I Nominate ‘Singles’ as One of the Greatest Soundtracks of All-Time

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Let’s travel back to 1992, the year that alternative music was just rearing its grungy head in public and gangsta rap was beginning to live out the fantasy of its lyrics in the actual lives of its stars. Where 1991 represented a milestone year for groundbreaking music releases, 1992 represented a changing of the guard in music. All of a sudden, Baby Boomers were whining about this new music that the Gen Xers were listening to, calling the music of their youth in a self-congratulatory manner indicative of seeing themselves as the center of the universe “Class Rock”, all the while labeling the Gen Xers as lazy and self-indulgent and giving their music a passing “Alternative” label. You see, throughout the Eighties, the Boomers raped the environment and the economy in order to live out their yuppy dreams, leaving the members of Gen X to raise themselves and teach themselves important lessons such as trust no one but yourself.

In 1992, the real danger resided in the music and art popularized by Generation X. But, there was so much timeless music released during this time period that someone could run a “Classic Alternative” XM station, and it would make big bucks. But, in 1992, a movie, written and directed by former Rolling Stone wunderkind Cameron Crowe, was released. Today, the movie, called Singles, is remembered as something of a precursor, albeit a darker version, to the milestone television show Friends. The movie follows the lives of four late twenty-somethings to early thirty-somethings trying to “grow up” in Seattle, Washington. Since Crowe was living in Seattle with his former wife, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson, he was very familiar with the burgeoning music scene there. So, he filled his movie’s soundtrack full of artists from this grunge scene.

Early in 1992, Grunge was beginning to make commercial inroads, much like disco was making in the days leading up to the release of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. Nirvana rode “Smells like Teen Spirit” into the Top 10 on the Singles Chart, while their seminal album, Nevermind, knocked Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album from the top spot on the Top 200 Albums Chart. A tribute album to the late lead singer of Mother Love Bone, Andrew Wood, recorded by an ad hoc group of members of Mother Love Bone, who was about to become Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden recorded an album as the group Temple of the Dog, which was finding its way into the Top 10 on the Album Chart. Additionally, other Seattle bands were finding commercial success, such as Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

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Citizen Dick, aka Matt Dillon and three dudes from Pearl Jam.

But, all of that changed when Cameron Crowe’s movie soundtrack, called Singles, was released in advance of the movie. All of a sudden, the Seattle sound, now called Grunge, was blowing up. Singles soundtrack peaked in the Top 10 at number eight. Now, the CD, which many critics now refer as the greatest grunge music compilation, was proving to the world that the world of alternative music was going to make some people a bunch of money.

Ironically, Crowe did NOT make this soundtrack a total grunge-fest. His genius was to mixed many of the stalwarts of the Seattle scene with some excellent songs from some alternative acts who were outside of that scene. He had the foresight to include Paul Westerberg, who had just left his band The Replacements, on the soundtrack by allowing two of his most recent songs (“Dyslexic Heart” and “Waiting for Somebody”). He also included a song from Chicago’s up-and-coming band Smashing Pumpkins (“Drown”). And, to acknowledge important Seattle natives, the soundtrack included a song by Jimi Hendrix (“May This Be Love”) and his wife and sister-in-law’s Heart spin-off band called the Lovemongers, which included some of the artists from the grunge scene, who chipped in with a cover of the Led Zeppelin standard “Battle of Evermore”.

Yet, the rest of the soundtrack belongs to the up-and-coming members of the Seattle grunge scene, with Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, a solo Chris Cornell, and Screaming Trees all included on the album. The Singles soundtrack gave a commercial boost to every artist on it. For instance, Pearl Jam’s Ten had been on the charts for nearly a year when all of a sudden it caught fire and became lodged in the nation’s consciousness. Alice in Chains, arguably the heaviest and darkest of the grunge bands were growing in popularity. Even the two lesser bands on the soundtrack, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees, released their biggest selling albums in the wake of Singles.

Still, one act was conspicuous by its absence: Nirvana. The band who knocked down the door for this whole grunge thing to happen was Nirvana, but I have read that they were not even considered for the soundtrack. There have been a couple of reasons for this snub. The first reason given was that no one really expected Nirvana to have developed so quickly into a world-class rock band like they did. At the time, Nirvana’s first album, Bleach, released in 1988 had not sold very well and was not yet considered the over-looked classic that it is known as today. Also, the other bands considered Nirvana to be more of a pop band than a rock band that all the other bands had considered themselves to be. So, Nirvana was actually considered NOT to be part of that famous Seattle scene. Whatever the reason, could you imagine what the impact of a Nirvana song included on this soundtrack would have been? I envision the presence of one song by Kurt Cobain’s band to have elevated this timeless soundtrack into quite possibly one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Sure, that’s nitpicking, since Singles is a classic album and a culturally significant album in that it blew the whole alternative nation into musical and commercial forefront.

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“Are my breasts too small for you?” “Sometimes.”

Can you honestly believe the Singles soundtrack turned 25 years-old last year? I still think of the alternative music of the Nineties as being a new sound that today’s music has yet to catch up to. Singles is just as culturally significant to the whole alternative rock scene of the Nineties as Saturday Night Fever was to the whole disco scene in the late Seventies. Few albums can stake that claim, while even fewer soundtracks have been that important. And that why Singles can stand on its own.

Long live the newly recognized King of the Soundtracks: Singles!

A Power Pop Classic from 1991: ‘Bandwagonesque’ by Teenage Fanclub

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Throughout the history of rock music, there have been a handful of years during which an abnormally large number of classic albums have been released. For me, those years include 1965, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1991, to list but a few. Those years have been etched in my mind. 1965 is known as the beginning of the rock era mainly due to the buying public’s switch from singles to albums as the main source of their musical entertainment. During that year, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan all led us toward the viewpoint of the album as an artist’s true artistic statement.

Of course, many of you are familiar with the significance of 1967 and the “Summer of Love”, with albums by The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Doors taking our hands and walking with us into mind-altering music and chemicals. Then, 1969 is famous not only for Woodstock but also all the great music released by the likes of The Band, The Stones and Santana.

In 1971, Marvin Gaye, The Who, Stevie Wonder and Elton John all gave us classic albums. And, 1977 is often noted as a rich year due to the rise of punk rock and disco into critically acclaimed art forms with albums by the Sex Pistols, Ramones and Elvis Costello representing the former and the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and Chic pushing the latter.

In the Eighties, 1983 and 1984 stood head and shoulders above the other years. 1983 was dominated by Michael Jackson, Prince and Def Leppard, while 1984 was the year for Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Prince & the Revolution, ZZ Top and Wham!, among others. Then 1987 rolled through with albums by U2, Prince, Michael Jackson, John Mellencamp, George Michael, INXS, Bruce Springsteen and Def Leppard dominating that year as well as 1988.

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And, as far as I am concerned, the last really huge year that I believe had a huge impact on rock music was 1991. That year witnessed the release of classic albums by the likes of Michael Jackson, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses and A Tribe Called Quest. 1991 was also significant for the sheer volume of great albums released by artists from the British Indie Music Scene. Some really terrific music was released that year by bands that have remained relatively unknown here in the States. But, since you are reading this blog, I am certain you are familiar with the classic albums released that year by My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, The KLF, Saint Etienne and Teenage Fanclub. It is from this latter group of artists on whom I want to put my spotlight. That band is Teenage Fanclub, and their 1991 album, Bandwagonesque, is the classic album.

In 2018, Teenage Fanclub’s album will turn 27 years old. It’s hard to believe that, since by boys were but children back then. Now, they are grown men, and I am an old man. For those of you not familiar with Teenage Fanclub, you can kind of think of them as something like precursor to the works of Oasis and Blur, two bands who were just sorting themselves out when Teenage Fanclub dropped this nuclear bomb of an album. For the first time in a while, we are hearing a band from the United Kingdom whose musicians sound as if they had spent a large portion of their then-young lives listening to and digesting the sound of Big Star and adding a bit of the distorted guitar so popular at the time with the whole shoegazer crowd. For the first, the listener was treated to the sweet sounds and melodies of power pop all turned up to 11 and played with distorted guitars that only emphasized the muscularity of the band’s sound. Teenage Fanclub, unwittingly, was the missing link between the power pop of The Knack and the distorted beauty of the Pixies or Nirvana. Finally, a whole language was being invented by Teenage Fanclub that was going to allow power pop music to thrive in the Nineties.

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Bandwagonesque kicks out with with distortion-drenched vocals on the epic album opener “The Concept”. Immediately, this band is informing the world that they are not afraid of distortion of the likes not heard since the Kinks were being played in heavy rotation back in the Sixties. Yet, unlike My Bloody Valentine, whose distortion assault is all part and parcel of the sound, Teenage Fanclub utilizes distortion much like early Who singles did, only to paint the song with different washes of sound. “The Concept” is basically an extended Big Star song, with some distortion thrown in for great emotional affect.

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After a distortion-drenched rain of feedback song, not unlike a Gen X version of Van Halen’s “Eruption” entitled sarcastically “Satan” and the Todd Rundgren-in-the-90s sound of “December”, comes the next big single “What You Do to Me”, a song that sounds just like the boys in the band were weaned on the Raspberries, only if Eric Carmen had known what to do with distortion. That distortion only makes the chorus of the song sound that much sweeter as the distortion gives way to the angelic vocals of Norman Blake (guitars), Raymond McGinley (guitars) and Gerard Love (bass). While the guitars are wailing the rhythm section of Love and drummer Frances MacDonald hold down the bottom end with a foundation that is both solid and agile.

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You can tell that these Scotsmen have grown up taking in the lessons from all the power pop gods from The Beatles to The Who, Big Star and Raspberries to The Records and The Romantics, only updating these artists’ sounds with washes of distortion first popularized by The Jesus and Mary Chain. But unlike TJAMC, Teenage Fanclub never loses track of that sweet melody and their Hollies-like vocal harmonies. The band really shines on “Star Sign”, showing off the lessons learned from listening to Badfinger. And, then the band shows off where Oasis must have gotten half of the ideas from Teenage Fanclub’s other great song on Bandwagonesque, “Metal Baby”.

Believe it or not, Teenage Fanclub continues to release fantastic albums to this very day. As a matter of fact, the band released their latest album just in 2016, entitled Here. Unfortunately, the distorted guitars of Bandwagonesque have been tempered and mostly exchanged for the washes of keyboards by Dave McGowan. Now, the adult versions of Teenage Fanclub have developed their own sound, but back in 1991, they represented the cutting edge of power pop music. Everything that distinguished the group as being power pop was present on that album: sweet melodies, jangly guitars and sweet, tight vocal harmonies that was only toughened by that aforementioned guitar distortion that was so fresh at the the time.

Now, in order to put this album’s influence in proper prospective, in 2017, Benjamin Gibbard, leader/singer/songwriter for the band Death Cab for Cutie, released his debut solo album. That album was a song-for-song cover tribute of his all-time favorite album, Bandwagonesque. Gibbard’s version is very good, but it lacks the spontaneity of the original, as well as much of the distortion. Still, the album displays the strength of the writing on Teenage Fanclub’s original.

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If you pride yourself as a power pop, please go got this album! There is a reason that Teenage Fanclub was chosen as the part of the first class of inductees in the Power Pop Hall of Fame. That’s right! There really is one! Check it out on Facebook or you can google the website. But, it is real and was founded by some very knowledgeable power pop lovers, critics, collectors and producers. Still, Teenage Fanclub is widely recognized as one of power pop’s finest, right after Cheap Trick, Todd Rundgren, Big Star and Raspberries, among some others as well. And, Bandwagonesque has much to do with setting up Teenage Fanclub for a prosperous career.

Forgotten Classic Album: Thin Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak’

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You know, perhaps, the most beautiful thing about music is how it can trigger so many memories that became intertwined with a particular song. The opening chords of a song can trigger a flood of memories. My wife and I were going out the other night, and a local radio station was having its weekly “Eighties Weekend”, when back-to-back songs came on that got us reminiscing about when we were dating and when our older son was just a toddler. And, my wife then mentioned, “Isn’t it cool how music does that?” Absolutely!

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Either this morning, I felt as though I needed a dose of Thin Lizzy. So, I threw on their American breakthrough album Jailbreak. Sure, the album was released in the Spring of 1976, but I really did not stumble across the album until that summer, when their classic song, “The Boys Are Back in Town” finally hit the airwaves on the local radio stations. I loved that song, not for the sheer energy of the song but I loved the lyrics. The wordplay was unique and fresh to the ears of my 13-year-old self. I can remember hearing that song, along with Kiss Destroyer all summer long. Those two will always take me back to the summer that I transitioned from a runner who was staying in shape for basketball into a “real” distance runner with a summer training regime.

Still, it wasn’t until college when I finally bought Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak album. And, at the time, I never understood why it took me five years to finally purchase this album. In retrospect, for some reason, I was always a little reluctant to buy an album that was not popular with my friends, especially in middle school. But, I played Jailbreak enough by college to be able to recognize Thin Lizzy’s influences and understand why the band was held in high regard in the United Kingdom, even after punk scorched the earth over there.

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In the States, Thin Lizzy has always been lumped with the hard rock crowd. However, once you listen to Jailbreak, you can catch large doses of R&B and the blues, as well as some pop and heartland rock that you would never expect from an Irish band. Or, should we?

Then, you have to factor in the lyrics, written by the late, great Phil Lynott, the vocalist/bassist/leader/visionary of the band. The man was a poet. Period. He just might be the most underrated lyricist in the history of rock music. Which might be appropriate, since Thin Lizzy might be the most underrated band in the history of rock music. Lynott’s lyrics sit nicely next to Bob Dylan’s, Robbie Robertson’s, Van Morrison’s and Bruce Springsteen’s, all of whom are acknowledged geniuses. Yet, Lynott is unfairly known for one song, “The Boys Are Back in Town”, which most songwriters would give their firstborn child to have written. But, there is much more to Thin Lizzy than that song.

Thin Lizzy is a significant in that they popularized the use of a twin lead guitar attack, that had not been employed by many groups up to the mid-Seventies, but would be used by metal gods like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, to name a few. By the mid-Eighties, Lizzy songs became “cool” cover songs to be recorded by metal bands. Still, Jailbreak is the band’s finest statement.

The album is supposed to be some science fiction-type rock opera, but I really don’t hear it that way. What I do hear is a collection of nine great, diverse songs all played under the same banner of this most underrated band. The album kicks off with the AOR hit album title song, a rocker with the rarest of rare intelligent lyrics NOT about fairies and demons.

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Song after song, Lynott’s songs romanticize a man breaking free of his chains in order to face down his destiny, whether a crook is running away in “Angel from the Coast”, or the great old rock adage of equating a musician with a cowboy, as Lynott does to great effect in his classic “Cowboy Song”. But, if I were given truth serum, I would say that I prefer the more R&B-influenced songs than the songs that appeal to the metalheads all over. I love Lynott’s heart-on-a-sleeve songs such as “Running Back”, since Thin Lizzy is never afraid to employ a sax solo to give their songs some soul.

As you listen to the album, the Springsteen comparisons can really begin to be obvious. I caught Springsteen in Lizzy’s great “Romeo and the Lonely Girl”, which could have been recorded for Born to Run, just as Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song” and “Emerald” could as well. Like I said, Lynott is so underrated that it is no longer funny to me.

While Jailbreak is widely considered to be Thin Lizzy’s best album, do not be afraid to dive in deeper into their catalog. The band’s Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, Black Rose, Live and Dangerous and Still Dangerous albums are all classic albums in their own right. If you enjoy Jailbreak, then go seek these out as well.

Now, I need to find a “It’s Time to Put Thin Lizzy in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame” Facebook group to join. This band is way too good to be left out of the enshrined immortals. Cheers to Thin Lizzy!

Today’s Forgotten Classic: ‘Let’s Dance’ by David Bowie

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Two years and two days ago, we received word that the great David Bowie had lost his battle with cancer and the world was entering a phase during which we would no longer be treated to new music created by the man. Unwittingly, the man played an important role in the life of my small family. When I discovered that my wife was pregnant with Son #1, I would “sing” David Bowie’s hit song from the time “Blue Jean” to her tummy in an attempt to help him develop good tastes in music. And, I did the same with Son #2, only singing Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” to him. Today, my boys and their significant others are Bowie fans, so much so that one of the couples has a cat name “Bowie”. And, I am sure that my boys will carry on the Bowie tradition with their children, in some unique manner.

Over the past two years, I have been taking an on-again, off-again ride through David Bowie’s rich catalogue of music he left behind. All of his great ones have found a place on my turntable or in my CD player. And, each album I own holds a special place in my heart. No matter how many times I have listened to his Berlin trilogy (you know, “Heroes”, Low and Lodger), I am blown away. And, I just love his mid-Seventies albums that influenced the whole New Romantic scene in early-Eighties London (Young Americans and Station to Station). Also, I still love those glam rock standards of Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Additionally, I will go to the grave saying that Scary Monsters is my favorite Bowie album of all time. Still, one of his albums remains one of my favorites, even though critics have taken on a lukewarm attitude toward this album. When it was released, I remember that the critical response was pretty much positive about this album. Yet, over the past 35 years, this album has taken something of a hit in its long term standing within the vast and rich David Bowie catalog. Yet, I will maintain that 1983’s Let’s Dance was the perfect exclamation mark place at the end of one of rock’s greatest runs of great albums as had ever happened. The run that began with the 1969 release of his David Bowie (or Space Oddity) album and ended with Let’s Dance may well have been rock’s greatest run ever by an artist.

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Yet, I have read that Bowie himself had written off the work he did between 1983 and 1987, during which he actually tried to appease the public by giving them what he though they wanted. Even at the time, the other two albums that he released after Let’s Dance were flat and lackluster. And, boy, did David ever try to repeat the zeitgeist he found on Let’s Dance. So, I can understand that while the Tonight (1984) and Never Let Me Down (1987) albums were clunkers, he should have realized that Let’s Dance was truly magical.

What makes Let’s Dance resonate to this day is that Nile Rodgers produced the album and put together an All-Star band to back up Bowie. Read this line-up of musicians: long-time Bowie sideman bassist Carmine Rojas, Eighties jazz/rock session drummer Omar Hasim, former Chic and Power Station drummer Tony Thompson, keyboardist Rob Sabino, guitarist Nile Rodgers himself (of course!) and a 29-year-old blues guitar hotshot by the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan. That’s right. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s big break came as a sideman for David Bowie, who had the reputation of finding new talent for nearly every album. So, when you re-evaluate Let’s Dance, you are hearing the guitar interplay between two of the greatest guitarists to have ever walked the earth and they are trading licks on this album.

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Since Let’s Dance remains Bowie’s biggest-selling album, most rock fans are familiar with the fact that the album had three Top 10 hit songs. First, there was the epic rock/dance title song, a number one hit in the Spring of 1983. “Let’s Dance” was followed up by two state-of-the-art rock/dance hits: the Iggy Pop penned “China Girl” and the exciting “Modern Love”. Those three songs remain the backbone of the album. Yet, there are other gems on this album, which really became the template for the whole rock/dance sound that was so prominent throughout the Eighties. You can hear Duran Duran getting an idea here and INXS finding inspiration there. Hell, the whole second half of the Eighties sounded as if everyone was trying to catch up with the ideas and sounds that David Bowie got on Let’s Dance.

This album remains fresh to this day, something that I cannot say for the next two album Bowie will release, which were both dead on arrival. Yes, Let’s Dance does have some Eighties pastel flourishes that giveaway its age, but overall it is not the clunker that Bowie himself thought it to be. Let’s Dance is the sound of one of rock true pioneers putting all he had learned over a decade’s worth of work and enjoying the fact that he was creating the sound of a new decade. It wasn’t Bowie’s fault that many second-rate artists made crappy music while using his template. Not everyone has the genius gene.

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I miss David Bowie.

Wait! I Made a Mistake! My 2017 Album of the Year Is Derrick Anderson’s New Album!

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Hey! Can any of you fine people help me out here? I recently stumbled upon someone whom I will call the present AND future of power pop music. The man’s name is Derrick Anderson, and what I have discovered is that the man has been quite the fixture on the L.A. power pop scene over the years. Currently, the man holds the bass job with The Bangles after the departure of Michael Steele. Sometime during 2017, Anderson released his current album entitled A World of My Own. Here in the past month, this album has become my “go-to” album, the album I will to which I’ll listen when nothing else will do. If I had waited two more weeks before making my year-end Favorite 50 Albums for 2017, this very album would now be my number one album for the year.

First off, Derrick Anderson has written some fine power pop tunes in the finest tradition of Big Star, Raspberries and Todd Rundgren, better known as the triune god of power pop. Anderson’s first characteristic to pull at my heartstrings was he voice. He possesses a crystal clear voice that allows him to sound as if an angel were fronting an early version of The Who. His is smooth and unique and always sounds as if it were traveling from the happiest place on Earth, Derrick’s soul.

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The next thing that grabbed me is his bass-playing. The man is sneaking in complex bass lines into songs from a genre not really known for its bass play. Yet, Anderson continues to amaze and enthrall me with his use of soulful counter-melodies that rarely finds its way into the power pop genre. Anderson’s bass playing helps the album transcend its genre.

Finally, Anderson has written some of the finest songs of 2017. This album is power pop instant classic. But, why should I be surprised? The man released this album on Omnivore Recordings, which only solidifies that label as the finest connoisseur of power pop tastes, past, present AND future. And, Derrick Anderson must be one of their most important artists for the present and future categories.

Throughout A World of My Own, Anderson gets help from many legends of power pop, such as the late Tommy Keene, members of The Smithereens and Bangles (of course!), Matthew Sweet, Steve Barton of Translator and members of Sixties pop icons The Cowsills. I cannot emphasize that this album is nearly perfect. And, it’s been a VERY long time since I have made that claim about an album.

The album kicks off with the poppish gauntlet throw-down of “Send Me Down a Sign”, followed by the harder rocking “Waiting for You”. The latter song may remind you of a Smithereens’ song since the whole band provides their signature vocal blend on the chorus, helping boost the song into the heavens. But, the album differentiates itself from the usual power pop album with the third song, the Squeeze-like “You Don’t Have to Hurt No More”. This song has a typical strong melody with great lyrical wordplay, the kind that Squeeze has made a career doing. But, it is Anderson’s bass that takes the song to a whole new level. You have to hear it to believe it.


Of course, whenever you can employ the members of the Bangles for some help, those songs will shine. On A World of My Own, those songs happen to be “When I Was Your Man”, where Vicki and Debbie Peterson join Kim Shattuck of the Muffs, Pandoras and Pixies, to push this song into overdrive. I could just hear this song being blasted from cars during the summer cruising season. Of course, that might be a scene from the past, yet it is still such a pleasant thought that I may have to do just that this coming summer.

The other song with a Bangles’ feel is “Something New”, during which Susanna Hoffs joins the Peterson sisters for a song with a definite Bangles state-of-mind. This song would have fit perfectly on the Bangles’ last album Sweetheart of the Sun.

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The other highlight is the shortest song on the album, “Happiness”. Clocking in at a minute-forty-two, “Happiness” has such a glorious sound, probably due to the guest appearance of power pop god Matthew Sweet. Regardless, Anderson has yet another gem of a song on this album.

Still, A World of My Own is easily the best album of 2017, and, quite possibly, for the whole 2010s as a decade. You might have to dig to find this one, but believe me, if you love your rock to have great melodies, then Derrick Anderson has the perfect album for you. A World of My Own makes me believe it has to be summer somewhere.

Wednesday’s Forgotten Classic: Steve Miller Band’s ‘Fly like an Eagle’

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My mom is 82 years old. And, according to most of her indexes, she might be considered healthy. Except for the tragic fact that she has been losing her memory. And, in place of a woman who during her prime might have been the eighth wonder in the world with her ability to talk you to exhaustion without you ever uttering a word. Sadly, that woman is being replaced by a scared and unusually quiet person. After my father left her, mom circled her wagons, so to speak, and raised two teenage boys into men. It was tough for her, but I have always admired her tenacity and focus during that time. Needless to say, Mom had a great eye for a bargain. To go shopping with her was to watch a master at work.

One day on our Christmas Break from our school routine, Mom decided we would go shopping, which meant we were going to Goodwill to look for dolls for her burgeoning doll collection, then to K-Mart or Airway depending on their sales and then to the local antique shop owned by a very nice gentleman who I always suspected was gay but really never cared much to ask him. To him, my brother and I were enigmas of the child world who knew how to behave properly in an antique store. As he got to know us, he would give us comic books or baseball cards for our collections. Well, on this particular day, while at Goodwill, I discovered a rare advertising doll from the early Seventies known as Budman, who was designed for Budweiser advertisements. Mom was so excited about this 25-cent find that she promised to buy an album for me.

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When we arrived at K-Mart, we walked in to find that the store had bins and bins of recently released albums on sale for $3.99 or LESS! Right away, I knew that my twenty dollars in Christmas money could get me four albums, though I really only wanted one album. That album was the Steve Miller Band’s now-classic Fly like an Eagle. By the way, mom convinced me to buy Wedding Present by Cheech & Chong with her money, because, and I quote, “These guys will make us laugh.” Mom was a secret Cheech & Chong fan.

In retrospect, Fly like an Eagle became something of a landmark album, in that its sonic sound and aural production work was incorporated by every musician in the industry, except maybe for those early punk albums. From the opening futuristic swooshes of that synthesizer in the album opener “Space Intro”, you knew this album was going to claim new sounds in recording. That first song then segued into arguably the band’s signature hit “Fly like an Eagle”, we knew we were on a much different musical trip than I had experienced in my first 13 years of life.

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Every song, whether a Steve Miller original or a cover song, was impeccably played and produced. The crisp sounds my speakers were throwing out my little speakers at the time were still a revelation. From this point onward, the production work of the music I listened to was recorded in this manner. From Fleetwood Mac to Steely Dan all employed similar techniques uncovered by the Steve Miller Band on this album.

As I alluded to earlier, every song on this album is a gem. But, the songs that were released were mega-hits. This album set the tone for the number of singles that could be released. In addition to the aforementioned title track, other hit songs from this album are “Take the Money and Run” (I know they ran into a great big hassle, as opposed to the “great big asshole” I thought I heard on AM radio after church one day.) and “Rock ‘N Me”, while “Dance, Dance, Dance” was a minor hit as well.

This album is a perfect mix of Seventies AOR rock, smooth state-of-the-art rock music production work and laidback songwriting and playing. The album represents the pinnacle of a sound, all the while the album stands on its own as a fantastic album. Go back and give it another spin and rediscover THE sound of the mid-Seventies, because it was created by the Steve Miller Band during the recording of today’s Forgotten Classic, Fly like an Eagle.

For Some, Huey Lewis’ ‘Sports’ Is a Classic, It Just Might Not Be for Me

1.9 American Psycho & Huey Lewis

Back in 2000, Christian Bale, in his pre-Batman days, starred in the film adaptation of Bret Ellis Easton’s 1991 dark comedy novel American Psycho as protagonist Patrick Bateman. Without getting into the sociological indictment of the yuppy culture of the Eighties, Bateman was obsessed with the so-called throwaway rock artists of that very decade. As his character would do away with another victim, Bateman would describe why we should never overlook the genius of such Eighties rock icons as Huey Lewis or Phil Collins. Those scenes would be extremely creepy, violent, unnervingly and squeamishly funny.

As Bateman begins to dismember colleague Paul Allen, Lewis’ “Hip to Be Square” is playing. Calmly, Bateman goes into his most telling soliloquy with the following quote from the movie.

Do you like Huey Lewis & The News? Their early work was a little too ‘new-wave’ for my taste, but when Sports came out in ’83, I think they really came into their own – both commercially and artistically. The whole album has a clear, crisp sound, and a new sheen of consummate professionalism that really gives the songs a big boost. He’s been compared to Elvis Costello, but I think Huey has a far more bitter, cynical sense of humor. In ’87, Huey released this, Fore, their most accomplished album. I think their undisputed masterpiece is ‘Hip to Be Square’, a song so catchy most people probably don’t listen to the lyrics – but they should! Because it’s not just about the pleasures of conformity, and the importance of trends, it’s also a personal statement about the band itself!” (Thanks to Bret Easton Ellis, his book American Psycho, the movie American Psycho, and Wikipedia, where I nicked this quote.)

1.9 do you believe in love

For me, this is social criticism at its very best. It’s true that when Huey Lewis & the News first entered our consciousness in 1982 with his fantastic new wavish power pop single “Do You Believe in Love”, few of us gave much thought to this San Francisco Bay Area band at the time, but that would change during the winter of 1983. That was when they dropped their aforementioned Sports album. As Bateman stated in the movie, Lewis & the News really did come into their own. So much so, that their music became ubiquitous on the radio, in department stores and on MTV for the next four years.

During the years of 1982 through 1988, the pop-rock sounds of the working class heartland rock hero was one of the dominant sounds thanks mainly to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and John Mellencamp. Yet, other artists were riding their coattails to commercial success, with artists like John Cafferty & the Beaver Brown Band, Indiana’s own Henry Lee Summer and, of course, Huey Lewis and his band of square hipsters.

1.9 Huey_Lewis_and_the_News_-_Sports

I distinctly remember how, upon the release of Lewis’ Sports album in late 1983 caught on quickly with the Ball State University campus. The song the campus had jumped on was “I Need a New Drug”, of course. At the time, we were in the waning days of the Cheech & Chong drug culture comedy bits actually being turned into complete hit movies and the beginning of the clueless Nancy Reagan refrain of “Just Say No.” That song, for all of its irritable catchiness, became a major hit, the second one from the album, following the smooth “Heart and Soul”. While I preferred the band’s sound on that first hit back in ’82, the new stuff was okay to me. And, honestly, it remains so to this day. But, I cannot deny the impact that album had from the time Thriller and Synchronicity’s impacts waned until the Summer of ’84 explosion of Purple Rain and Born in the USA.

Honestly, Lewis and his band had a vanilla image, even though their snake-like bass player, Mario Cipollina, would have never been caught in a video without a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Most of the band appeared to be guys with whom I might play some pick-up basketball at the local YMCA. Their music was very competent and slick, but are left with few rough edges left to leave a long-term hooks in their songs. But, so many people bought the Sports album that it may be considered something of a classic album.

1.9 i want a new drug

Sports kicks off with The News’ entry into “the rock music will save us” sweepstakes “The Heart of Rock & Roll”. While this song became the album’s third major hit, I have always found it to be irritating for some reason. That song was followed by the first single released from the album, the briefly aforementioned “Heart and Soul”. In the third slot, is a song that got some radio airplay, but did not make much of a mark on the singles chart, the doo-woppish “Bad Is Bad”. Personally, I kind of like that song since it shows off the band’s slick street corner harmonies and a touch of that blues/blue-eyed soul that The News was actually quite good at. Then, Side One ends with “I Want a New Drug”. As far as being hit-packed, Side One is just that. Yet, after having just listened to it for the first in a couple of decades, I feel the same tension headache that I used to get after listening to the album back in its heyday.

So, I get off my tired rear, flip the vinyl, clean it off and drop the needle. Oh! I remember…

1.9 walking on a thin line

Side Two of Sports kicks off with what might be my second favorite Huey Lewis song ever, “Walking on a Thin Line”. A song that describes a former soldier’s battle with PTSD was a tell that was so gripping to me. Rarely had a song done such a great job describing this relatively new at the time mental illness. The song was not a Lewis original, but I have to give them kudos for taking such a risk with the material on this album. The song’s impact remains to this day, and that may be due to the fact that it never really got much radio airplay.

The second song on Side Two is something of a throwaway, “Finally Found a Home”. I’m sure it hold significance to Huey, but to me, nah! Then, comes the fun “If This Is It”, which only became more fun because of the good summertime video. This song became the last Top 10 song from the album. Side Two ends with two more forgettable songs, “You Crack Me Up” and “Honky Tonk Blues”.

Overall, Sports is an inoffensive album. Unless, you are offended by its inoffensiveness, like I seem to be no matter how often I try to give this album a chance. I know many of you have fond memories of this album. I have fond memories from the TIME this album comes from, but the music itself holds little sway over me. Huey Lewis & the News were a nice little band from the Eighties, but that’s about it for me. Hell, I always found it a little troubling that Ellis was equating Lewis and Collins in his novel. Seriously! Would’ve the News ever recorded “In the Air Tonight”? No way! It might’ve offended someone by watching another drown.

Wait! Maybe Ellis was onto something rather truthfully creepy.

Forgotten Classic #2: Daryl Hall & John Oates’ ‘Voices’

1.8 Hall_and_Oates_Voices_album_cover_1

Let’s hop in the Wayback Machine with Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman. I convince Mr. Peabody that I would love to revisit the days leading up to the release of Daryl Hall and John Oates’ first album release of the Eighties, Voices, on July 29, 1980. During the Summer of 1976, the duo had its first Top 10 single with “Sara Smile”, a make-out record as had been released during my middle school years. The duo was lucky enough when their old label, Atlantic Records, re-released their classic single recorded a couple of years earlier “She’s Gone”, which became their second Top 10 single in the Fall of 1976. The band reached their pinnacle of the Seventies when their classic pop-rocker “Rich Girl” topped the charts in the Spring of 1977.

Then came the drought. After the Bigger Than Both of Us album had quickly run its course as “Rich Girl” began its descent down the chart, Daryl Hall & John Oates got themselves into a little rut, musically speaking. Later in 1977, the dynamic duo released their darkest album to date, Beauty on the Back Street, followed in 1978 by “watch us play anything and everything” attitude of 1978’s Along the Red Ledge (an album that was my first album review ever in my high school’s newspaper, an embarrassment of epic portions). I loved their song, the hook-less, yet still a Top Twenty hit “It’s a Laugh”, and still do to this today. But, the band was still in a relative dry spell.

In 1979, Hall and Oates released X-Static, an album that seemed to be poised to bring the band back to pop prominence. The biggest problem with the album was that it was produced by a budding soft rock ace David Foster, who took all of the new wave edginess out of the duo’s songs, forcing the songs into his vision more than the band’s. For a Hall & Oates fan like myself, the album was a difficult listen. You could just hear that the batch of songs the duo had written were having the life removed from them by their producer. New wavish twitches were being replaced with West Coast sounding hair sways, and the soul of the songs were being ripped from the band by a producer hell bent on making HIS mark in the music world, not facilitating his clients’ visions.

1.8 Band_Tour_1983

Which brings us to the date when plugged into the Wayback Machine, the date of Daryl Hall and John Oates’ release of their first self-produced album Voices. Over the decades, Voices has been eclipsed by subsequent albums such as Private Eyes and H2O, yet it was Voices that brought the duo back from their pop purgatory and into the limelight. Daryl Hall and John Oates knew they had to make this album on the east coast, specifically in New York City, since both musicians knew that NYC was where things were happening.

So, having the duo getting back to their east coast roots was integral in staging this comeback, as was them taking the reigns over their whole vision within the studio. They were going to self-produce the album. The choice was brilliant. No longer were they going to be some puppet of a Dr. Frankenstein who was going to shape them into his or her vision. Now, they were going to rely solely on their own musical instincts, which in hindsight were dead on.

From the moment one picked up the album to gaze upon the original stark, black-and-white cover, one knew we were in for something way different than anything else the duo had released in their past. Gone was the slick productions of the past, and in its place and contemporary sound that reflected the times preoccupation with nuclear annihilation and economic uncertainty. This was pop music not only for the Eighties but for eternity. From the opening song, the new wavish, slightly Beatlesque first single “How Does It Feel to Be Back”, which announced this change in the duo’s newfound confidence in their pop/rock vision.

1.8 daryl-hall-and-john-oates-youve-lost-that-lovin-feelin-rca

The second single, which pushed the band forward while looking back to their past, was a cover of the Righteous Brothers’ classic “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”. The song had become something of a forgotten classic at the time, but the duo pumped some freshness back into the Phil Spector classic that brought the whole thing to a new audience, myself included. Plus, it brought Daryl and John back into the Top 10.

But, it was the then-unheard-of third single that blew the roof off the album, turning it into the gift to humanity that we all remember it to be today. That song was the future number one hit “Kiss on My List”. The song was a slice of pop soul heaven that the duo was constantly hinting about writing. Finally, they hit the jackpot, and now, they were off and running. Later, during the summer of 1981, the duo released their fourth single from the album, the endearing and enduring pop classic “You Make My Dreams”, which only hit number two on the charts, but set the band up for more long term success.

1.8 daryl-hall-and-john-oates-you-make-my-dreams-rca-5

But, to me, the heart of this album remains the unreleased, yet brilliant slice of gospel blues written and sung by Daryl Hall called “Everytime You Go Away”. Sure, British soul singer Paul Young turned the song into a number one hit in 1985, but his version was nowhere as transcendent and majestic as Daryl Hall and John Oates stark version. Truthfully, the only other singer who could have ever done justice to this heavenly tune would have been the late, great George Michael. But, we’ll never know. Instead, we get our breath taken away as Daryl Hall does what only Daryl Hall can do, and that’s sing the hell out of that song. The emotion and control are perfect. The playing is supportive and perfect. For my money, this song represents everything that Daryl Hall & John Oates stands for…Rock ‘n’ Soul.

After this album, Daryl Hall and John Oates reached new heights as the faces of a fledgling music video channel in the early Eighties. They released three more terrific studio albums, a live album with their heroes The Temptations and a sizzling compilation album, before deciding that they had accomplished everything they set out to accomplish and pulled back on the reigns in order to live a life on a quieter street. But, let’s never forget that it was their 1980 album Voices that put those Philadelphia boys on the track to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Remember Billy Squier and His ‘Don’t Say No’ Album?

1.7 Billy_Squier_-_Don't_Say_No

The old adage about best laid plans fits with me here at the end of the first week of 2018. Instead of a week filled with fun, I contracted a non-influenza upper respiratory infection that has been kicking my butt all week, even with the aid of an antibiotic, a steroid, acetaminophen and Mucinex, and much to my family’s delight, I still do not have much of a voice. So, in place of my usual booming coach’s voice, I have a whisper, which is not good for yelling at the TV during basketball games. Now, when I say that I am yelling at the TV, I am not really emotionally involved in the game. It’s more of a coaching-thing. I tend to see what most other coaches see and react the way I normally would have while on the bench. No, I find myself yelling more at the inept play-by-play announcers and their while-a-former-great-player color analyst who-lacks-the-ability-to-actually-convey-what-athletes-are-really-told-to-do totally misses the action on the court. Oh, such is the burden I must carry.

So, what began as a fantastic post-Christmas holiday slowly slipped into a inconvenience. On the day after Christmas, my wife took me to a newly-discovered record booth in an antique mall (thanks Son #1!) in a nearby town. There, I latched onto a couple of gems, such as the sophomore effort by The Clash, 1978’s Give ‘Em Enough Rope and The Band’s 1973 album of cover songs Moondog Matinee. Yet, the most surprisingly satisfying discovery was that of Billy Squier’s 1981 forgotten-classic Don’t Say No. This album was released near the end of my senior year in high school. It seems that the album shared turntable space with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises and Rush’s Moving Pictures as my go-to albums for that summer. That summer was full of promise as I was heading into my four-year transition into adulthood known as college. I am certain my neighbors were very tired of those three albums being blared out of my room’s windows that summer.

1.7 billy squier in concert

The song that hooked me on Don’t Say No was, of course, that initial single “The Stroke”. Back in the day, I was still one of the biggest Queen fans in my world, so when I first heard “The Stroke”, the song struck me as a terrific follow-up song to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. Yet, I could tell the incomparable Freddie Mercury was not singing this song. Musically, “The Stroke” had elements of the Queen-sound, but it definitely was not a Queen song. So, I went out and purchased the 7-inch single. I will never understand my reasoning at the time, though it could have been due to low funds at the time. Anyway, that 45 rpm single was put into high rotation on Radio Keller’s playlist. The song’s whole funk-rock vibe with the self-satisfactory lyrics made for an obvious rock/pop radio dream song at the time. And, it was all over the radio. Then, other cuts from the album began to quickly get added to AOR radio playlists all over and this album blew up in the wake. Billy Squier had created an album that sonically fit nicely between all of the big rock artists of the day, like Pat Benatar, Journey, Foreigner, Loverboy, Rush and the rest.

But, my question was, would this album just become another nostalgia trip for me like the first Quarterflash album, or would Don’t Say No have stood the test of time as it becomes something of a forgotten classic? Today, I just finished listening to the album for a second time today, and I honestly have to say the album stands up. Oh, sure, some of the synthesizer sounds do scream “80s Music!”, but most of the time those washes were properly placed, especially for such a budding artist as Billy Squier was at the time. But, his pop chops may have been developed during his brief time as the leader of the power pop cult band Piper. Piper had released two albums of classic late-Seventies power pop, with their eponymous debut album being something of a cult classic, while the sophomore album should be generally overlooked. But, Squier had earned his pop stripes with Piper and was ready to rock out with an AOR sound that was both eternal and of its moment.

Few albums of any era have the Side One one-two-three punch that Don’t Say No packs. The album kicks off with what is most likely still Squier’s concert opener “In the Dark”. From the sonic build up at the beginning to the big hooks throughout the song, Squier had written an arena anthem that was required of artists nearly 37 years ago. Then, in sequence, is the first single “The Stroke”, which is followed by another single “My Kinda Lover”, yet another bonafide AOR hit. But, that does not mean that Side One closes out with throwaway songs. Hardly. Donnie Iris would have killed to have written and recorded “You Know What I Like” and “Too Daze Gone”. Like I said, this album was made to make a huge impact both in concert and on the radio, and Side One accomplished this.

Usually, after such an exhilarating opening salvo like this album has, you expect a huge drop-off in the quality of the material, believing the artist has front-loaded his or her album. Needless to say, my worries were quickly cast aside as Side Two opens with what had become Squier’s concert show stopper in “Lonely Is the Night”, yet another single from the album. “Lonely Is the Night” is Squier’s second anthemic song on this album. Instead of a musical build-up, Squier simply begins the song with just he and his guitar. But, when the whole band kicks in at the chorus, you can actually feel your fist ball up and ready to be thrust into the air, even after all these years. After a solid “Whadda Want from Me”, Squier, in a move that predated the whole power ballad phase of the late-Eighties, Squier shifts gears with his own ballad, an elegant slow song that took listeners by surprise back in the day. But, after the success of such tactics by REO Speedwagon on Hi Infidelity, Foreigner 4, Paradise Theater by Styx and Journey’s Escape, we all should have clearly known that this was going to become THE sound of the Eighties, and not my beloved New Wave. The song is “Nobody Knows”. And while this song never really gained any kind of radio play, you can tell that the song was absolutely begging to be used at Proms throughout the USA.

1.7 billy squier everybody wants you

Side Two ends with high quality AOR rockers “I Need You” and “Don’t Say No”. While these cuts are good, they were easily replaced in Squier’s concert set list the following year after the release of his second hugely successful album Everybody Wants You. By 1984, Squier seemed poised to become a huge artist, who, along with Loverboy, seemed like they were both ready for long-term success, which might have put a damper on a band like Bon Jovi if those artists had continued their upward trajectory. Unfortunately, for Squier, it was NOT his music that stymied his career. No, it was his video for his first 1984 single “Rock Me Tonite”, a terrific slice of AOR delight as their was this side of Night Ranger. So, instead of Squier coming out with a video of concert footage, much like Bon Jovi did for their Slippery When Wet songs in 1986, someone was convinced that Squier needed to dance and prance around in metrosexual clothing and underneath pink satin sheets while lip syncing this great tune. Unfortunately, America was NOT ready for its over-masculine rock heroes to be in touch with their feminine side. And, then again, Squier was NOT Freddie Mercury either, with whom we were all in on the joke. Unfortunately, Squier’s career deflated quickly, and he has been largely lost to time.

1.7 billy squier rock me tonite

But, I am so glad I finally found my replacement vinyl for this classic album, so I could prove to myself that I was NOT dreaming or letting time over-valuate this album. No, Don’t Say No is a classic, but it has largely been forgotten. So, if that album has been collecting dust at your house, my advice is to take it out, clean it off and pop on your turntable and crank it to “11”. Because “11” IS one more than “10”.