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.


The Wonder Of Oz

July 21, 2010

Australia has been on my radar since the early ’70s, when my father bandied about the idea of moving the family there. He had a gig secured, but, at the eleventh hour, my mom put the kibosh on the venture.

I was five and pissed. Cornfields and cows did not match the allure of koalas and kangaroos.

I don’t think Australia was of much consequence to me again until later in the decade and the success of Olivia Newton-John in Grease and the dominance of the Bee Gees in pop culture.

I was eleven. Music and girls were beginning to occupy more of my attention. Olivia made quite an impression.

(twenty years later, she came into a record store where I worked and was every bit as fetching in the flesh)

Over the next few years, as I listened to more and more music, Australian acts like AC/DC, Rick Springfield, Little River Band, Air Supply, and Olivia were staples on the pop and rock radio stations I listened to.

1982 was Australia’s breakthrough year, though.

Our family trekked to the World’s Fair that summer. I’m sure that the world offered up all kinds of groovy stuff, but the only thing I really recall was thinking that, of all of the countries with exhibits, the women at the Australian pavillion were the most lovely.

(I was fourteen and now lamented a life deprived of koalas, kangaroos, and sheilas)

1982 was also the summer that Men At Work arrived in America and soon everyone was spreading vegemite on their toast.

Once I left school and moved on, I got to know a handful of people that were Australian expats. These folks did nothing to dispel my belief that I’d have been cool, too, if I’d grown up in Sydney instead of Sticksville here in the States.

(one of them seems to – literally – know every musician in Australia)

But, though I’ve come close to making the trek to the Australia, I’ve had to admire and imagine the country from afar, living vicariously through one friend’s old blog and a slew of music throughout the years.

(if anyone from Australia is reading and has a gig for two hard-working kids from the States, I think I could convince Paloma and the cats to make the trip)

Here is a quartet of songs by some Australian bands that I simply felt like hearing today…

Little River Band – The Night Owls
from Time Exposure

I knew Little River Band for songs like Lonesome Loser and Cool Change, but The Night Owls came out in the autumn of ’81 when I was really starting to pay attention to music.

I totally took to the song. It was a hit at an age when staying up late into the night was an still an exotic, mysterious venture.

Hoodoo Gurus – Bittersweet
from Mars Needs Guitars

Though Hoodoo Gurus arrived smack dab in my college years and got a lot of press, I don’t really recall hearing them much aside from the occasional trip home when I could listen to 97X.

Other than Bittersweet, I own nothing by the band, but I have taken a mental note (which I will likely lose) to keep an eye out for them when shopping for used vinyl.

INXS – The Stairs
from The Greatest Hits

INXS was simply a fantastic singles band and they left behind a string of songs during the ’80s that still bend my ear when they shuffle up on the iPod. And, I wouldn’t hesitate to put the stunning Don’t Change on a list of favorite songs from the decade.

The Stairs, though, might be the second favorite thing that Michael Hutchence and crew put out. I was pretty burned out on INXS when X, the follow-up to the mammothly successful Kick, was released. The album made me yawn.

But The Stairs had me the first time we played it in the record store where I was working at the time – the percolating intro building to a noisy buzz…Hutchence’s charismatic, impassioned vocals…the hypnotic, determined march of the song and a bit of arena rock guitar to drive it all onward…

The Black Sorrows – Harley And Rose
from Harley And Rose

I had never heard of The Black Sorrows when I grabbed a promo copy of Harley And Rose from a bin of CDs in another record store where I was working. There was no particular reason other than it was up for grabs.

One listen and I filed it as a keeper. Over the past twenty years, I’ve essentially forgotten about it and never came across the band again. But, here and there, the title song would pop to mind and I’d throw it on (or retrieve it from the mp3 catalog).

Checking their Wikipedia page, it appears that Joe Camilleri, the heart and sole constant member of the group, has had a long and distinguished career in Australia, so I suppose I need to make a mental note on him, too.

(and I need to ask my friend about him – he likely knows or, perhaps, has played with him)

Apparently The Black Sorrows evolved from Camilleri, who had already had success, and some friends who would gather and play covers of R&B, zydeco and blues songs.

The wistful Harley And Rose makes me think that it might be the result had Paddy MacAloon of Prefab Sprout grown up in some dusty Australia town and started out in a band playing covers of R&B, zydeco, and blues songs.