Life Post Rapture (It’s Not Just The Pious Who Are Bummed)

May 26, 2011

Since that whole Rapture dealio surprisingly fizzled, I can’t help but think that the real losers were the non-pants wearing inhibitants of this planet.

Imagine how elated the animal kingdom would have been had several hundred million humans simply vanished.

I picture camels, cockatoos, coyotes – all creatures great and small – breaking into song and dance like cartoon characters at the idea of fewer of us humans mucking up the scene.

Word would obviously be spread by the whales as they are able to communicate to all of the world’s oceans through their song. I know this because Charlotte Rampling’s professor character said so in Orca.

(I feel that a Dino De Laurentiis’ flick I saw as a kid at the drive-in in 1977 is a credible source for ichthyological information)

I thought that Prof. Rampling also told the hungover college kids something about some philosopher who had speculated that God would return to earth as a whale.

Maybe The Old Fellow Who Cried Judgment Day needs to factor that concept into his calculations.

In the meantime, the animals no doubt have champagne on ice. Here are four animal songs…

The Judybats – Animal Farm
from Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow

I’ve stumbled across songs from Southern jangle rockers The Judybats twice of late as I’ve looked for songs to post and I’m surprised that its taken me nearly twenty years to discover them.

(especially since I’ve had Down In The Shacks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow since it was released in ’92 when I snagged a promo copy)

Better late than never, though, and the charming Animal Farm is not only a cover of a song by The Kinks, but it’s nowhere near as dystopian as the classic novel of the same name.

Talking Heads – Animals
from Fear Of Music

One of my high school buddies was a rabid fan of Talking Heads, so I was familiar with the band’s catalog before the mainstream success of the stellar Burning Down The House and its parent album Speaking In Tongues.

I dig The Heads and own a good chunk of the band’s catalog, but there is a portion of their output that is difficult to embrace. If I had to choose one Talking Heads’ album, though, I would likely opt for the textured Fear Of Music.

Somehow I’d forgotten about the delightfully paranoid Animalson which David Byrne expresses his great distrust of the titular creatures – “I know the animals are laughing at us” – and concern that, since “they’re living on nuts and berries” and “they say they don’t need money,” “they’re setting a bad example.”

(damned socialist animals!)

The Fixx – Calm Animals
from Calm Animals

I’ve long liked the idea of The Fixx more than the actual band and much of their music. Their albums were uneven and I didn’t like One Thing Leads To Another even before it got played into the ground in the autumn of ’83.

But, when things truly jelled, The Fixx had some killer tracks – Red Skies, Saved By Zero, Secret Separation – and, listening to it for the first time in years, the more rocking Calm Animals is pretty cool.

Def Leppard – Animal
from Hysteria

It’s Def Leppard, man. I mean, once we’re gone, the animals are certainly going to have a major blowout and why wouldn’t they throw on some Def Leppard?

Once The Future Of American Music…

August 21, 2010

In late ’83. MTV wouldn’t be available to us for another six months or so, but we did have Night Flight on USA Network, which aired music videos on late Friday and Saturday nights and into the next morning.

Actually, our family didn’t have cable, but my buddy Beej had Night Flight and I had Beej’s second-hand accounts of the bands he had seen and heard, bands which usually didn’t get played on radio.

(at least not on the radio available to us)

One which I remember him mentioning was a video for a song called The Walls Came Down by a band named The Call.

I don’t think I would actually hear the song for several more years.

But I knew the name and I would hear plenty of The Call three years later when the quartet released Reconciled in early 1986. The rock stations to which I was listening gave a lot of airplay to that album’s I Still Believe (Great Design) and Everywhere I Go.

The Call seemed to be on the verge of stardom. Their sound was widescreen and the themes were big. The Call’s lyrics had definite spiritual and political overtones delivered with a bit of fire and brimstone courtesy of lead singer Michael Been’s husky vocals.

More than a few folks connected the dots across the Atlantic to Ireland and U2 who were a year away from their breakthrough with The Joshua Tree.

Peter Gabriel had supposedly referred to The Call as “the future of American music” in the early ’80s when he chose them to open for him.

It didn’t quite happen.

During the autumn of my freshman year of college, The Call released Into The Woods, a challenging record that wasn’t as immediate to me as Reconciled had been.

The only time I heard a song from Into The Woods on the radio was when a DJ friend of mine aired the odd track – usually the moody, gospel-tinged In The River – on his weekly campus radio show.

The Call almost broke in 1989 when the anthemic title track from Let The Day Begin almost reached the Top 40 in the States, but a year later the band would go on a decade-plus hiatus following the release of Red Moon.

I owned everything from Reconciled to Red Moon and thought that The Call should have had more widespread success.

It didn’t seem as though I was alone.

The Band’s Garth Hudson played keyboards on the group’s first three albums and his former bandmate Robbie Robertson guested on guitar on another.

Peter Gabriel, Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr, Bono, T-Bone Burnett, and even actor/musician Harry Dean Stanton appeared on records by The Call.

I haven’t listened to some of those songs in twenty years, but reading of Michael Been’s sudden death in the news Friday morning prompted me to revisit most of them.

Touted by many as one of the more underrated bands of their era, The Call certainly deserved a wider audience. Here are a quintet of songs from The Call…

The Call – The Walls Came Down
from Modern Romans

The song that first garnered The Call widespread attention and a minor hit single thanks to a video that popped up on various outlets, the punchy The Walls Came Down alluded to the biblical as well as then-current events. It was a fusion of images and ideas that would be a trademark of the band.

Thirty years later, only the names have changed.

The Call – I Still Believe (Great Design)
from Reconciled

Anyone who was going to the movies in the late ’80s likely is familiar with I Still Believe through its use in the movie The Lost Boys. In the movie (and accompanying soundtrack), the song is performed by the muscled, shirtless saxophonist Tim Capello, who was – at that time – a member of Tina Turner’s band.

For The Call, the resilient song with its determined, chugging melody got a lot of radio play for the band.

The Call – The Morning
from Reconciled

Reconciled was not only The Call’s most commercially successful release, it also might have been the group’s finest moment musically. Maybe it’s the knowledge that Been and drummer Scott Musick were from Oklahoma, but I always pictured the band playing in a raw, windswept, Dust Bowl setting with everything in sepia tones (particularly on Reconciled).

Leading off Reconciled was the thumping The Morning which recalls Simple Minds’ Waterfront whose lead singer Jim Kerr provided backing vocals – along with Peter Gabriel – on the album’s Everywhere I Go. On The Morning, Robbie Robertson provided guitar.

The Call – Let The Day Begin
from Let The Day Begin

More than a few politicians – most notably Al Gore in his 2000 presidential bid – have appropriated the dramatic Let The Day Begin as a campaign theme. It’s understandable as the dynamic track is an infectious and rousing call to action.

The song was a rock radio staple during the summer of 1989, but it might have been a missed opportunity. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I was told that the song’s success took their record label by surprise and – as the song was clicking with listeners – there wasn’t enough product in stores to meet demand which stalled momentum.

The Call – What’s Happened To You?
from Red Moon

The ’90s began with U2 as one of the biggest bands in the world and The Call, who had drawn comparisons to the Irish band, confined to a cult following. The two acts intersected when Bono guested on vocals for What’s Happened To You?

Though less raucous and more rustic than previous albums, Red Moon was no less impassioned. The self-assured What’s Happened To You? bristles with a joyous sense of self-discovery and personal growth.

Red Moon would serve as a close on The Call who wouldn’t record together for another decade and, then, only issue one more album of new material. Michael Been – who had portrayed the apostle John in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ – would do a bit more acting and pursue a solo career that found no more success than The Call had.

Nonetheless, the group left behind a rich catalog that, unfortunately, many listeners will only be discovering in the wake of Been’s death.

The End Of The Line

August 7, 2010

During my years in college and post-college, I spent a decade working in record stores and it was usually true that nothing could rekindle interest in a career like death.

A wave of customers searching for some act that had slipped from the radar of the general public usually didn’t bode well for the artist, especially if the customers making the requests appeared to be setting foot in a record store for the first time in years.

One morning, working with The Drunken Frenchman, we had several customers asking about Peter, Paul & Mary. I wondered aloud whether a plane had gone down with the folk trio on board.

As he had also worked in various record stores for years, The Frenchman realized it was entirely possible.

Ten minutes later, a customer came up to the counter asking him about Puff The Magic Dragon.

“Were they killed in a plane crash?”

He was quite concerned.

(in fact, a concert performance of theirs had aired on PBS the night before)

The store in which we worked was probably one of the thirty largest in the country. The top-selling albums each week would sometimes sell as many as five- or six-hundred copies.

The ripple effect when an act died was immediate.

I spent several years as the head buyer, responsible for ordering everything but classical and the news of a death would result in a phone call from one of the distribution reps.

Even for more obscure acts, I usually felt obligated to order – at least – a few token titles. If the artist had a catalog with releases on numerous labels, sometimes there would be three or four calls.

There were a lot of artists that shuffled on during those years who were quite notable – Frank Zappa, Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia – and a lot more of them who existed on the fringe.

(The Frenchman was particularly distressed over the passing of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Viv Stanshall)

It could be difficult to predict the Dead Man’s Bounce.

Our store didn’t see much of an uptick in demand for The Dead after Garcia died, but, then again, each month we would burn through a boxlot of Skeletons From The Closet: The Best Of Grateful Dead; another one in combined sales from the rest of their catalog.

When Blind Melon’s lead singer Shannon Hoon died in ’95 – just three years after the success of No Rain – it couldn’t revive interest in the band’s recently released Soup.

(I honestly believe that everyone was still sick of “the Bee Girl” video)

In fact, of all the artists that died during those years, the one whose death seemed to goose sales the most was one that I would have never expected – John Denver.

Here are four songs from acts whose passing occurred during those years when I was living in a slacker’s paradise, working in record stores)…

Traveling Wilburys – End Of The Line
from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

Roy Orbison is one of the few artists that I vividly recall my parents playing while I was growing up, so I was somewhat more familiar with him than a lot of my peers in 1988.

As that year wound down, I was working in my first record store and Orbison was in the midst of a serious comeback. In December, a heart attack took the legendary singer.

In early ’89, two months after his death, Orbison’s Mystery Girl album was issued and would spawn the hit single You Got It. Several months prior to his passing, he had also found success as one-fifth of the supergroup Traveling Wilburys.

Orbison had just passed away when Traveling Wilburys had released their second single, the lovely End Of The Line, and his fellow Wilburys noted Lefty’s absence with several poignant visual nods in the song’s video.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Superstition
from The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Volume 2

The circumstances are fuzzy now, but a roommate were either discussing guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan or, perhaps, even listening to him in the record store where we both worked when we learned of his death.

(for quite some time, we felt somewhat responsible)

Sadly, Vaughan had finally gotten his life untracked, was playing better than he ever had, and had just fulfilled a life-long dream of recording an album with his older brother and fellow guitarist Jimmie when he perished in a post-gig helicopter crash.

A month later, Family Style, the lone album under the Vaughan Brother moniker would arrive to commercial and critical acclaim.

Personally, I thought that Vaughan’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic Superstition to be a particularly inspired choice.

Blind Melon – Galaxie
from Soup

I might have been one of the few people at the time that didn’t reach a point where No Rain and the “Bee Girl” would provoke visceral, involuntary rage. I still find the song winsome and charming.

Their follow-up Soup had received good notices, but had struggled to find an audience when charismatic lead singer Shannon Hoon overdosed in late October, 1995.

As a fellow Hoosier, I felt especially bummed out at the news.

Galaxie, supposedly inspired by Hoon’s car, alternated between a melody that shifted from jittery to almost ethereal and back again with an effortlessness that hooks me again each time I hear it.

Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
from Grace

I’ve told tale before of the good fortune I had to not only see Jeff Buckley shortly before Grace‘s release but to also have a few drinks with the remarkably talented singer.

Like Nick Drake, the discovery of Buckley by most listeners post-mortem seems to have gained momentum more so over the years and as a result of continued praise from critics.

And, like Drake, Buckley’s slight body of work – Grace was the only album he released during his lifetime – left those new fans with the nagging void of unfulfilled promise.