Category Archives: Bangles

Today’s Top 5: April 1983 (via Record)

April 1983: high-school graduation was a month and change away. I’d yet to attend a concert, outside of some nondescript local band (named Lightning, if memory serves) that played the high school one Friday or Saturday night in ’81 or ‘82. That would change the following month, though, when I saw not one, but two cool shows: the Kinks at the Spectrum and Roxy Music (with Modern English opening) at the Tower Theater…

And, yes, we have been here before: That opening paragraph is borrowed from what I wrote 11 months back, when I covered this same stitch in time – but via Musician magazine (click here for that). So, instead of regurgitating a similar recap, I’ll turn straight to the newsprint. And I do mean newsprint: the newspaper-like Record came folded in fourths, just like its big brother Rolling Stone did in the early ‘70s, and the ink sometimes smudged on the fingers.

Ric Ocasek of the Cars, as evidenced by the picture up top, graces the cover. He’s the focus of an in-depth profile by David Gans that, as the Contents page reveals, uncovers the fact that the soft-spoken musician is warm, human and lovable. Who would’ve guessed?

Today’s top 5:

1) Holly & the Italians – “Dangerously.” Mark Mehler pens an excellent profile of Holly Beth Vincent, which opens with this: “One morning about a year ago, [she] awoke to perhaps the worst feeling a human being can have—none at all. ‘I felt like I was in a void,’ she says matter-of-factly, not unlike one of those ‘real people’ on television describing the onset of a migraine headache. ‘I had no control over my body. I didn’t know who or where I was.’”

That inability to move apparently didn’t stop her from grabbing for a pen and scribbling the lyrics to this song, which graces her second album, Holly and the Italians. According to Mehler, “it’s one of several tunes on the album dealing explicitly with the thin line between sanity and insanity; with remembrance; with violence and loss. But these subjects are handled with poignancy, melodic grace and occasional humor.”

2) R.E.M. – “Radio Free Europe.” Mehler also catches up with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, who discusses the recording of his band’s first album, then tentatively titled 7,000 Gifts. “From what I can hear,” he says, “most albums consist of ten songs all sounding pretty much the same. It’s taking me a long time to come to terms with the fact that we’re actually in the middle of recording one ourselves.” The brief piece concludes with Stipe discussing touring: “I don’t like to drive the van. Driving from Philadelphia to Madison, Wisconsin, in the middle of the night is no fun. But I can’t claim to be a martyr to rock ’n’ roll; it’s the life I chose.”

3) Marvin Gaye – “Sexual Healing.” At this point in time, Marvin was in the midst of a comeback – and sat for an interview with Gavin Martin. There’s far too much to recount, but I found and still find the last questions and answers  illuminating and sad.

4) Neil Young – “Transformer Man.” Stuart Cohn is not kind to Neil’s Trans album: “Neil Young’s much-vaunted experiment in electronic music is like one of those get-rich-quick schemes everyone comes up with now and then. It seems like a sure thing in the middle of the night as the drinks are flowing. But hungover in the cold light of dawn, you realize it wasn’t such a great idea after all.”

5) The Bangles – “I’m in Line.” Wayne King tackles the debut EP of “yet another all-girl group.” As you can see in the scan, he raises the question that “haunts most all female acts” – whether they play their own instruments on record – before dismissing it as irrelevant: “somebody has come up with what they used to call a hot platter, one so tight and sharp that it threatens to singlehandedly resurrect that deservedly-dormant phrase, power pop.”

He also singles out their “intricate and endearingly rough harmonizing” and equates the end of “I’m in Line” to the Move’s “Message From the Country.” He also pushes forth his view of how the band should evolve: “If the Bangles don’t yet articulate the tough sexual politics of a Chrissie Hynde, they at least may be close to finding that voice.”

Today’s Top 10: It Was 30 Years Ago Today…

psu_desk_86001Thirty years ago today I was but a few weeks into my senior year of college. The picture to the left is of my desk in my dorm room, and it tells much about me then – a print of the Gilbert Williams painting “Celestial Visitation,” which is probably known to most as the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1982 Daylight Again album; beside it, the fold-out poster that came with Madonna’s True Blue LP; my Ballad of Sally Rose button, which I purchased the previous year when I saw Emmylou Harris in concert, is beneath it; and, beneath that, a picture of the Beatles, circa 1967, that was taken by Linda Eastman (though I didn’t know it at the time). To the left of that: a postcard from the Wings Fun Club that looked cool to me; and, beneath that, a Marilyn Monroe postcard. I can’t make out the rest, but suffice it to say that I had one foot in the past, another in the present, and an ear for hip country sounds.

According to the Weather Underground, September 5th, 1986, was a rainy day in State College, home of the Penn State mothership, with a high of 75 degrees and a low of 55. Hot movies that summer included She’s Gotta Have It, Stand by Me and The Fly; and Shanghai Surprise, which starred Madonna and Sean Penn, had cratered at the box office the previous weekend. In America at large, the economy was still in the midst of rebounding from the nasty recession of 1981-82; the unemployment rate at the start and end of the month clocked in at seven percent – not a great number, but much better than the double-digit rates of late 1982 and early ’83 – and inflation, at all of 1.8 percent, was a non-factor.

The state of my personal economy was fairly good, too: I had a summer’s worth of savings thanks to full-time shifts at a department store back home. I continued selling my plasma twice a week like clockwork, most weeks, and rented out my student pass for Nittany Lion home games; while I attended every tailgate, I actually only saw one game during my two years at main campus. (And no regrets about that, either.) My expenses consisted primarily of fast-food, alcohol and cigarettes.

Looking back, the ‘80s were somewhat like a snow globe: America was shaken at its start, but everything settled into place by decade’s end. That the era is often derided for its fashion miscues, pop music and political retrenchment is a shame; there was much good to be found. As for 1986? It’s likely remembered most for the tragedy that begat the year, the Challenger disaster –

– but the year was far more than that sad day.

Anyway, inspired both by Herc’s Hideaway’s recent countdown of the Top 100 Albums of 1984 (the link takes you to the Top 10; navigate to older posts and you’ll find his 11-90 entries), here’s my Top 10 from ’86. Why that year? Well, “It Was 30 Years Ago Today” has a nice ring to it…

1) Paul Simon – Graceland. Selected track: “The Boy in the Bubble.” Rolling Stone recently ran down 10 Things You Didn’t Know about the album, which was released on Aug. 25, 1986. To my ears, it sounds as fresh today as it did then. The title track is sheer genius, and I almost spotlighted it, but this song contains what may well be the one line I quote more than any other (by any artist): “Every generation sends a hero up the pop charts.”

2) The Bangles – Different Light. Selected track: “If She Knew What She Wants.” Yeah, some folks may not rank this album quite as high as me, but – I loved it then, and I love it now. Back when it was released, in early ’86, much of my music purchases was on cassette – they took up less room and, too, I had a cassette deck in my car. I actually played my original tape so much that you could hear the music on the flip side bleeding through.

A quick side-note: Those top two picks are easy enough for me to recall, as I noted them at the time; and have kept them on one list or another every year since. Numbers 3 on – I’m guesstimating to an extent, as they’re albums that I loved then and still enjoy today. Where, exactly, they fall…that’s up for (internal) debate.

3) Dwight Yoakam – Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Selected track: “Honky Tonk Man,” the lead single to Dwight’s debut album, is a remake of a classic Johnny Horton song. It’s just plain intoxicating; and, at the time, it sent out a signal that Yoakam was pursuing a more purist sound than the era’s Urban Cowboy-flavored norm.

4) Steve Earle – Guitar Town. Selected track: “Guitar Town.” Another country-music outsider, another great debut. It was considered too country for rock audiences and too rock for country folk, but it found its niche with those of us who liked both.

5) Belinda Carlisle – Belinda. Selected track: “Mad About You.” The former (and future) lead singer of the Go-Go’s released her solo debut during the early summer, and it’s a gem. As with the four preceding entries, it’s an album I still listen to on a regular basis. And here’s some trivia: Andy Taylor (of Duran Duran) plays the guitar solo on this song; and the album also features former Wings guitarist Laurence Juber and non-Rolling Stone Nicky Hopkins in addition to fellow Go-Go Charlotte Caffey, who wrote one of the songs and co-wrote four others.

6) Robert Cray – Strong Persuader. Selected track: “Smoking Gun.” As I’ve mentioned before in these pages, part of my time at Penn State included spinning discs on the weekend Folk Show on WPSU. I first learned of Cray in late ’85 or early ’86 from a fellow deejay, and – as a result – already owned one of his other albums, Bad Influence, which was a good, not great, affair. This release was simply phenomenal, and this song… well, you kinda know something’s an instant classic when a bar band in the boondocks, aka Bellefonte, Pa., plays it – and that’s exactly what happened sometime in… egads. Late ’86? Early ’87? God only knows…

7) Madonna – True Blue. Selected track: “Papa Don’t Preach.” Yeah, yeah, some people will undoubtedly smirk upon seeing Madonna’s name in this list, but I have no shame. I loved it then, as evidenced by the poster above my dorm-room desk, and still find it enjoyable today. It was also the last of her albums that I liked from start-to-finish.

8) Van Morrison – No Guru, No Method, No Teacher. Selected track: “In the Garden.” One of my favorite Van albums, and one of his all-time best. Words really don’t do it justice.

9) Nanci Griffith – Lone Star State of Mind. Selected track: “There’s a Light Beyond These Woods (Mary Margaret).” I discovered Nanci through the Folk Show the year before; one of her songs was on a Fast Folk Musical Magazine sampler (this one, in fact) that I found in WPSU’s record library; and this song, which was originally recorded for her 1978 debut, was another that I showcased on occasion.

10) Lone Justice – Shelter. Selected track: “Wheels.” Lone Justice Mach II wasn’t on a par with the original lineup, and this sophomore set wasn’t as strong as the original lineup’s 1985 debut. Yet, even with that, it contains some of Maria McKee’s greatest songs, including “I Found Love,” the title cut, “Dixie Storms” and this.

In retrospect, there are other albums I’d rank higher than a few of these – Janet Jackson’s Control, for instance, deserves mention – but I didn’t become familiar with them until the late ’80s, when I worked in a new-fangled CD store. But that’s a post for another day…

Today’s Top 5: April 1983 (via Musician)

IMG_1096April 1983: high-school graduation was a month and change away. I’d yet to attend a concert, outside of some nondescript local band (named Lightning, if memory serves) that played the high school one Friday or Saturday night in ’81 or ‘82. That would change the following month, though, when I saw not one, but two cool shows: the Kinks at the Spectrum and Roxy Music (with Modern English opening) at the Tower Theater.

Back to this month: I continued a trend that began in late ‘82, picking up not one, not two, but five Lou Reed albums (his self-titled debut, Berlin, Metal Machine Music, Street Hassle and a 5-LP French compilation that, sadly, went AWOL during my Happy Valley days); four Velvet Underground albums (White Light/White Heat, their self-titled third LP, Loaded and Live at Max’s Kansas City); Roxy Music’s Avalon and 4-song High Road EP; and…Bananarama’s Deep Sea Skiving?! Yep. They were really saying something…


One funny story about Metal Machine Music. I’d read Diana Clapton’s bio of Lou, the no-star Rolling Stone Record Guide review and…I had to hear that double-LP set for myself. I just did. So, I hightailed it for my bedroom upon my return home, slipped the first of the two LPs from its sleeve and placed it onto my turntable…

Yeah, it’s bad. No, strike that. It’s worse than bad. But, I was 17. Optimistic. So I kept waiting for it to get better. A few minutes passed. Then some more. And then there was a knock at my door. My father, a concerned look on his face, entered. “Is your stereo broken?” he asked.

I never played it again.

Anyway, you might think from the list of purchases that I was a lunatic speed freak. In truth, though, I was just a quirky geek. I studied too much, belonged to the Chess and World Affairs clubs, went out some, and took the train into Philly on the occasional weekend to catch movies not available in the suburbs, like Ciao! Manhattan and Piaf: The Early Years. Musically, I veered from the esoteric to MOR; the month before, for instance, I picked up four Linda Ronstadt LPs (the new Get Closer, her first Greatest Hits, Hasten Down the Wind and Simple Dreams) in addition to four Lou Reed albums (Transformer, Live, Coney Island Baby and Legendary Hearts), the Mamas & the Papas’ Greatest Hits, Phil Collins’ Face Value and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Twenty-three albums in two months sounds like a lot. Hell, it is a lot. But I didn’t shell out big bucks. Far from it. I frequented a used-record store that was a mere 15-minute bike ride away. For the price of one LP in a mall store (or the local indie shop I also frequented), I came home with three, four, sometimes five albums. I also belonged to the RCA Music Club, which served up large discounts – and, as the case with Phil Collins, when I forgot to send back the slip, sometimes received an album I wasn’t that interested in. To the point: in looking at what I bought that March and April, only four were new – Get Closer, Face Value, and the two Roxy Music releases.

Wait, make that five: I also bought, that March, the cassette of Bob Seger’s The Distance, which I’d received on vinyl for Christmas. (I did that, sometimes, on the assumption that store-bought cassettes sounded better than homemade tapes.)

IMG_1111Bob Seger was, and still is, one of my all-time favorites. (Above my desk, in fact, is a framed, limited-edition lithograph of the Against the Wind album cover.) Which is why, back in the day, I picked up this specific edition of Musician magazine; it features an excellent profile/interview of the Midwest rocker, by Timothy White, which focuses on The Distance.

He actually challenged himself when it came to recording the LP – no mid-tempo songs, no nostalgic numbers.

IMG_1103One subject of discussion: songs he left behind and/or was still tinkering with. “I’ve got looseleaf notebooks, stacks of ‘em, with lyrics in them!” he says. “I have 100 finished songs in the can and 400 half-finished, dangling pieces like ‘Thunderbirds’ was…I’ve been writing for eighteen years, and I’ve got every tape I ever wrote on, and every notebook. I’ve always worked on the premise that the ones you continually remember are apt to be the best ones. I’ve got one I’ve been working on, off and on, for six years, called ‘Quiet Wars.’”

IMG_1104

He also talks about his burgeoning friendship with Bruce Springsteen: “I spent about six to eight hours with him in his car, driving around L.A., up and down the hills. Funny thing is, when you just talk to Bruce for brief periods of time you don’t get any sense of how deep he really is, since he’s quite shy, very reticent. But when he loosens up, you really see this guy is no dummy, that he’s extremely bright.”

Musician: Ah, but is he a good driver?

Seger: (Laughter) I didn’t really notice. I was too busy listening to his philosophies and to his album tapes. He’s got fierce moral values and principles—chiseled in stone—and you have to admire him for that. He told me the story behind Nebraska, and to see the dedication in his eyes and hear him speak about that record, it almost took on a life of its own in his mind. We stopped at the top of Mulholland and played each other’s records. I thought my tape deck was loud—his was ungodly. When we got to my stuff, me, [Jimmy] Iovine and Bruce were in his car at the top of Mulholland in this little shopping center, and this was about twelve o’clock at night. And this girl, way at the other end of the shopping center—a good 200 yards—was standing on her lawn in her bathrobe. We woke her up! And she was waving at us, motioning, ‘Turn it down!”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_11021) Bob Seger – “Roll Me Away.” In the interview, Seger recalls a trip he made in July 1980: “I climbed onto my bike and rode out of Michigan, straight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, covering 300 miles a day. Jackson Hole was where my back muscles gave out. It was an experience of renewal, but sometimes a punishing one: nearly freezing to death in northern Minnesota—in the summer!—two days later having to strip down to just a pair of shorts in the 105 degree heat of South Dakota; roaring by myself through the Badlands; slipping past the Tetons. You’re really embraced by nature and the elements in a way you just can’t be in a car, and the vistas aren’t chopped off by a roof or sun visor. Out on the plains, you can see storms coming from hundreds of miles away, wondering if they’ll swoop down on you or drift by. The sun seems hotter, the cold seems sharper, the night seems deeper.”

IMG_10972) The Three O’Clock – “She Turns to Flowers.” David Fricke’s “The Return of Garage: New Thrash from the Psychedelic Past” article was among my introductions to a West Coast music scene that, while I didn’t experience it first-hand due to living on the other coast, represented (and still represents) to me everything good about the ‘80s generation. “[C]onsider the case of the Salvation Army. (They now call themselves the Three O’Clock after the real Salvation Army raised a stink about their name.) The mock day-go cover of their debut album on Frontier, The Salvation Army; song titles like ‘She Turns to Flowers’ and ‘While We Were in Your Room Talking to Your Wall’; and the odd backwards guitar solo suggest either severe acid damage or a novelty gag record. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. The band plays with a raw punchy abandon, Clash ’77-style, and profess a respect for classy production values drummer Danny Benair says will be demonstrated on their upcoming EP.

IMG_1121“‘This band doesn’t just want to own crappy Vox amps with buzzes in them,’ declares Benair, who joined the group shortly after the album was made. ‘We take this style and put it out in a positive manner, which is pop songs with some strange twists. If we’re going to emulate anything, it’s the production qualities of the late 60s with the Beatles and early Pink Floyd.’

“The startling thing is about the Salvation Army/Three O’Clock is singer/songwriter/bassist Michael Quercio, at nineteen barely old enough to remember the original psychedelic rush of Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play.’ His songs are not a lot of abstract nonsense in an ancient pop-art dialect but a natural expression—and dramatically engaging even in their rough demo-like form—of his influences. Where most of his friends grew up digging AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, Quercia swears by the Byrds, the Left Banke and Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett-era only.”

IMG_10983) The Bangles – “The Real World.” The Bangles receive a glancing reference in the article itself (for shame, David Fricke, for shame!), but are featured in the “Selected Guide to Boss New Wax” addendum: “More go-go than the Go-Go’s, this all-girl troupe (until recently known as the Bangs) play a spritely 60s folk-pop with shimmering Shangri-Las harmonies and crisp ringing guitars. Their new 12-inch EP features four solid originals, but they’ve been known to cover Love, the Seeds, Simon & Garfunkel and the Merry-Go-Round.

IMG_10994) Neil Young – “Mr. Soul.” Dan Forte reviews Neil’s January 25th concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco: “Having recently compared his 60s and early 70s output to Perry Como in the rock press, Neil proceeded to play ‘Heart of Gold,’ ‘Old Man,’ ‘Ohio,’ ‘Helpless’ and an hour’s worth of older compositions, proving in the process that some things never lose their relevance. While Crosby, Stills & Nash seem to be desperately trying to recapture their former magic, Young appears to have one foot firmly in the past with the other securely in the present and an eye cocked toward the future.”

Forte explains that the concert often jumped from the old into the new, such as in switching from “After the Gold Rush” to the vocoder-rich “Transformer Man,” which was from his new Trans LP. A paragraph later, Forte writes: “Young closed with his electronic-but-familiar version of ‘Mr. Soul’ (also from Trans). Again juxtaposing organic and synthetic (acoustic and electronic) with his encores, ‘Comes a Time’ and ‘Computer Age,’ he demonstrated the blanket critique that has followed him throughout his career: you either love him or you hate him, with no shades of grey in between.”

IMG_11055) U2 – “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Kurt Loder reviews U2’s third LP, War, which he says is their best yet. “It’s that rare concept album that holds up (with minor lapses) from beginning to end—perhaps because these four Irishmen have a more intimate acquaintance with war and suffering and the resultant unquenchable yearning for peace than most other modern-day rockers, the Clash included. When Bono Vox sings, ‘There’s many lost, but tell me who has won,’ he’s not just really saying something—he’s said it all.”

Loder later writes: “What’s perhaps most encouraging about War is the extent to which U2 have been able to breathe some air into their monolithic sound. Thus, the modal whomp that’s at the heart of their attack here recedes a bit to allow some welcome instrumental detailing—the elegant bass of ‘As the Seconds Go By,’ the chattering guitar figure of ‘New Year’s Day,’ the free-booting drums on ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’—along with the more characteristic muscularity of a track such as ‘The Refugee.’ This loosening up, while in no way vitiating their considerable power, has made them a lot more likable on a human level.”

And…one bonus:

IMG_11066) The Call – “The Walls Came Down.” J.D. Considine, in his Rock Short Takes column, spotlights the Call’s second release, Modern Romans, though he fails to mention this (to my ears, at least) classic song. He also gets singer-guitarist Michael Been’s name wrong and makes a daft comparison of the Call to the Doors: “[T]his album establishes the Call as a contemporary group actually doing what the Doors were reputed to have done. Not that they’re soundalikes—lead singer Michael Keen sounds more like a macho David Byrne that the Lizard King—but the call does achieve the same sense of drama and challenge the Doors went after. Only the Call do it without the bullshit factor.”