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.


June 23, 1984

June 26, 2011

As my personal, week-long wake listening to the E Street Band winds down, I thought that I’d pull up the Billboard Hot 100 for a corresponding week from a year in the early ’80s and examine the songs that were debuts.

Twenty-seven years ago this week, I was undoubtedly pushing the durability of the cassette of Born In The U.S.A. that I’d had for two weeks to the limit.

(much of that wear and tear occurring on side two’s opening salvo of No Surrender and Bobby Jean)

Over the previous year, I had begun to move away from Top 40 when it came to the radio, spending more time locked into the album rock stations and – when the reception was good enough – one of the first few alternative rock outlets in the country.

But, despite my broadening musical horizons, I was still quite aware of most of the songs that were hits. So, here are the songs which debuted on the Hot 100 during the week of June 23, 1984…

(with a tip of the chapeau to whiteray at Echoes In The Wind )

R.E.M. – So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)
from Reckoning
(debuted #95, peaked #78, 5 weeks on chart)

I’m not sure if I had heard R.E.M. in 1984. I know that I knew the name as their debut album Murmur had gotten a lot of press a year earlier and my buddy Bosco was an early champion of the band.

Perhaps I’d heard them during the nine months that I’d been listening to 97X, but I doubt that the offbeat Georgians would have resonated with me at the time. Over the next several years, though, I tentatively became a fan of R.E.M. and, by the time I got to college, I was devoted.

(because, in 1986, that was the law)

But R.E.M. became a band whose each new release – through 1998’s Up – was an immediate purchase. The jangly, mysterious So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry) has long been a must on any R.E.M. compilation and I’ve always loved the lyric “Go build yourself another dream, this choice isn’t mine.”

John Waite – Missing You
from No Brakes
(debuted #89, peaked #1, 24 weeks on chart)

I vividly remember the first time I heard John Waite’s Missing You. My buddy Beej and I had met a couple of girls from another high school who had come cruising in our town (which drew kids from many nearby towns for just that purpose).

Beej had gone off with the one girl and I had spent the evening hanging with Tina, driving about in Kathy’s Chevette when, at some point, a song I didn’t recognize came on the radio. The song simply stood out and, within thirty seconds, the hypnotic melody had me hooked.

Tina and I would see each other a few more times over the summer, but Missing You would become one of the biggest hits of the year and one of the more enduring pop songs of the ’80s.

Johnny Mathis – Simple
from A Special Part Of Me
(debuted #88, peaked #81, 8 weeks on chart)

Aside from duets with Dionne Warwick and Deniece Williams (with whom he had a #1 hit with in 1978 with Too Much, Too Little, Too Late) crooner Johnny Mathis hadn’t had a Top 40 hit since 1962.

I knew some of Mathis’ music from hearing my mom playing it on occasion while growing up, but I had never heard Simple. It’s not a bad song and I could hear it being played on light pop stations at the time beside the latest from Al Jarreau.

However, ever since viewing the controversial Home episode of The X-Files, I can’t think of Johnny Mathis and not recall the use of his song Wonderful, Wonderful during one of the most disturbing murder scenes I’ve ever seen.

Yes – It Can Happen
from 90125
(debuted #85, peaked #51, 7 weeks on chart)

Even though Yes had their heydey in the ’70s and were split by the time I really started paying attention, I was familiar with the band beyond the radio stuff as my buddy Streuss was a big fan.

(I recall his ongoing search for a copy of their Tormato album)

Then 90125 brought the reunited band to a new audience aided by the production of Trevor Horn and MTV. I think most of us owned a copy at the time and, though I’m still a bit burned out on Owner Of A Lonely Heart, songs like Leave It, Our Song, and the shimmering It Can Happen (complete with sitar) sound pretty good a quarter century on.

Lionel Richie – Stuck On You
from Can’t Slow Down
(debuted #72, peaked #3, 19 weeks on chart)

Somewhere, I read a piece lamenting the diminished communal experience of terrestrial radio which noted that, in 1984, whether you liked the man’s music or not, we all lived through the string of hits by Lionel Richie together.

Van Halen – Panama
from 1984
(debuted #52, peaked #13, 15 weeks on chart)

Panama immediately makes me think of MTV as the channel finally became available in our town in 1984. That summer, I must have seen the video for the song several hundred times (and we didn’t even have cable). I’d go over to my friend Beej’s house, we’d turn on MTV, and – more often than not – we’d hear the drone of the airplane that opened the video before the band crashed into the song.

What odds would you have gotten in Vegas that a year later, the original Van Halen – experiencing their greatest commercial success with 1984 – would be no more?


Little Guitars

June 16, 2011

When you grow up in a town of three thousand people and go to school with five hundred kids from that same small town, there are few, if any, strangers.

I more than likely met Brian when I started school at the age of seven.

We attended grade school together for eight years, sometimes ending up in the same homeroom and, even if we weren’t, our paths still crossed daily in the halls, cafeteria, or the random pick-up game of hoops on the playground.

Brian and I weren’t close friends but, when happenstance threw us together, we generally got along well.

Like most of the kids with whom we attended grade school, Brian and I moved on to the same high school. Our lockers weren’t more than a spitwad’s shot of each other and we had plenty of common friends.

Yet I remember nothing of him from those years. At some point, his family moved out of state and he would graduate elsewhere.

I probably hadn’t thought of Brian in fifteen years when my mom mentioned in a phone conversation that he had apparently killed himself. I think that all I said was “Huh” and my mom continued on, commencing to, like clockwork, grill me on the weather.

I don’t believe I’ve thought of Brian since that conversation which must have been ten years or more ago.

Then, a few days ago Van Halen’s Little Guitars – newly added to the iPod – shuffled up. The song had been on the band’s Diver Down which had been released during the spring of ’82 when we had been finishing up eighth grade.

I can only hazily recall what Brian looked like, but I can vividly picture him acting out Little Guitars in a homeroom game of charades one rainy afternoon.

If your life does flash before your eyes when it ends, as the credits to that flick roll for me, Brian will have made a handful of scenes, had a few lines, and end up listed as “Kid Playing Little Guitars”

Little did any of us know that there would be only one more Van Halen album with David Lee Roth after Diver Down.

(until a rumored reunion album – sans Michael Anthony – arrives this autumn)

Until such an album does or doesn’t materialize, here are four random song from the original incarnation of Van Halen…

Van Halen – Dancing In The Street
from Diver Down

Diver Down might have been Van Halen’s fifth album, but as the first four were released when I had little interest in music, it was essential my first exposure to Eddie and Diamond Dave.

The group had already had a smash that spring with their take on Roy Orbison’s (Oh) Pretty Woman and their version of Martha & The Vandellas Dancing In The Street seemed to be a declaration that summer was upon us – gurgling synthesizers, Eddie’s guitar heroics, and David Lee Roth’s vocal howl served the song well, successfully remaking the Motown classic as a hard rock anthem.

Van Halen – Little Guitars
from Diver Down

I suppose that it’s only fitting that Little Guitars, the song that tripped my memory banks, would pop up.

Diver Down was a mixed bag of an album that was never meant to be. When Pretty Woman – intended as a stopgap single while the band took a break – became a hit, Van Halen’s label pushed to quickly record a full album.

Little Guitars, though hardly essential Van Halen, is bright, loose, and sounds like a laid-back summer night.

Van Halen – Eruption
from Van Halen

One hundred and three seconds of sheer wickedness.

Sure it spawned legions of half-baked guitar apostles, but I can only imagine what it must have been like to have heard Eruption when it was first released.

Van Halen – Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love
from Van Halen

By the time I started listening to music, Van Halen had done their best stuff, so I discovered the first four albums over the ensuing years. I never really committed to the band (most likely because several friends were rabid to the point of grating about them).

I’ve probably spent more time listening to those early Van Halen albums in the last five years as I did during the twenty-five years previous. The more that time passes, the more I’m convinced that the original Van Halen was one of the truly great bands.

Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love is a sheer, sonic, adrenaline rush of a song with a nihilistic streak that’s gritty and menacing.