The Remains Of The Day

November 24, 2012

Years ago, while studying in Singapore, a half-dozen of us took off to Thailand for a stretch.

During the last few days of the junket, several of us were verging on cashed, including me and my buddy Vince. To maximize our minimal funds and thus afford passage back to Singapore, we put into effect a plan to not eat before sunset each day.

(any similarities to an observance of Ramadan would have ended hours earlier at the pool’s bar)

We were at that bar late one afternoon, having a pint as the sun edged toward the horizon and anticipating grabbing some dinner. Several nights earlier our group had discovered a pizza place not far from the beach.

Babylon Pizza could have been located in the States. Open to the street, it was filled with wooden tables, checked tablecloths, and lots of brick. They served the only good pizza we had eaten in six months.

The impending feast caused the conversation between Vince and I to become about Thanksgiving. We sat at the bar, stomachs growling, ticking off the dishes that made the holiday a glorious one. One of us would describe an item in detail as the other nodded in agreement, struggling not to drool.

We reached the conclusion, though, that as wonderful as Thanksgiving might be, the best meal of the day was later, often after everyone had gone to bed and the house was still. It would then be into the kitchen to pile a plate high with leftovers from the fridge.

And, this year, I invoked that tradition. With Paloma and the animals slumbering, I shuffled out to the kitchen and prepared a late-night feast.

As I topped it all off with some gravy, I paused and raised the ladle in a toast to Vince before heading into the living room and settling in to watch Gonzaga and Clemson in some holiday hoops tournament.

It was the perfect ending to a lovely day.

Here are four songs by bands who had success as leftovers following the departure of well-known lead singers…

Genesis – Follow You, Follow Me
from …And Then There Were Three… (1978)

The first Top 40 hit for Genesis in the States, Follow You, Follow Me came after Peter Gabriel’s exit and the reduction of the band to a trio, an incarnation that would have considerable commercial success in the ensuing decade. I imagine it caused considerable angst for the long-time fans of the progressive act.

Follow You, Follow Me is a song that I’ve always adored. It’s mysterious, distinctive, and hypnotic.

Van Halen – Why Can’t This Be Love
from 5150 (1986)

Music fans can (have and will) argue about the quality of the Sammy Hagar-led version of Van Halen as opposed to the output of the band’s music when fronted by David Lee Roth, but there’s little denying that the band’s second act garnered them a more mainstream audience and sold a lot of albums.

The pulsating Why Can’t This Be Love served as Van Hagar’s introduction to the world when it hit radio in early 1986.

Marillion – Easter
from Seasons End (1989)

I actually grabbed a copy of Marillion’s Seasons End while on that trip to Thailand, completely unaware that lead singer Fish had left the progressive band until I read the liner notes.

Fish’s departure would have received little mention or been of much interest in the States where Marillion had little more than a cult following. I had only become aware of Marillion from the scant airplay of their song Kayleigh in 1985 and seeing the band open for Rush at the time.

With new lead singer Steve Hogarth, Marillion continued to have success in their native UK into the ’90s including having a hit with the lovely, elegiac Easter.

10,000 Maniacs – More Than This
from Love Among the Ruins (1997)

As a college student in the latter half of the ’80s, I was quite familiar with alternative folk rockers 10,0000 Maniacs who were darlings of the burgeoning college rock scene. Mainstream success eluded the band until issuing their MTV Unplugged set in 1993 and scoring a hit with a cover of the Patti Smith/Bruce Springsteen composition Because The Night.

When lead singer Natalie Merchant set out on a solo career, 10,000 Maniacs tagged Mary Ramsey, who had played violin and viola as well as adding backing vocals on MTV Unplugged, as their new vocalist.

As Merchant was selling millions with her solo debut Tigerlily, easily eclipsing the commercial fortunes of her former band, 10,000 Maniacs notched a second Top 40 hit in the States as Ramsey gave voice to the band’s version of Roxy Music’s More Than This.

Advertisements

May 22, 1982

May 26, 2012

As I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.

I nicked the concept from Chris at 70’s Music Mayhem who uses the format with far greater attention to detail as he works his way through the ’70s.

The first few years of the ’80s was when pop radio provided much of the music for me and Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 was appointment listening. Thirty years ago, twelve songs debuted on the Hot 100…

Leslie Pearl – If The Love Fits Wear It
from Words And Music (1982)
(debuted #90, peaked #28, 16 weeks on chart)

I know nothing about Leslie Pearl.

If I didn’t know If The Love Fits Wear It, I might believe Leslie Pearl was the name of a character pitched as a “female James Bond” for some proposed movie that never materialized.

But I do know If The Love Fits Wear It. I’d hear it on occasion as its soft rock style was well suited to the sound favored on our hometown radio station before it went full-frontal country a few years later.

It wasn’t much my cup of tea as a fourteen-year old guy in 1982, but now I find it a pleasant if undistinctive momento from the time.

Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
(debuted #89, peaked #37, 13 weeks on chart)

I was surprised to find that Nice Girls only got to #37, as it was all over the radio stations I was listening to during the summer of ’82.

It’s not surprising that the debut album by the duo of American singer Deborah Berg and British pianist Julian Marshall would find success, though, as it boasted an impressive array of noted session players like Abe Laboriel, Jeff Porcaro, and Jim Keltner as well as guest appearances by Donald Fagen and Rick Derringer.

Tying it all together was producer Gary Katz, who had a lengthy resume working with Steely Dan and, though it lacks the lyrical bite of Becker and Fagen, Nice Girls is similarly sophisticated pop.

(Paloma loved the song when I played it for her but didn’t recall hearing it in the ’80s)

Kim Wilde – Kids In America
from Kids In America (1982)
(debuted #88, peaked #25, 18 weeks on chart)

We didn’t know much about Kim Wilde when she arrived with the New Wave bubblegum of her song Kids In America. She was a comely blonde and I imagine that’s all we needed to know.

But we did love the song.

It bounded along.

It had a chanted chorus.

It was about kids in America and we happened to be kids in America.

The J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue
from Freeze Frame (1981)
(debuted #87, peaked #40, 11 weeks on chart)

The R&B-laced blues-rock of the J. Geils Band earned them comparisons to the Rolling Stones and throughout the ’70s the Boston band was a popular live act with the occasional hit song.

In late ’81, the group released Freeze Frame and scored major pop radio success with Centerfold – one of the biggest songs of the year – and the title track.

The third track pulled from Freeze Frame was the mid-tempo ballad Angel In Blue which found its inspiration in doo-wop. Though the song failed to equal the success of the prevous two singles, the lovely, melancholic 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 long mentally linked the unnamed waitress in Angel In Blue to Brandy in the hit by Looking Glass)

The Greg Kihn Band – Happy Man
from Kihntinued (1982)
(debuted #86, peaked #62, 7 weeks on chart)

Two of my friends were rabid fans of the work of power pop heros Greg Kihn Band even in 1982. I knew the band – as most people probably did – for the insanely hooky The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ‘Em) from a year earlier.

I don’t recall ever hearing Happy Man, but it’s certainly in the same vein as The Breakup Song and far more appealing to me than the shuffling dance-rock of Jeopardy, which would be a mammoth hit for the band the following spring.

The Gap Band – Early In The Morning
from Gap Band IV (1982)
(debuted #83, peaked #24, 14 weeks on chart)

There was essentially one R&B station in our listening area and it rarely caught my ear when I’d surf the channels. The pop stations I was listening to would play the hits, but I don’t remember hearing the funky cool and percussive Early In The Morning much at the time.

(which is too bad)

Jon And Vangelis – I’ll Find My Way Home
from The Friends Of Mr. Cairo (1981)
(debuted #81, peaked #51, 8 weeks on chart)

Jon And Vangelis is a duo, so they have that in common with Hall & Oates.

However, this duo is comprised of the lead singer for Yes and the man best-known for the theme from Chariots Of Fire and, unlike the singles of Hall & Oates, I’ll Find My Way Home is utterly devoid of a hook.

(though it is jam-packed with New Age sentiments)

Melissa Manchester – You Should Hear How She Talks About You
from Hey Ricky (1982)
(debuted #76, peaked #5, 25 weeks on chart)

Melissa Manchester was also an act which I associated with the hometown radio station. Her mellow hits like Midnight Blue and Don’t Cry Out Loud were staples I’d hear a breakfast as a kid.

You Should Hear How She Talks About You sounded nothing like those melodramatic ballads. It was upbeat, synthesized dance-pop and it seemed like Manchester was on Solid Gold every other week that summer performing the song.

Van Halen – Dancing In The Street
from Diver Down (1982)
(debuted #74, peaked #38, 11 weeks on chart)

Van Halen’s Diver Down was the first of the band’s albums to be released after my interest in music had become more than passive. So thirty years ago, I was far better acquainted with the band for their recent cover of Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman from earlier that spring than stuff from their classic catalog.

And I have no doubt that I had yet to be introduced to Martha & The Vandellas when I heard Van Halen’s version of Dancing In The Street.

I still love their remaking the Motown classic as a hard rock anthem complete with gurgling keyboards, Eddie’s guitar heroics, and David Lee Roth’s vocal howl.

(a position that is likely considered blasphemy to many)

Neil Diamond – Be Mine Tonight
from On The Way To The Sky (1981)
(debuted #73, peaked #35, 11 weeks on chart)

I vividly recall hearing a lot of Neil Diamond’s hits from the ’70s from the vantage point of the backseat of the car as songs like Cracklin’ Rosie, Song Sung Blue, and You Don’t Bring Me Flowers streamed from the soft rock stations my parents seemed to favor.

By 1982, I had (mostly) wrested control of the radio from the parents and I would have been far more intent upon finding Kids In America somewhere on the dial than Be Mine Tonight.

Journey – Still They Ride
from Escape (1981)
(debuted #72, peaked #19, 14 weeks on chart)

Of course I loved Journey in the ’80s. I was in junior high and high school when Escape and Frontiers were multi-million selling albums and allegiance to the band was hardly uncommon.

Like J. Geils Band, as summer arrived in 1982, Journey was still having hits from an album released before Thanksgiving break. Still They Ride – which I’d already been hearing for months – was the latest hit from the monstrously successful Escape,

Though I dug Journey and had worn out a cassette of Escape, I wasn’t too enamored with Still They Ride and often skipped it. Three decades later, I have considerably more affection for the wistful song that builds to a rather dramatic crescendo.

Alabama – Take Me Down
from Take Me Down (1982)
(debuted #69, peaked #18, 13 weeks on chart)

During the first couple years of the ’80s, our hometown radio began to shift from Top 40 to light rock to, eventually, whatever was passing for country at the time. Alabama managed to fit into all three formats and, thus, I was used to hearing Feels So Right, Love In The First Degree, and the laid-back, slightly twangy Take Me Down on the kitchen radio.

(not that I was particularly happy about it)


Children Of The Corn

April 18, 2012

Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction was released in late summer of 1987, months before I started my sophomore year of college and a year before Sweet Child O’ Mine became a smash.

I started working in a record store that autumn and, not surprisingly, most of the music to which I was listening was more likely to be seen in video form on MTV’s 120 Minutes, not Headbangers Ball.

My introduction to Guns N’ Roses came from our manager who would blare Appetite as soon as the store would close. I dug the sonic adrenaline rush of the opening Welcome To The Jungle, but I dismissed the band as just another pile of hair.

By the following autumn – with Sweet Child O’ Mine‘s breakthrough – Guns N’ Roses had reached the masses.

(our manager had fled town after supposedly embezzling store funds)

In the spring of ’89, with Appetite For Destruction still selling enough to be in the Top Ten, the EP G N’ R Lies was released and I became a fan.

For the next half-dozen years or so, Guns N’ Roses were a staple of the pop culture landscape, much of the time for something lead singer Axl Rose had done, like start a riot.

(or hadn’t, like show for a concert)

Despite all of the nonsense, I couldn’t help but pull for Axl throughout the years.

Perhaps he was some spoiled, megalomanical brat.

Perhaps he was simply misunderstood.

But, he was a fellow Hoosier.

I could picture Axl as some small-town ne’er-do-well who might have hung out with my childhood buddy Will’s older brother.

And I couldn’t see the opening of the video for Welcome To The Jungle – Axl, a long-haired Midwestern punk stepping off a Greyhound in seedy mid-’80s Hollywood – and not think of a college housemate, a long-haired Midwestern punk and fifth-year senior working the closing shift at a Pizza Hut, at the time.

Axl was some guy I might have known who had made it out and was in the biggest band in the world.

As Axl and Guns N’ Roses were first taking the world by storm, I had never been more than a few hundred miles from home.

Most of the kids with whom I had grown up, most of the kids with whom Axl had grown up could likely make such a claim. The outside world was just that.

Our world was corn and basketball.

I love both, but there was a lot of corn, fields of the stuff in all directions – no matter where you live – in much of the state.

(there was just so…much…corn…)

It can make a kid growing up there a bit touched.

Sitting on the couch, blowing off class and watching MTV, seeing Axl shriek a love song to the daughter of one of the Everly Brothers as he shimmied with the mic stand…it seemed strange to think that he was once one of us.

It’s still hard not to pull for him.

Here are four songs from acts with Indiana connections…

The Jackson 5 – I Want You Back
from Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5 (1969)

I probably first knew of The Jackson 5 through their Saturday morning cartoon and likely didn’t realize that Michael and his siblings were from Gary, Indiana – no more than a couple hours away.

There’s really nothing to write about the ebullient pop/soul/bubblegum classic I Want You Back that hasn’t been said, but it’s still amazing to think that it’s a ten-year old singing the song.

Van Halen – Runnin’ With The Devil
from Van Halen (1978)

Yes, David Lee Roth is a Hoosier.

Indiana 1, California 0

Blind Melon – Galaxie
from Soup (1995)

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

Their follow-up album, Soup, received good notices, but was struggling to replicate its predecessor’s success 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 draws me in each time I hear it.

Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds – Shuffle It All
from Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds (1992)

Debates about who does or doesn’t constitute Guns N’ Roses aside, guitarist and co-founder Izzy Stradlin was arguably the most musically indispensible member of the band.

Stradlin walked away from Guns N’ Roses not long after the release of Use Your Illusion in the autumn of ’91. Stradlin’s self-titled release with his band Ju Ju Hounds – with appearances from Ron Wood and Nicky Hopkins – was a favorite with the staff of the record store where I was working.

And, Ian McLagan adds Hammond on the laid-back and groovy Shuffle It All.