The Name Game: We Talk Smack (To Varying Degrees) About Ten Bands At Random!


I had four friends suggest five bands at random, not telling them why.  Then I whittled it down to the most interesting ten bands out of the bunch...Now I am going to attempt that most amazing of musical feats; be perfectly honest in my summation of each band.  Now, this is just my slightly over-bombastic and colorful prose on each band strictly for your enjoyment.  Love me, hate me, but you can't stop reading, can you?  Hey, where's everybody going?



The Guess Who

Was never that into them.  I hate to say it, but they were just too faceless for me.  In addition to great songs, there's gotta be something interesting going on visually.  Make me want to know every member's name by heart, like fucking family.  Hence the reason I love Cheap Trick.  It can be argued the Guess Who's tunes were jus as good, but they were literally invisible to me.  Okay, I know what Burton Cummings looks like but only because of his solo hit "Stand Tall", which was about as far away from "American Woman" as one man could get.



Toto

If I had a nickel for everyone I've turned on to the band's album Turn Back over the years, I'd be up to about five bucks.  This was the album before Toto IV ("Rosanna", "Africa", et al), which was two albums after "Hold The Line", which meant the label was starting to let it be known they needed a hit STAT!  It didn't happen for the band this time out, which makes it somewhat amazing that the label kept them on for another record.  As much as I have listened to Turn Back, I have never listened to IV in its entirety.  None of those radio hits grab me AT ALL.  I mean, I appreciate their beauty, but, zzzzz.



Devo

Now we're talking.  Every payday, my dad would load up the station with us kids and haul us to a mall or, more likely one of two Kmart locations in the area.  Wondering what on earth held my parents' interest in the place that we would often not leave until they started turning off lights, I would park myself in the only department that could hold my attention: The Record Section.

I dunno if I even liked music that much.  I was just a kid into sports and cartoons, but maybe having nothing else to do but browse every letter of that alphabet, familiarizing myself with which bands got their own dividers and which ones were forever doomed to "Misc (Insert Letter Here)".  I must have half-looked at Duty Now For The Future a gazillion times and never quite knew what to make of it.  The artwork was intentionally corporate and square, but there was a dead-seriousness to their angst that I was just too young to appreciate.  Then Freedom Of Choice came out and "Whip It" was suddenly all over the radio.  Even when I dove into their old stuff after devouring Freedom, I started with Q: Are We Not Men instead of Duty Now.

Over the years, though, it's the album I find myself listening to the most, having bought it in each of its progressions, from Henry Rollins' label plucking it out of the no-zip sorting bin (WEA had not released it on CD, allowing it to go out-of-print) to the 2010 deluxe remaster that marked the band's return to Warner Brothers.



Lone Justice

How is Maria McKee not a star?  I mean, she's sexy without trying, can sing like a fucking canary...I love every second of the band's second album Shelter.  I probably wouldn't have heard it at all, to be quite honest, if I hadn't worked in a record store the year it came out.  1986.  So many of the records I was "forced to play" at work remain favorites of mine to this day.  One such record is an album by a short-lived band called Wild Choir that was led by Gail Davies.  They were country but had a rock edge and were being promoted to a rock audience, which was virtually unheard of at the time.  May as well have been Christian while they were at it.  Their one album is notable for covering a few John Hiatt songs.  I liked it anyway.  They also did what I deem to be the best version of "Safe In The Arms Of Love".



So when Shelter came along, I took one look at the album and thought "Hey, this might sound like Wild Choir."  It did, although I would later come to realize that Lone Justice had their own thing going on.  "I Found Love" is just about the greatest album-opener EVER.  As I watched the clip above, I remember liking the fact that the guitarist moved (and dressed) like Peter Buck.  Watching McKee and that band back in '87 or so, my first thought is "Holy shit, if they'd come out like, say, last year, I stand convinced they would be as huge as The Band Katy Perry or whatever.



Weezer

I cannot talk about Weezer without getting someone mad at me.  Thing is, I love the Blue Album.  I had moved to Colorado and was starting to regret my move as I spent my days sorting miniblinds for delivery/pick-up in a freezing cold warehouse.  I listened to two albums that winter, Redd Kross "Phaseshifter" and Wezer's Blue Album.  Both bands being from California, I was able to keep my circulation flowing by imagining seeing them performing on some sunny beach, palm trees blowing gently, barely-there bikinis and - POP! - what was the question again?

While there have been a lot of great debut albums by legendary bands, veryfew arrived as fully formed as that damn Blue album.  As a musician myself, I just couldn't believe how many awesome layers there were to this deceptively deep fucking record.  That I could love a record so even though I was hearing just about half the album in its entirety on the radio or MTV, at the mall, the grocery store...

I could not wait until Pinkerton came out.  Bought it at the stroke of midnight and then rocked it all the way home.  Listened to it at work...eh.  Tried coming back to it a few times.  Eh.

I ended up selling Pinkerton at the local used CD store with a bunch of other stuff that made me feel kinda ripped off.  I never even went back to the Blue Album.  My bald buddy Tom is into them so when he drives us somewhere, he'll generally lay the latest Weezer on me and I find each album relatively pleasant, but I feel no connection to it.  I think Rivers is so fucking confused at this point that he doesn't know which way is up.  Pinkerton was very much Weezer's In Utero, which was a complete rebellion against the slickness and commercial popularity of their Blue Album.

It worked.  Pinkerton was a total dud and everybody hated it.  I saw the boxes and boxes of used copies pour into the bins at every used CD store I visited.  Then came the Green album, which was a complete attempt to recpature the vibe of the Blue Album, right down to working with Ocasek again.

Every album since has been a rebellion followed by the righting of the ship until I've lost track of whether the new album is the former or the latter.  I doubt even Rivers knows anymore.



Loverboy

Loved the cover art for the first album.  Even now, I stare at it and just wish the music was as cool.  Thing is, those first two albums were cool enough that I really dug the band.  "The Kid Is Hot Tonite" and "Turn Me Loose" were considered new wave.  It wasn't until Keep It Up that the band completed their transformation into Canada's Steve Miller Band.  Not a compliment in 1983 when you consider that Miller's was mired in that commercially huge, but artistically indefensible "Abracadabra" period.  Now every time I hear the name, I just hear the chorus to "Lovin' Every Minute of It" in my head and see myself turning off the radio.

Here's the thing, it turns out that the tush on the cover of Get Lucky was the photographer's teenage daughter, which means whoever it was we teased mercilessly at that one party when he said "That ass is hot" and we told him it was the singer's butt, which was totally plausible and accepted as fact for decades.  Sorry.



ZZ Top

Wow, isn't it funny how embracing synths blew up in the faces of Steve Miller and Starship but ZZ Top somehow managed to still be considered cool after "Sharped Dress Man" and "Legs".  Thing is, ZZ Top with drum machines is so far away from the growly blues they'd become known for that I don't know quite how they even went along with such an idea.  I mean, they really sold their souls.  Granted, there were some songs there that would have been hits no matter how you did them, but to this day, that's the stuff that most people that go see them want to hear.



Kiss

I'm still trying to figure out why they made Music From The Elder.  It's just the worst fucking album and it came when a lot of kids, myself included, still wanted to like the band.  It was literally like listening to an old man who used to be cool tell you to get out of his yard.  "Get out of here, go listen to somebody else!"  So sad when you realize that if they'd just held it together a few more years, MTV would have been the platform by which Kiss with make-up returned to the very top.

I mean, they were the most visual band on the planet and us kids in the sticks only saw the pictures on the album cover.  Sure, the Phantom in the Park was crap, but it was the only way we got to see Kiss in action back then.  A platform like MTV could have given them a new lease on life, maybe allowing them to co-exist on the outskirts of the new wave.  I mean, they'd done disco, why not latch onto the new wave thing like everybody else was doing?  Hell, Peter Noone was in a new wave band (The Tremblers).  There were actually a couple new wave moments on Dynasty and Ace's solo album had a new wave vibe at times.  They coulda made the transition.  Instead, we had the "no make-up" version that looked horrible and was missing Ace and Peter anyway.



Frank Zappa and the Mothers

I love Frank Zappa.  Best interviewee in all of rock, bar none.  The man was a genius, not just on a musical level, but on every level he set his mind to, like politics and censorship.  I often wonder what amazing things he'd have gotten up to had he not been stolen from us at such a young age.  He's a guy it would have been fun to grow old with, I think.  Having said that, his music doesn't appeal to me at all.  I like it more now than I used to, but it's almost like the work of an autistic person.  The lyrics are purposely obtuse and comical, which is fine, but not over the course of 367 albums.  It all gets to be too much for a simple man such as I.



Boston

Now, there have been bands whose first albums arrived so fully-embellished that it defies all logic and reason - the above-mention Weezer "Blue Album" and the Killers Hot Fuss are two semi-recent examples.  And then there's that first Boston album, which knocks every other band's first album in the dirt on every level.  And when you consider that Tom Scholz recorded most of the album in his basement as a demo...can you imagine being the A&R guy who received that tape?  Your first thought was that somebody somewhere was putting you on.  Still, Dick Rowe and Decca probably passed on this one, too.



Smashing Pumpkins

I was never a big fan, but I take any chance I can get to tell the story of running into a couple gals I went to school with in Michigan at the Metro back in '88.  They were friends with Jimmy in the Pumpkins who were completely unknown at the time, just another local band begging for gigs.

They'd just hooked up with Shanahan as their manager and a drunken Jimmy says to Jim Ellison (from Material Issue) and I, "Yeah my band is opening for The Cure".  Jim and I both looked at each other and busted out laughing.  We wrote him off as just another schmuck making shit up.  Next day I'm driving around listening to the radio when I hear an ad for the Cure's upcoming gig at Northwestern.  "With special guests Smashing Pumpkins!"  I practically slammed on my breaks right then and there.

From that point on, Shanahan had them opening for every cool band at Metro...to the point where a lot of us were getting kind of annoyed by seeing them so many times.  This was while they were still in their "She Sells Sanctuary" goth phase, for lack of a better term.  At some point, a flick got switched in Billy's brain and he hit upeon the grunge sound that made them famous.  If he hadn't, we'd probably still be watching them open for everyone at the Metro.

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