Sep 062015
 

I fell down a You Tube wormhole the other day and hit rock bottom with this clip of Re-Flex better known for their 80’s classic “The Politics of Dancing.” In the video, keyboardist Paul Fishman is either doing his best to rock out between the plastic ivory and ebony or trying his best to upstage the rest of the band. Regardless, his “dancing” is enthusiastic but also rather distracting. I’ve never done any research on the history of the keytar but I’m sure it was invented by a dude who was feeling left out of the action when his fellow bandmates would prowl the front of the stage with guitar and mic in hand.

So, how come no one took inspiration from double-neck guitars to invent a double neck keytar? Just think what kind of animal would be unleashed if our boy Paul Fishman was unshackled and unrestrained by his keyboard stand.

 

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Nov 162012
 

Beside Linda Rondstadt and Billy Joel, did any established rock artists of the late-’70s attempt to cash in on New Wave and Punk music? I can’t think of any others beside The Rolling Stones‘ “response to Punk” album (a phrase they now embrace but a notion I believe they rejected at the time), Some Girls. I’m sure there are a few other examples beyond Townman alexmagic‘s long-imagined, never-delivered Bob Seger New Wave album.

Let’s face it, there wasn’t much cash to cash in on regarding New Wave music of the late-’70s and early-’80s. If this music had caught fire, however, like Disco did a few years earlier, can you imagine the New Wave single big bands of the ’70s might have released? Can you imagine KISS‘ cash-in New Wave single? Can you imagine the Eagles‘ cash-in New Wave single? Instead of “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” Rod Stewart could have ripped off “Dancing With Myself.” And what about Seger’s long-imagined, as-yet-undelivered New Wave nugget?

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Oct 152012
 


Cheap Trick‘s “Surrender” is the greatest late-’70s pure power pop/new wave song ever. This from someone who also believes it’s possibly the “Secretariat’s 30-length Belmont Stakes victory” relative to any other song in any band’s career. This is a testament to the song’s strength as much as it is my lukewarm appreciation for anything else Cheap Trick has released. But that’s another story. There’s nothing I’d like least than to distract you with my thoughts on Cheap Trick.

I would guess we’re all pretty much in agreement that The Records‘ “Starry Eyes” is the second-best late-’70s pure power pop/new wave song that made a dent in the US charts. (An important distinction for purposes of this discussion that rules out some of our personal favorites, such as my favorite song of this genre ever, The dB’s’ “Big Brown Eyes.”) That point settled, the time is long overdue that we settle—once and for all—a related topic that’s long stumped deep thinkers in the world of rock: Continue reading »
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Oct 032012
 

Remember teen-hearthrob Shaun Cassidy‘s play for musical credibility, an album called Wasp? On this 1980, Todd Rundgren-produced album the younger half-brother of David (and star of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries TV series),covered songs by David Bowie, The Who, The Animals, Ian Hunter, Talking Heads, and more. Cool songs. Rundgren and Utopia back young Shaun.

As mind-blowing as the thought of this album was when it came out, I never heard a lick of it…until now. Have you ever heard the entire album? Check out the following tracks and let me know if Shaun Cassidy belated deserves credit where credit is due.

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Jun 302012
 

I guess as any big Elvis Costello fan might tell you, it’s easy to go back and forth on his great pre-Punch the Clock albums and get fixated on one and then another. I had that moment as a youngin’ with Trust, which for a long time took my number one spot as the BEST Costello disc.

I couldn’t have know how much that album hinted at Imperial Bedroom at the time…but there are a bunch of songs on that which could have been on Imperial and vice versa. But at the time I thought the absolute standout song was “From a Whisper to a Scream”—with Glenn Tilbrook taking up the alternating vocals. [Mod. – Not to mention Friend of the Hall Martin Belmont on lead guitar.]

Wow, how fun I thought—a new wave super duo of sorts! At the time.

Now I listen to that song and kinda cringe. What was Elvis thinking? Why share the spotlight with another dude?? Was this trying for some sort of crossover appeal? Was Squeeze big at the time? Every time I hear it now I wish Elvis woulda sung the whole thing…but it also feels like he was trying to capture some earlier glory (of his faster, angrier days) and it just falls flat to me now.

So 1) … can a I get an Amen? But 2)—the real reason for the post: name me another great new wave singer duo who successfully (or unsuccessfully) pulled of this feat.

Bowie and Freddy Mercury don’t count. Or Jagger with _________.

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Apr 262012
 

Photo by Dan Burn-Forti

Nick Lowe’s 45-year career as a singer-songwriter, record producer, and all-around musical instigator is a one-man Village Green Preservation Society, to quote the Kinks’ 1968 mission statement. After brief spell in a Cream-influenced psychedelic rock band, Kippington Lodge, Lowe and his fellow UK mates, including future standouts in the late-’70s new wave scene, got an early start on “preserving the old ways” in the Americana roots-rock band, Brinsley Schwarz. A big push to launch the band in the States flamed spectacularly, and in the US their records would be left for music nerds to dig out of the far reaches of used record bins for the next decade.

In 1976, following the demise of the Brinsleys, he hooked up with veteran Welsh musician and producer Dave Edmunds and carved out a role for himself “protecting the new ways,” as house producer for fledgling punk/new wave label Stiff Records. His “So It Goes” b/w “Heart of the City” was the first single on Stiff, and it heralded the artist’s devil-may-care approach to writing subversive takes on AM Top 40 hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. His solo output at this time peaked with his second album, Labour of Lust, on which he was backed by Edmunds and fellow members of Rockpile. The single from that album, “Cruel to Be Kind,” with the shaggy video including scenes from his wedding to Carlene Carter, is the most vibrant expression of the new wave era’s cheerful sense of fatalism. He must have been a good fit for the June Carter-Johnny Cash clan.

As a producer, Lowe made his mark helping Elvis Costello & The Attractions craft a diverse, high-octane run of 5 straight albums in 5 years, including their unexpectedly sincere take on one of Lowe’s Brinsley Schwarz-era hippie goofs, “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” Known as “The Basher,” for his no-nonsense approach to both work and play, Lowe wasn’t messing around, although frequently it just seemed that way.

By the mid-’80s, despite a few minor hits and continued successful production work, Lowe was losing his way. His records lost their snap. The jokes were growing stale. The snappiest of that run, 1990’s aptly named Party of One, was nevertheless the end of the line for Nick the Knife.

I suppose with my advancing age I’m not quite so interested in tricks in the studio, sort of wham-bam-thank-you-m’am.

A few years later, financially secure thanks to a Curtis Stigers cover of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” being included on the soundtrack to Whitney Houston’s schlock smash, The Bodyguard, a mature Nick emerged. He was done chasing pop stardom, done with dick jokes. He embraced his pop classicism on albums like Dig My Mood, The Convincer, and At My Age. His latest album, The Old Magic, goes even further in this vein, skirting the raunch of rock ‘n roll, soul, and country music for something more akin to early ‘60s dinner club pop balladeering. The new album has been a tougher sell for me than his last few gems, but Lowe’s craftsmanship and comfort in his own skin are impressive. Over the phone, Lowe was as warm, open, and engaging as his music might suggest. He made a couple of mentions of the thrill of meeting and playing with one of his own heroes, the recently deceased Levon Helm, and his new musical friends, Wilco. A thrill’s a thrill, whether it’s the thrill of looking backward or the thrill of looking ahead.

RTH: I was looking at your tour schedule and was saddened to see that this coming Saturday you were supposed to play a Midnight Ramble show with Levon Helm. I know you’d appeared with him on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle, which I didn’t get to see. Had you met Levon before, say in the Brinsley Schwarz days?

NICK LOWE: Yes, I sure did. The Brinsleys had a house just outside of London., where we all used to live together. One day some people phoned up and said the Band, who were doing a big show at Wembley, in 1972 or ‘73, needed a place to rehearse. These people said, “Can they come out to your house and rehearse?”

They hadn’t played for a while. We just couldn’t believe it, we were such big fans. Anyway, they all turned up, they played on our equipment, you know, ran once through what they were going to do on the show, and off they went again. I might have said, “Hello.” It was a huge thrill.

RTH: When you played with Levon on Spectacle was that the only time you’d performed with him? Continue reading »

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Echo

 Posted by
Aug 292011
 

As a new wave kid in the ’80s, I probably wore holes in the first three Echo & the Bunnymen albums, drove up to NYC to see them, etc. I recently downloaded the first two albums off iTunes—and I gotta say they still hold up.

I always thought they were the heaviest of the “romantic” bands. Way heavier and more angular than The Cure, U2, etc. That drummer’s military fills are the serious backbone of why I loved these guys. And they had a lot of songs about taking LSD, which at the time made them seem mysteriously cool.

The Burt Bacharach sweater in the video not withstanding, they did know how to rock under those haircuts.

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