Finding Coelacanthe

February 9, 2013

coelacanthePaloma has, on more than one occasion, wandered into the living room of our treehouse to find me watching an episode of Finding Bigfoot. Her usual response is to shake her head.

She doesn’t share my fascination at the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in the most remote forests on the planet.

(but I still think she’s swell)

I have no expectations that, if the sasquatch does exist, the intrepid quartet of Finding Bigfoot will actually do so during the course of the hour.

No, much of the appeal is the various settings of the show. I’ve not been to the bottom lands of Arkansas or the heights of the Canadian Rockies, but I am able to appreciate the breathtaking, natural beauty of these places where McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart have yet to leave a corporate footprint in HD glory.

And, there is the possibility of an unknown species of giant hominids living in these isolated locales.

When Paloma expresses her doubt, I say one word.

Coelacanthe.

For the ichthyologically uninclined, the coelacanthe is a gigantic fish believed to have gone extinct during the Cretaceous period some sixty million years ago. Then, in the late 1930s, fisherman began pulling living coelacanthes out of the waters off the coast of Africa, proving the existence of an animal that had existed as nothing more than local folklore.

In college, one of my buddies knew of a door to the biology building that often remained unlocked. Late one night as we were downing one last round, he suggested a trek across campus to take advantage of this access.

We wandered the dimly-lit hallways of the massive building which I had rarely had reason or need to visit. And there, imprisoned in a glass tube in a display case was a fully preserved coelacanthe, five-foot long and covered in scales resembling armor.

We stood there for a moment staring at a creature who had not changed since a time when its ancestors swam the seas while dinosaurs roamed the land.

Here are four random songs that shuffled up on the iPod from bands that might be considered extinct…

The La’s – There She Goes
from The La’s (1990)

The La’s long ago secured their place as one of the more bizarre tales in the history of rock music. One album, despised by lead singer/songwriter Lee Mavers who bad-mouthed the critically-acclaimed album in interviews, minimal sales and scant attention.

Then, nothing. For twenty years there has been little more than rumors of new music and strange stories about Mavers’ perfectionist ways scuttling the arrival of new music.

Now, The La’s are kind of a cool secret.

Most people are likely familiar with The La’s music from Sixpence None The Richer’s cover of There She Goes, but that version pales in comparison to the chiming goodness of the original. The La’s echoed the classic pop of the ’60s with the ringing guitars and effortless choruses and that lone album is now, like its influences, timeless.

Eurythmics – Missionary Man
from Revenge (1986)

Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox’ decade-long run as Eurythmics seemed to come to a close following 1989’s We Too Are One. Since then, the duo have reunited periodically but their only new release has been Peace in 1999 and, according to an interview with Stewart last year, there are no plans for future collaborations.

Eurythmics were coming off of the highly-successful Be Yourself Tonight – which had included Would I Lie To You? – when they issued Revenge in the summer of 1986. Missionary Man was one of the pair’s most mainstream rock efforts and provided the two with their last significant hit singles in the States.

Concrete Blonde – Caroline
from Bloodletting (1990)

Concrete Blonde was one of my favorite discoveries while in college and I quickly snagged each and every album the trio released, though most of their records were uneven.

Bloodletting was their momentary breakthrough with Joey becoming a hit and the title track getting some airplay on modern rock stations, too. For me, the wistful Caroline was one the band’s finest songs and featured some riveting, serpentine guitar courtesy of James Mankey.

The group wasn’t able to sustain the momentum and split in 1997 before reuniting for a couple albums in the early 2000s. And, like the coelacanthe, Concrete Blonde might not be entirely extinct as the band’s website lists some live dates from December of last year.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits (1994)

INXS was introduced to us in the States with 1983’s Shabooh Shoobah. Several friends were impressed, but aside from the brilliant Don’t Change, I was mostly indifferent. However, one of those friends was compelled to purchase INXS’ two previous albums as pricey, Australian imports and, thanks to his incessant playing of the band’s music, I became a fan.

Within five years, INXS was one of the biggest acts in the world with 1987’s Kick selling millions and spawning hits like Need You Tonight, Devil Inside, and Never Tear Us Apart. Kick‘s successor, X, arrived in 1990 and managed to be moderately successful, but the band’s commercial fortunes continued to decline in the ’90s.

INXS seemed to be done with the death of lead singer Michael Hutchence in 1997, but reality television intervened and the group had a brief reunion almost a decade later.

(of course, as anyone familiar with Stephen King’s Pet Sematary knows, sometimes dead is better)

The Stairs initially appeared on X and, though not a hit, other than Don’t Change, it might be the best thing that INXS ever did.

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July 16, 1983

July 16, 2011

1983 was a pivitol year for me and music.

As the year began, I had begun to explore more of the radio stations available to me in our corner of the Midwest, gaining familiarity and interest in songs and artists that I might not have heard on Top 40 radio.

I was also hearing music from the ’60s and ’70s, some of which existed as vague recollections, but much of it for the first time.

There would never be a time in which more music would be a wholly new experience for me.

But, American Top 40 with Casey Kasem was still appointment listening each week, offering an education in the acts appearing in the countdown that was not easily obtained in a pre-internet world.

And, 1983 was still a time of a fair amount of diversity on Top 40 radio, meaning that, while I might not particularly like the song playing at any given moment, I was a mere four minutes away from one that I did want to hear.

For our purposes today, though, we’re examining the the songs which debuted on the Hot 100 in Billboard magazine during the week of July 16, 1983…

Mitch Ryder – When You Were Mine
from Never Kick A Sleeping Dog
(debuted #95, peaked #87, 4 weeks on chart)

I didn’t know much, if anything, about Mitch Ryder in 1983 and I still have little more than a cursory knowledge of the legendary Detroit rocker’s career thirty years later.

When You Were Mine had first appeared on Prince’s Dirty Mind set in 1980 and – though Prince was becoming a household name with 1999 that summer – I wouldn’t become familiar with the song until hearing Cyndi Lauper’s version on her debut She’s So Unusual in late ’83.

Despite production assistence from John Mellencamp (who, I think, would have still been John Cougar at the time), I don’t recall hearing Ryder’s stellar take on When You Were Mine in 1983 and I suspect that I wasn’t alone.

INXS – Don’t Change
from Shabooh Shoobah
(debuted #90, peaked #80, 4 weeks on chart)

I’ve sung the praises of INXS’ Don’t Change in the past and I will undoubtedly do so in the future. I was indifferent to The One Thing, the initial hit from Shabooh Shoobah, but I instantly fell for Don’t Change.

With soaring synthesizers, grinding guitars, and Michael Hutchence’s defiant vocal, Don’t Change is an anthemic track that is an open road leading to a destination of infinite possibilities.

Jeffrey Osborne – Don’t You Get So Mad
from Stay With Me Tonight
(debuted #89, peaked #25, 14 weeks on chart)

Jeffrey Osborne had a handful of hits in the first half of the ’80s after abdicting his post as lead singer of the R&B act LTD and I was familiar with most of them.

On Don’t You Get So Mad, Osborne advises his significant other to keep her jealousy in check over a light funk melody. The song didn’t really appeal to me, but I do remember being slightly puzzled by my buddy Beej’s affection for it.

The B-52’s – Legal Tender
from Whammy!
(debuted #88, peaked #81, 4 weeks on chart)

Grown-ups have long warned of the evil influence of pop music on “the children” and, though I’ve heard plenty of songs that might have touted less than acceptable behavior, I’ve managed to avoid becoming a menace to society.

However, Legal Tender, The B-52’s ode to counterfeiting is such a bouncy delight, I’m tempted to follow their lead and start cranking out tens and twenties in the spare room.

Engelbert Humperdinck – Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again
from You And Your Lover
(debuted #87, peaked #77, 5 weeks on chart)

Is it possible to say “Humperdinck” and be serious?

I suspect I knew of Engelbert Humperdinck from seeing him crooning away on some daytime talk show – maybe Dinah Shore’s – as a kid after school. Or, it’s certainly the type of music I might have heard my mom playing on occasion on the cabinet stereo in our living room.

As for Til You And Your Lover Are Lovers Again, I was certain that I was hearing that rascally Engelbert putting the moves on some woman estranged from her husband. It turns out that, though he might be a crooner, Engelbert’s intentions are honorable.

Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart
from Faster Than the Speed Of Night
(debuted #75, peaked #1, 29 weeks on chart)

I, like most listeners, knew Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler for her 1978 Top Ten hit It’s A Heartache, but I distinctly remember being wowed by Total Eclipse Of The Heart the first time I heard the song on the radio one steamy summer day in ’83.

I don’t think that I had ever heard anything so epic and the song seemed to last the entire afternoon.

I totally dug it.

And why not?

Like some demented scientist, producer/songwriter Jim Steinman had assembled a musical cast of thousands – including guitarist Rick Derringer, E Street bandmates Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg – to back Tyler as she raspily belted out her tale of woe to the heavens with enough melodrama that the song could have filled a Behind The Music episode all on its own.

If Steinman drives like he writes and arranges a song, the man has needed the sizable royalty checks he’s accumulated simply to pay his speeding tickets.

Naked Eyes – Promises, Promises
from Naked Eyes
(debuted #71, peaked #11, 20 weeks on chart)

I loved Naked Eyes’ update of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Always Something There To Remind Me when the UK synth duo reached the Top Ten with the song as their debut in the spring of 1983.

I was far less enamored with Promises, Promises and, though the track failed to follow Always Something There To Remind Me into the Top Ten, I seemed to hear it far more on the radio.


I’m Waiting For The Rain Man

October 24, 2009

rain manSome bloggers whose writing I regularly enjoy incorporate recurring segments into their mix.

JB over at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ has One Day In Your Life, Whiteray has the weekly Saturday Single at Echoes In The Wind, and the Major Dude of Any Major Dude With Half A Heart has several regular features.

(I keep waiting for another installment of Major Dude’s Great Moustaches In Rock)

Alas, though I might have recurring subject matter, I haven’t had the imagination or commitment to post such an ongoing series.

(psychobabble apparently being a train that runs on no fixed timetable)

I have posted several times of my discovery of alternative rock when I first tuned into 97X. The station, a pioneer in alternative rock radio, is also secure in pop culture lore for its reference in the movie Rain Main as Dustin Hoffman incessantly repeated the station’s tagline “97X, Bam! The future of rock and roll.”

So, when I happened upon the movie the other night, inspiration struck. I thought, why not post a handful of random tracks from the 97X playlist I’ve created. And, why not do so each time I do come across Rain Man while channel-surfing (or, at other arbitrary times).

However, I think I might hold off on giving a name to this random ongoing series until I decide to keep it…

Here are four random tracks that I would have heard on 97X back in the day as well as Freur’s Doot Doot, the song which led me to rediscover the station twenty years after I last listened to it…

INXS – Don’t Change
from Shabooh Shabah

Coincidentally, I mentioned Don’t Change this past week in a post and it shuffles up on the iPod first. I declared it to be brilliant then and nothing has changed my thoughts on the matter in the past seventy-two hours or so (or, really, twenty-five years or so).

Don’t Change is simply a transcendent four minutes and change.

10, 000 Maniacs – What’s The Matter Here
from In My Tribe

By 1987, the only time that I got to listen to 97X was on the rare treks home from college. I was already hearing 10,000 Maniacs a lot at school as Natalie Merchant and the band were college rock darlings at the time.

Years later, with mainstream success for the band and Merchant’s solo career, people seemed to either adore the singer or think she was insufferably precious. She was granola. I once saw her open for R.E.M. and she stopped her set for five minutes tending to an errant moth that had landed on stage.

I dug some of the Maniacs’ stuff and Merchant’s as well, and What’s The Matter Here is some melodic folk-tinged pop gem despite the grim subject matter.

Devo – Through Being Cool
from New Traditionalists

This song immediately makes me think of the movie Heavy Metal. Though Devo’s Working In The Coal Mine is probably their better known song from that flick, Through Being Cool was in it, too.

Devo is a bit like Sparks to me. Both were quirky and underappreciated for their twisted pop. I had a high school friend who was wildly into both bands, so I got to hear a lot of their music. I thought much of it was wonderful stuff and I’ve always meant to go back and delve into their catalogs.

Concrete Blonde – Joey
from Bloodletting

I absolutely loved Concrete Blonde in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Their music was so gritty, usually (bitter)sweet and responsible for how I’ve always imagined Hollywood to be.

Their records could be erratic, but all had scattered treasures. I think I’d go with Mexican Moon as their most consistently strong and rewarding album, but Bloodletting wouldn’t be a bad choice.

The album is burned into my memory as one of the soundtracks to my last winter living in the Midwest. It suited the short hours of daylight, the shadows, and the chill autumn air. And I still can vividly recall being stretched out on the couch with notes, not studying, and seeing the video for Joey in the wee hours.

It captivated me then and it still does.

Freur – Doot Doot
from Freur