be held in high regard, though, so I have add him to the list of acts I need to check out.

Advertisements

Love And Butane Is In The Air

March 26, 2011

As I surfed channels the other night, I couldn’t help but momentarily get sucked into an infommercial.

It was by Time-Life and for a nine-CD collection – Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Hosting the half-hour pitch to earn my affection, interest, and credit card number was REO Speedwagon lead singer Kevin Cronin. His sidekick was some chick who looked like a dental hygenist and likely had no idea who Kevin Cronin or REO Speedwagon was until her world and his collided in this cash grab.

Kevin Cronin wouldn’t stop smiling.

The pair became positively giddy when the hygenist asked Cronin if it could be possible to assemble such a collection of music.

He flat out declared that she couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it and he couldn’t do it. To even suggest it could be done by a mere mortal (or even a rock star) was akin to asking me to split the the atom.

But, Time-Life could.

(good for Time-Life – if you are such jet-fuel geniuses end global strife, put Japan back together, or, hell, just make me a sandwich)

And still Kevin Cronin kept smiling. It reached a point that he was freakin’ me out and I started to wonder if he’d ever killed a drifter.

Fortunately, the banter of Kevin & The Hygenist was broken up by clips of selections from the set.

There was the lovely Rindy Ross swaying with her saxophone as Quarterflash performed Harden My Heart on American Bandstand.

And I couldn’t help but wonder how much time – had I been a member of Toto – I would have wasted making fun of singer Bobby Kimball’s moustache as the video for Rosanna played.

According to the Wikipedia entry for power ballad, it is suggested that 1976 was the pivitol year that the power ballad truly became part of American consciousness as FM radio “gave a new lease of life to earlier songs like Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Aerosmith’s Dream On, and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.”

(personally, I would defer to Wisconsin JB on all things musical in 1976)

1976 was also the year that Kiss had their biggest pop hit with the ballad Beth which, as I somewhat recall, caused more than a bit of angst for members of the Kiss Army.

That song, though, and the concept of a rock band broadening their audience with a softer sound would seem to be a precursor for the ’80s when the strategy was practically a given.

Foreigner had Waiting For A Girl Like You, Journey had Open Arms, and Mr. Cronin’s REO Speedwagon had Keep On Loving You which helped the group launch their mega-selling Hi Infidelity.

And, at the risk that it might cause Kevin Cronin’s head to spin off its axis, I suspect that – for better or for worse – I do own most, if not all, of the songs on Ultimate Rock Ballads.

Here are four ballads – some with less power than others – that were hits in the early ’80s for more rock-oriented bands…

Foreigner – Waiting For A Girl Like You
from Foreigner 4

Foreigner arrived with their first several albums prior to music being more than a casual affair to me. I associated the band with driving rock tracks like Hot Blooded and Double Vision that I’d hear blaring from the car stereo of a high school kid as he tore through our neighborhood.

But, by the time Foreigner released their cleverly titled fourth album, I was listening to the radio, if not actually purchasing music. In late 1981, the moody, keyboard-laden Waiting For A Girl Like You – moody keyboards courtesy of one, pre-science blinded Thomas Dolby – was inescapable.

Foreigner would continue to have hits well into the ’80s, but having found a new audience with this softer sound, the band would – unlike previously – rely on lighter songs for those singles.

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame

The R&B-laced blues-rock of J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones during the ’70s and the Boston band became a popular live act with the occasional hit song. The group notched major pop radio success with Freeze Frame and the massive hit song Centerfold and the title track.

While those songs, like much of their catalog, were raucous affairs, the third track pulled from the album was the downbeat Angel In Blue. It was hardly as big as the previous two songs from Freeze Frame, but the gorgeous, melancholy song retained the band’s soulful vibe and blue-collar grit as it told the tale of a world-weary cocktail waitress.

(for some reason, I’ve always mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

Night Ranger – Sister Christian
from Midnight Madness

Led by dual guitarists Jeff Watson and Brad Gillis – the latter had briefly filled in with Ozzy Osbourne after Randy Rhodes death – Night Ranger became a staple on our local rock stations with their 1983 debut and songs like Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sing Me Away.

Late that same year, the band issued its sophomore effort Midnight Madness and continued to get heavy airplay with (You Can Still) Rock In America and Rumors In The Air. But it was in the spring of ’84 that Night Ranger garnered attention on the pop stations and notched a Top Ten hit with the mid-tempo Sister Christian.

Slade – My Oh My
from Keep Your Hands Off My Power Supply

With their trademark misspelled song titles and glam-tinged hard rock, Slade released a string of monstrous hits in their native UK during the ’70s even as the band was largely ignored in the States. By the beginning of the ’80s, the quartet was being ignored in the UK as well.

Then, Quiet Riot had a breakthrough hit with Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize in the autumn of ’83 even as Slade was making a comeback in the UK with The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome.

The album was repackaged and retitled, arriving in the US the following spring and, that summer, the band – aided by a popular video on MTV – had notched its first Top 40 hit Stateside with the raucous Run Runaway.

That fall, the anthemic ballad My Oh My became a minor hit and Slade’s final flicker of success in the US.


Odd Stuff In The Trunk

March 24, 2011

A couple weeks back, I was poking around for info on the ’80s cult movie Straight To Hell and most of what I found also mentioned another ’80s cult movie – Repo Man – mentioned.

(Alex Cox directed both movies)

My friends and I knew of Repo Man in 1984 when it was released and became an instant cult movie and favorite with midnight crowds. We certainly didn’t see it at the time, but, surprisingly, as we were living in Sticksville, we were aware of the movie.

Thinking back, it had to have been my buddy Beej’s uncle who told us about it. His uncle taught literature or something at a college in Cincinnati, an hour away, and was always turning us onto obscure (to us) new wave bands.

Eventually, we snagged a videocassette of Repo Man and a bunch of us watched it one Friday night.

It was Emilio Estevez’ first movie and he starred as a young punk named Otto being mentored in the ways of being a repo man by Harry Dean Stanton as the pair attempt to repossess a ’64 Chevy Malibu with two dead aliens in the trunk.

It’s been twenty-five years or more since that single viewing of Repo Man, but I remember digging some of it and thinking a lot of it was tedious.

The soundtrack consisted of Los Angeles bands – where the movie was set – including The Circle Jerks, Fear, and Burning Sensations.

That last band was known for their video hit Belly Of The Whale and – on the Repo Man soundtrack – covering the Jonathan Richman-penned Pablo Picasso. In the song it is opined that the artist “never got called an asshole.”

(though I seem to recall Paloma once referring to him as a bastard)

I don’t remember if there were or weren’t aliens in the trunk of that ’64 Malibu in Repo Man.

And though I had several friends who drove old Malibus at the time, I was with my buddy Streuss in his old man’s beloved Volvo when we got pulled over by the police.

I stood there in the night air with several friends as Streuss was unlocking the trunk of the car at the request of the cop.

All I could think of was Repo Man as the trunk lid swung open.

No aliens.

Instead, there was several handfuls of straw, a crumpled carton that had contained wine coolers, and one tube sock.

(and, no, despite the contents of the trunk his dad was not a serial killer nor some other deranged felon)

Though the soundtrack for Repo Man was heavy on punk music, we were more partial to the new wave and alternative acts we were discovering at the time from 97X, Night Flight, and Beej’s uncle. Here are four songs that I remember from that time…

Simple Minds – Waterfront
from Live In The City Of Light

Over the previous year, U2 had finally reached us in the Midwest with songs from War and Under A Blood Red Sky getting a smattering of attention on a couple radio stations. With Sparkle In The Rain, produced by U2 producer Steve Lillywhite, I heard Scotland’s Simple Minds for the first time and was drawn to their anthemic, widescreen sound.

Waterfront, with its thumping bassline and ringing guitars, was an immediate favorite. A year later, Simple Minds was no longer a band I’d only hear on alternative outlet 97X, but on an array of stations as the group scored with the massive hit Don’t You (Forget About Me).

Though Paloma and I have a copy of Sparkle In The Rain on vinyl, the only version I have ripped of Waterfront is this live version from ’87.

Guadalcanal Diary – Watusi Rodeo
from Walking In The Shadow Of The Big Man

The band Guadalcanal Diary were from Athens, Georgia and contemporaries of R.E.M., but, unlike Michael Stipe and company, the group never managed to cross over to a more mainstream audience. They did have a modicum of success with college audiences in the mid- to late- ’80s.

It’s the quirky and engaging Watusi Rodeo for which they are best remembered. The odd, little number about cowboys in the Congo lassoing water buffalo fused jangle-pop with surf rock and why it wasn’t blaring from every radio during the spring of ’84 is mystifying.

Talk Talk – Such A Shame
from It’s My Life

My buddy Beej did get hooked on Talk Talk by his uncle and had already played It’s My Life into the ground for me before the trio notched a lone US Top 40 hit with the album’s title track.

I liked It’s My Life, but I much preferred the pulsating, skittering follow-up Such A Shame.

The Alarm – Blaze Of Glory
from Declaration

With their post-punk guitars, martial drumming, earnest lyrics, and rebellious attitude, the Welsh quartet The Alarm also appealed to the growing affection my friends and I had for U2.

Several songs from their debut, full-length album Declaration popped up on 97X including the defiant Blaze Of Glory.