I’ve been skipping through the years every which way of late, somewhat like Marty McFly in Back to the Future II – where I stop next, who knows? Today’s edition picks up the non-linear tale in January 1983 with Trouser Press, a magazine I usually read at the bookstore.
It was a difficult time for the music industry. As Mick Farren points out in his “Surface Noise” column: “The record industry is in almost complete decline, bled to death by cowardice, ignorance, home taping and video games.” And: “Mass market radio…has gone after the zombie market and based itself largely on music a decade or more old.”
The albums I bought that month included Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask; Neil Young’s Trans; Van Morrison’s Moondance; Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicle; Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits; and Todd Rundgren’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect. There was much more that I wanted, and a few came from this issue.
1) Bonnie Hayes with the Wild Combo – “Shelly’s Boyfriend.” Bonnie & band are featured in a quick-hit feature with fellow newbie acts R.E.M., Wall of Voodoo and Trees, who apparently was just one guy (Dane Conover). It covers “who,” “how,” “what” and “why.” We learn that “a decade ago, San Francisco native Bonnie Hayes was a teenager playing keyboards in jazz-rock fusion bands. In the ensuing years she lived the life of the journeyman musician, moving to New York and then Atlanta, working in every sort of bar band imaginable, from jazz to Top 40 to country. At one point she cranked out ‘heavy rock’ in a group that included future Foghat member Nick Jameson.” Later, we learn that Hayes & Co. “play energetic, gleaming pop music, not unlike current cotton-candy ‘new wave’ bands but with considerably more depth.”
Here’s a cool video of Hayes and the Wild Combo from September of ’83 performing “Shelly’s Boyfriend” and “Shake.”
2) Bruce Springsteen – “Atlantic City.” Starkness at the Edge of Town reads the headline for this review of Springsteen’s now-universally acclaimed Nebraska album, which he recorded on a four-track cassette recorder. The songs were demos; he assumed, while laying them down, that he’d flesh them out in the studio with the E Street Band. The sparseness of the tracks, however, seemed to capture a certain essence that was lost when they were ported into the E Street soundscape; and, as a result, Springsteen released his original takes instead. Reviewer Ira Robbins, however, isn’t totally sold: “When Springsteen searches for the point of essentially meaningless crimes in the title track and ‘Johnny 99,’ he comes up empty-handed.” Later, he observes that “[w]hen Springsteen doesn’t force Big Truths onto his subject matter he’s a more perceptive commentator and ultimately more profound.”
3) Bow Wow Wow – “I Want Candy.” I have doubts that the Top 20 Domestic Albums Chart featured at the front of the magazine is accurate. Chief reason: Too many outlier acts, like Yaz, English Beat, R.E.M. and the Malcolm McLaren-created and -controlled Bow Wow Wow, which featured teenager Annabella Lwin and the Ants from Adam & the Ants. There were controversies surrounding the group, ranging from McLaren’s supposed support of home taping to his sexualization of the underage Lwin, most notably in a recreation of Manet’s “Le Déjeuner sur l’herbs” painting that was used as the See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah, City All Over! Go Ape Crazy! cover art in the U.K. and for the Last of the Mohicans E.P. in the U.S. (I won a copy of the E.P. in a give-away from our local newspaper, the Today’s Spirit. I forget when, exactly.)
Regardless, this is still a fun rendition of the 1965 Strangeloves’ hit. It originally appeared on Last of the Mohicans and, then, topped the I Want Candy album, which – if the Trouser Press charts are to be believed – was No. 18 on the charts.
4) Rachel Sweet – “Shadows of the Night.” In the quick-hit Fax & Rumours section, there’s this: “Rachel Sweet may be small, but she’s not about to let other female singers walk over her. Last year the atomic Akronite recorded D.L. Byron’s ‘Shadows of the Night,’ but added lyrics of her own (with Byron’s approval). This year Pat Benatar is riding the song into the charts. It’s Sweet’s version, however, and the post-punk popper isn’t credited. Sweet’s manager/father is aiming for an out-of-court settlement with the song publisher to smooth ruffled egos and redirect royalties.”
5) R.E.M. – “Radio Free Europe.” “The unassuming quartet got together in their native Athens, Georgia a little more than two years ago,” we learn in the “how” section of this quick-hit feature. Under “why,” we’re told: “R.E.M. is compared to everyone from the Byrds, B-52s (fellow Athenians) and Psychedelic Furs to the Who, Television and Herman’s Hermits. They themselves list influences as disparate as Patti Smith, Donna Summer and Pere Ubu. Their haunting, minor-key songs feature insistent choruses, Stipe’s raspy singing and Buck’s ringing Richebacker. Lyrics, written mostly by Stipe, are purposely oblique. ‘You should just be able to get a feeling from the whole song,’ Buck says. ‘It doesn’t have to make any sense as far as structure goes.’”
Here they are on Late Night With David Letterman later in the year…