Monday, June 17, 2019

5 Albums That Can't Possibly Be Turning 30 This Year!


It's hard to believe that 1989 was thirty years ago. While, at the time, you could feel that the peak day-glo, Swatch-watch-wearing, yuppie dreams of the early '80s were long gone and in their place an even more jaded set of aspirations lacking in all subtlety and nuance. 



Commercially speaking, we'd traded Missing Persons and Duran Duran for Warrant and White Lion, A Flock of Seagulls for a Motley Crue, and "Don't You Want Me Baby" for "Girl You Know Its True". 

R.E.M. had signed to the Bunny, the B-52's were strangely mainstream all of a sudden, and the biggest band out of New Jersey wasn't named after a street.

Even the stuff most of us liked back then sounds hilariously dated, production-wise, but there are at least five albums that haven't aged a day in thirty years, it seems. 



De La Soul - 3 Feet High And Rising

I'm not gonna lie, De La Soul helped me get into hip hop. As a musician, I was just a wee bit insulted by most of what passed for hip hop because all it did was steal from white music. Ironic, that, but if I wanted to hear somebody talk over Foreigner riffs, I could pretty much attend any backyard kegger and at least be treated to much better rhyming.

In the case of De La Soul, I recall reading one or two reviews that mentioned the trio's psychedelic influences, took one look at the cover art, and dropped the needle on the gateway drug of hip hop.

Listening to the album today is lot like watching "The Blues Brothers" movie, where you find yourself thinking time and time again that there is NO F'ING WAY that movie could be made today.

In much the same way, 3 Feet High And Rising is so chock-full of easily recognizable samples - whether they be a bass line lifted from an O'Jays tune or dialogue from a kids' cereal commercial -that they couldn't afford the manpower to clear all samples, much less pay for them.


Debbie Harry - Def, Dumb & Blonde

In a perfect world, Blondie should have been signed to Sire Records, but we'll take Debbie Harry signing to Seymour Stein's label as a consolation prize because it showed that albums with multiple producers and a cavalcade of name-brand session players doesn't always have to suck.

Admittedly, by 1989, I had come to really miss the presence of Ms. Harry, whose voice is as recognizable (and necessary for survival) to this writer as oxygen is to human lungs.

Of course, I wasn't expecting something that sounded like early Blondie or, for that matter, later Blondie, but, please let it be better than Koo-Koo (Harry's ill-fated solo debut produced by the normally solid Nile Rodgers.and Bernard Edwards) or Rockbird (whose sole US single was penned by "Big Bang Theory" and "Two & A Half Men" creator Chuck Lorre, which tells you all you need to know about said album).

Sure, Def, Dumb & Blonde is a fluffy pop confection that doesn't claim to be anything else, but it is a pure delight seeing the Chapman-produced Harry-Stein tracks out-kick the Thompson Twins crap this album was built around and how this album was a necessary step in getting Blondie back together.

In fact, Chris Stein's "Lovelight" is a stylistic tour de force that makes you wonder how long he's been holding onto such a track and which Blondie album it could have saved (The Hunter, perhaps?).


Danny Wilde - Danny Wilde

In those pre-internet days of the late 1980's, when bands got dropped, unless you were very tenacious in keeping up with their careers, you never knew what happened to them.

Thus, when power pop act Great Buildings disappeared in the early '80s after one album for Columbia, this fan was left to wonder what happened to its members until a copy of this album landed in the cut-out bins alongside a copy of his previous Geffen release, Any Man's Hunger.
Considering that I would also find his very first solo record, The Boyfriend, in yet another cut-out bin a week or so later, I not only caught up on Wilde's activities for the past seven years, but I also procured his entire solo output (three albums) for the princely sum of $8.

Considering that acts like Henry Lee Summer and other heartland rockers were all over the charts in those days, one is left wondering how the hell Danny Wilde (the album) failed to even chart.

Sure, the songs will never appeal to the Pazz and Jop crowd, but if a tune like "California Sunshine" (that, with lines like "Go to jail, make bail, have another cocktail", celebrated '80s Cali debauchery in all its wholesome glory) doesn't at least dent the Top 40, then something is definitely wrong with this picture.

I'll be the first to admit that I skip right past "Velvet Chains" every time - not because it's an awful song, but because its chorus sticks in my head for months afterwards. I can't even risk posting the song here for fear of that sticky hook burrowing its way into my head.

The rest of the album is as solid as it gets though, but good luck hearing for yourself, as this album isn't on Spotify and not all tracks can be found on YouTube.

Perhaps try your local cut-out bin. :)


Hoodoo Gurus - Magnum Cum Louder

Beginning with 1984's Stoneage Romeos, one would listen to a Hoodoo Gurus record and marvel at the stunning pop craftsmanship, the flawless production, the spirited performances, and think that there was no way the same band could surpass it, then they'd release Mars Needs Guitars and prove themselves capable of improving upon perfection.

Third album Blow Your Cool saw Elektra looking for ways to sneak the band into the Top 40, like inviting the Bangles to sing back-up on "Good Times" and "Party Machine", but all that did was get the band dropped when it didn't work.

Oh, it did one more thing by firing the band up to make one more damn perfect album in Magnum Cum Louder; a record whose only mistake was being released in the States by RCA Records.

The lead-off cut "Come Anytime" is the sort of song that guys like Burt Bacharach dream about writing, yet, despite a shit-ton of modern rock radio airplay, didn't chart as a commercial pop single.

That's right, it didn't even chart, leading the band them,selves to ask by album's end "Where's That Hit?"


Chris Isaak - Heart Shaped World

At the time of this album's release, I wasn't what you might call a Chris Isaak fan, but I appreciated what he was trying to do on his self-titled debut effort and made a mental note to keep up with his new music.

To my ears, Isaak had arrived almost fully developed on his first record while his second record actually managed to fulfill any leftover promise from the first, leaving him with nothing to do on his third album but repeat himself, right?

Wrong.

Turns out Mr. Isaak wasn't as much of a one-trick pony as we suspected and actually managed to write one of the great songs of the 20th century, "Wicked Game".

Remove "Wicked Game" from this album and Chris Isaak's career goes a completely different direction, but that's no fault of Isaak, who wrote his fucking ass off for this record and, for once, the world actually listened.


.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Who's Really To Blame for The Destruction of Master Tapes In 2008 Universal Studios Fire?


A fire on the Universal Studios lot in 2008 that was initially reported to have only reached shooting sets and a VHS storage facility did, in fact, destroy a warehouse that was home to thousands upon thousands of master recordings by artists of the modern age (post-1940), many of which were also destroyed in the fire.

What made this news so noteworthy as of yesterday was the fact that Universal covered up this fact for over ten years.

When you think about the loss of such master recordings (mostly analog tapes that contain the actual track-by-track performances for each song on a given project), it is not that far removed from the loss of an original painting by Van Gogh.

If such a painting was lost, it is true that we still have the many faithful digital copies that are used to reproduce such cultural artifacts for books and posters, but the brush strokes, the subtle transitions of color, and the texture of the canvas itself are forever lost.

In the case of such analog master recordings, the raw, unadulterated performances that one can always return to in order to savor the isolated vocal performance of an Ella Fitzgerald or the orchestral swirl from a "A Day In The Life" will always be superior to any safety or back-up analog copies that might remain.

Once a master tape is destroyed, there is literally nothing to go back to for absolute, accurate reference and you're essentially left with the aural equivalent of second or third-generation photocopies.

Since much of the industry's revenue these days comes from re-issuing material culled from such masters, the ability to remaster a project from the original master tapes is thereby impossible.

Is this really that big of a deal?

Maybe the person cranking out spreadsheets in their cubicle all day while listening to "Sunny 101" fails to see the importance of such master tapes, but the artist whose soul went into those recordings probably gives quite the shit.

I, myself, am but a wee indie artist, but I still have every master tape I have ever recorded and go to great lengths to store them and transport them to every new location I move into.

Why?

Damn, that's another great question, for which I have no easy answer, except to say that the amount of money, time, heart, soul, blood, sweet, and tears that went into each project prevents me from viewing such tapes as disposable, even after I have painstakingly transferred every single track on every single song on every single tape to digital format.

Imagine how valuable they'd be to me if my albums had actually sold as well as, say, Asia's first album.

In light of yesterday's news, more than a few well-known artists took to Twitter to voice their displeasure, including Asia's own Geoff Downes, who claimed that Universal has been unable to locate the original masters to the band's multi-platinum debut album, thereby making any such attempts to release a faithful remaster of the project impossible now.

How could this have been avoided, you ask?

Great question.

The hardest truth to face in all of this is that labels like Chess, A&M and I.R.S. could have chosen to NOT sell out for millions to their corporate overlords, who, in many cases, were foreign companies with no respect or appreciation for American culture.

Sadly, I have seen first-hand how such companies regard the artifacts of America's modern-day popular culture.

During my days in L.A., one of my projects as a long-term temp employee for a major film studio included overseeing the disposing of old metal film canisters. As my team began collecting the canisters, we noticed that there were still film rolls inside featuring legendary films from the 40's through the early 60's.

My first thought was that there must be some sort of horrible, ghastly mistake, but when I voiced my concerns to my immediate supervisor, I was "casually" reassigned to a different project the next day.

Now imagine that somewhere within the ginormous eco-system of companies like Universal, with sprawling facilities all over L.A. and surrounding areas, that something like that goes on every day, unbeknownst to the artists whose work is being destroyed and who'd be rightly offended if they knew.

Maybe tomorrow, some ambitious intern decides to impress their boss by chucking out all those cartons of original shooting scripts with some guy by the name of Orson Welles' handwritten notes to make room for a new Keurig.

Also, we need to consider that when a Japanese company swoops in and buys out one American institution after another, like CBS Records, they have no fucking intention of preserving our culture or the integrity of each master tape in their possession.

In fact, it can be argued that buying up our cultural institutions one-by-one and systematically allowing valuable artifacts of our cultural heritage to be destroyed is one way to defeat your enemy.

Thing is, we are complicit in our own cultural destruction by carrying out such duties as employees or overlooking such practices as shareholders of such publicly-traded companies.

Yes, my friends, merger-mania is ultimately to blame for the destruction of these irreplaceable masters so, as easy as it is to blame Universal for letting it happen on their watch, those labels who carelessly and, quite frankly, stupidly sold out to foreign conglomerates for a fast buck due, in most cases, to their own mismanagement, are just as much to blame for this senseless and catastrophic loss of art as Universal is for covering it up.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Death To All Power Ballads: How Soul Asylum And Guadalcanal Diary Tried To Save The Late '80s!


A lot of folks have been trying to rewrite history and, in doing so, attempt to convince us that the late '80s was nothing but gangsta rap and power ballads. Well, it was pretty much all gansta rap and power ballads, but it wasn't for a lack of effort and ingenuity from the likes of Soul Asylum and Guadalcanal Diary, who gave us the best albums of their career as the '80s were rolling their final credits.



Soul Asylum - Hang Time (A&M 1988)
After three albums, Soul Asylum had yet to prove they were anything more than "The Replacement Replacements" but, on Hang Time, all of that changed and one can almost argue that the student became the master within months of Soul Asylum inking a deal with A&M Records and entering the studio with Ed Stasium and Lenny Kaye.

Graduating to a major label gave the band just enough of a budget to present their material in all of its polished, yet ragged glory and the support system at A&M gave the band the confidence to embrace who they were instead of trying to be the Mats or Husker Du.



In that sense, Hang Time could easily be mistaken for a debut album, cancelling out all that came before and causing a ripple effect in the alternative rock community that saw just about every Midwestern four-piece band ditch their sound for one that emulated Hang Time.

Back in those days, you could rack up college radio airplay by the bucket load, get your video played on MTV's "120 Minutes", and influence a thousand bands across the land, yet still never come within a mile of the Billboard Top 200.

Despite this being an ambitious record full of great songs, the band seems to take an almost fatalistic joy in their performances, with Pirner doing his dang best to fray every last vocal cord and guitarist Dan Murphy throw every riff in his arsenal into this punk-adjacent masterpiece.


Guadalcanal Diary - Flip-Flop (Elektra 1989)

I dunno about you, but the first time I heard "Always Saturday", I thought I was gonna get real tired of hearing it get played to death on Top 40 radio, but, somehow, that day never came.

That the same band could also write and record the best damn Smithereens song the Smithereens never wrote in "The Likes Of You" yet get absolutely no mainstream traction by doing so stills defies logic.



Of course, if you happen to spin "Pretty Is As Pretty Does" without carrying that ear worm of a hook around in your head for the rest of the week, then maybe that song too didn't deserve a harder look by the Elektra brain trust. Was it ignored because the drummer (John Poe) wrote it?

Sadly, the more you listen to this album, the harder you'll be scratching your head as to how or why such a well-crafted, hooky-as-hell album wasn't a commercial success. That same year, 10,000 Maniacs' Blind Man's Zoo (also on Elektra) goes gold....


Monday, June 3, 2019

Revisiting Honeydrippers, Volume One!


In their "post-rock"careers what have Robert Plant and David Lee Roth (a la the Crazy From The Heat EP) shown that Brian Setzer and David Johansen have not? "Their asses", you say? No, but thanks for playing.

The word I was looking for was "restraint", which is not a word you see in the same sentence as the lead singers for Led Zep and Van Halen.

You normally don't attach a word like "restraint" to those monolithic, hedonistic, bigger-than-life rock stars who flew around the world in their own private jets while you and I were waiting for our trains to the bone factory.

Yet it was Robert Plant who recognized, with a little help from the dude who ran his record company (the late great Ahmet Ertegun, of course), that the time was right to go full big band on America.



With enough "fuck you" money to swear off anything remotely Zep-sounding, his solo career was best enjoyed on an album-by-album basis, with Plant at the mercy of whatever partner he'd aligned himself with now.

When your first partner is Pagey, of course, all others are bound to pale by comparison. Thus, his writing with Robbie Blunt (who?) on Pictures At Eleven made the whole affair sound like he was a guest singer on another guy's solo record.

There was enough of a Zep swagger to "Burning Down One Side" but, in the end,  both tune and album fail to deliver anything remotely resembling a chorus. Was this new Plant as ambitious as he pretended to be, we wondered? Perhaps, but "bored and eager to get out of the castle" is probably closer to the truth.

The Principle Of Moments arrived one year later like the sequel to a movie you'd already forgotten. Even so, it managed to deliver on the promise of Pictures At Eleven with a more refined and focused visual and sonic presentation. Plant knew what he wanted now and, on standout tracks like "In The Mood" and "Big Log", it all comes together.



As far back as 1981, Plant had began playing 50's rock standards in low-key club dates with his own side band The Honeydrippers. If he'd had the seemingly good sense to release a throwback album then, he could have beat Stray Cats to the rockabilly punch, but Plant wasn't thinking about exploiting the music of the past as much as simply blowing off some steam with musical friends.

Enter Ahmet Ertegun with an offer three years later to record a handful of his favorite standards and Mr. Plant suddenly knew what he had to call it: The Honeydrippers, of course.

Part of me still wonders if Plant did it to make Ahmet happy (something all artists would be keen to do, within reason) or if anything recorded for Volume One was of Plant's own choosing.

Would Plant have chosen "Sea of Love", you ask? Not if it meant that the oft-covered tune would become the most successful chart single of Plant's long and storied career, but "Rockin' At Midnight (Good Rockin' Tonight)" proved to be just as popular, so it wasn't all bad.

By the way, whose idea was it to record only five songs?

You would think for all the talent involved - Jeff Beck, Nile Rodgers, Paul Shaffer, and some cat by the name of Jimmy Page - you'd want to keep the tape rolling once you hear how sweetly Plant's voice breathes new life into material that is, quite frankly, just a wee bit long-in-the-tooth.

In hindsight, there probably could and should have been four or five FULL volumes - none of this EP crap - but, instead, the field was left wide open for Rod Stewart to come along and croak his way through endless volumes of "crap written before color TV".

Darn Robert Plant and his restraint.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

When Did Joining A Band Become A Life Sentence?


A friend of mine whose band had a couple hits is now caught in a yearly "rut" of playing the outdoor summer festivals, the casinos, the cruise ships, and he HATES IT.

"The same exact sea of faces aging right in front of me," he says, his eyes darkened by the thought. "They are a reflection of myself, my band, my youth growing smaller in the rear-view mirror.

I tell him I'd have hated it too (boning hot chicks is such a drag) but that he seems to have no qualms about cashing those checks. He and I became friends during the lean years following his band's semi-successful major label run when the band's split and the end of his marriage happened remarkably close to one another. A guy who'd actually managed to live the dream in L.A. in the mid-to-late '80s began a series of comical straight jobs, dying slowly paycheck-to-paycheck just like the rest of us.

I got to see the wave of nostalgia wash over an entire generation, raising the profile of anything remotely connected to the '80s. Of course, with the local modern rock FM powerhouse still playing your band's song, little by little, the gigs started to increase in both frequency and pay. 

Even my friend's band, whose success was more regional than national, were seemingly stuck at the soft ticket level: Ribfests, county fair midways, and the ever-popular "mall grand opening", but now they've become a favorite low bill act to help flesh out any number of '80s cruises or other such events.

My buddy's not about to rock the boat, though.

See, he has come to realize that joining a band is a life sentence, yet, for some, no amount of money is worth reopening old wounds.


In hindsight, I could have saved myself decades of heartache by snuffing out my own rock & roll dreams and just knocking around in fifteen different bands playing ten different kinds of music until all the bands I grew up idolizing began to shed original members.

By then, I'd have the skills and experience to nail any fucking audition and live out my rock & roll dreams as a non-original member of Blondie, The Cult, or, Men Without Hats.

Instead of explaining to my fellow classmates at the high school reunion how I almost did this and almost did that, I could be signing autographs on napkins as the dude you know from school who went on to perform with Sparks, the Motels, and A Flock of Seagulls.

Mike Score and three guys who grew up to be
non-original members of A Flock Of Seagulls
"You guys were great at Ribfest last year! We could hear you in between tractor pulls!"

"My daughter can't find your name on any of their good albums."

"Why isn't your face on any of the tour shirts!"

Ah, that's livin' baby.

Of course, the reason this idea escaped me at the time was because I stupidly believed that bands of my generation would never succumb to the same pitfalls that ruined every prior generation of great bands.

No band of my generation would ever split up, only to have two different members go on to form their own version of the same band, eventually leading to prolonged legal battles and bad blood. Nope. No way.

No bands of my generation would replace an iconic drummer with the guitarist's son. Nope. No way.

If only I'd had just a little less faith in my heroes at the time, I could have gone on to join them when they were eventually reduced to two original members trotting out twenty-year-old tunes to a gaggle of fifty-somethings.

But then who knew nostalgia would be the future and that every fucking band we grew up on would still be around in one cobbled together for or another because the gig money was too good not to be?


Friday, May 24, 2019

Happy Birthday To The Jam's Paul Weller!


From the age of twelve, this writer has been enamored by Paul Weller.

Oh, it never got to the point of hanging Jam posters on my walls, but if I saw that there was a new Jam, Style Council, or solo album in the bins, I grabbed it, rent money be damned.

Back then, he was still the well-dressed punk with the icy stare and songs that cut like daggers in the night. Two listens to All Mod Cons in its entirety and I was done with my Kiss phase.

Weller's unrelenting, singular vision propelled The Jam from the middle pack with the also-ran's to the Top of the Pops, where the band's string of thirteen Top 20 singles (four of which went to #1) seemed like it might go on forever if not for the pesky little fact that Weller broke up the band right at the height of their commercial success.

And thus began the portion of the artist relationship where each new release took Weller further and further away from the sound that had made him a household name, thus forcing fans to choose to fall by the wayside or follow Weller into the thick brush, so to speak.

Doing so has been a real trip, I must say, because this fan has been exposed to music I would not have otherwise explored. His explorations have , thus, fueled my explorations and, as a result, my record collection looks a whole lot more impressive than it would have had I not had Weller's impeccable curation skills at my disposal. 

In that sense, I liken Weller to Sting, who broke up the Police at their apex of global fame in order to embark on a solo career that has continued to test the mettle of longtime Police fans (lute album, anyone?) Weller hasn't been THAT cruel to his fans, of course, but he never did find his way back to that sound.


Even now, when he performs Jam songs in concert, you can almost feel the disconnect between the man he is now and the relentless youth he was then, like hearing Paul McCartney sing "I Saw Her Standing There" these days.

Thankfully, there is much enjoyment to be found in his solo work, which can also be infuriatingly self-indulgent from time to time. His latest studio effort, True Meanings, falls into the latter category with songs that explore a myriad of styles, each more sleep-inducing than the next.

If I wanted to hear this kind of shit, I'd buy an Eric Clapton record.

Thankfully, Weller's next album will right the ship because, by the time the new one hit the shelves, its safe to say Weller was ready to move on.

The fun in being a Weller fan, though, is that you never what the next move's gonna be and anyone who can still do that after five decades in the game will get my money every time.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Yes Or No (Circle One): Does Dwight Yoakam Belong In The Rock Hall?

Being that Dwight Yoakam's debut album, Guitars & Cadillacs, Etc., Etc/ was released in 1986, the man has certainly been around long enough (25 years must have passed since your debut release in order to be considered). The rest of the criteria is, quite frankly, anyone's guess because Janet Jackson is no more "rock & roll" than Debbie Gibson is "death metal".

Now that we mention it, since their commercial peaks occurred at roughly the same time, why hasn't Debbie Gibson landed on any RRHOF ballots?  Need we remind you that, unlike Jackson, Gibson actually wrote, performed and produced her own material. Seems like something the Rock Hall might want to showcase...talent.



Speaking of talent, for every Janet Jackson that makes it into the Hall, we need to add a country artist.

All in favor say "Fuck yeah!"

And who better to add a little country swagger to the Rock Hall than Dwight Yoakam, himself?

In all seriousness, it is impossible fathom that the man hasn't yet been nominated, considering all that he's done for tweaking country just enough to appeal to those of us repulsed by what country had become before he arrived.

By then, quite frankly, this music lover who'd been soaking up all the "devil-may-care" antics of country music's outlaw acts (Waylon, Willie, Merle, Hank 2, D.A.C., et al.) was now dying for someone to come along whose sound actually lived up to the rebel lifestyle whilst Willie, Waylon and the others continued making some the sappiest assembly-line country records of the decade this side of Jim Nabors.



Unlike those acts, Yoakam never had to claim to be an outlaw. The music did the talking and, geographically speaking, he was a complete outsider in Nashville, which made his immediate success all the more of a gut punch to the major label country establishment.

This, combined with the slow-build popularity of Jason & The Scorchers (EMI), followed by the out-of-the-box success of Georgia Satellites' "Keep Your Hands To Yourself" (Elektra) had the country music industry taking a good hard look at what they'd allowed themselves to become and suddenly went on the look-out for the next rock-infused country act destined for greatness.

That proved easier said than done and, while there were some great country records made during that time, few acts got the attention they deserved, leaving only that first wave to ride out the wave that they'd created in the first place.

Yoakam wasn't alone, of course, as Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett were also perennial outsiders who suddenly found themselves the talk of not only the country music industry, but of the mainstream entertainment press, as well.



The truth of the matter is that we all want to like country music, but the industry seems to go out of its way to make it as difficult as possible. One need only look at today's top country artists to see that everything has come full circle an that we're once again besieged by pretend outlaws for the fellas down at the plant and sugar-coated country stories for the office gals who like that sort of thing.

In the 30+ years since he arrived on the scene, Yoakam has never even dabbled in that sort of nonsense and, as a result, he has remained a stark contrast to anything the industry has thrown at the proverbial wall and, quite frankly, we are all the better for it.