Category Archives: David Bowie

Today’s Top 5: January 1982 (via Record Magazine)

IMG_0795This issue, the third in the magazine’s history, marks the start of my half-decade-long subscription to Record. You’ll notice, on the cover, that the date is listed as “Jan. 1981.” That’s incorrect, as becomes evident once one unfolds it to its newspaper-size front page, where the date is listed as “Jan. 1982.” It wasn’t the only flub the magazine made during its run. One issue, and I’ll likely feature it in the coming weeks, lists Joan Jett on the cover, but includes nada thing about the former Runaway inside.

Rod Stewart’s mug, obviously, graces the cover. I wasn’t a fan of his then, and am still not a fan – though I did see him in concert once, on a very muggy summer’s night at Hershey Stadium in ’88 or ’89. In the accompanying interview, he says about his late-‘70s work: “I probably deserve all the criticism I got. I was listening to Britt Ekland, having stupid album covers done. But we’re allowed to make mistakes, and I think I’ve come through the other end of the tunnel. I just let the image run away with itself, posing all the time.”

IMG_0796The issue does have a few cool articles, however, including one by David McGee about legendary producer Bob Ezrin. Ezrin explains that “[t]here are certain philosophies behind what I do in terms of how I construct a record and where I think things belong. Part of my style might be that I don’t believe in stereo drums. You know why? Because if you sit back listening to a record you will automatically think of a live performance in front of your face somewhere. And when you hear a guitar player who’s far left, and a guitar player who’s far right, and a bass player who’s in the center and a singer who’s in the middle and you have a drummer who’s in the center too but he’s got one tom-tom 20 feet out to the side and the other 20 feet out in the other direction, the only way for that guy to play that kit is to run real fast from one side of the stage to the other, right? I think that’s psycho-acoustically disturbing.”

There’s also a piece about the new wave in music videos: concept videos. Other articles focus on Foreigner, Molly Hatchet and the Rolling Stones, who’d just wrapped a major tour.

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5:

IMG_07991) David Bowie – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire).” There’s this, on page 6: “Director Paul Shrader and composer-producer Giorgio Moroder…have enlisted David Bowie to write lyrics and sing the title song for Shrader’s remake of the 1942 horror classic, Cat People.” Skip down a few paragraphs and… “Although he hasn’t heard Bowie’s lyrics yet, Shrader says the artist described the song to him as ‘very Doors-like, Jim Morrison and all that,’  which jibes well with Moroder’s plan to use ‘strange noises and a kind of low note which keeps the tension throughout the film.”

IMG_08022) Garland Jeffreys – “R.O.C.K.” The song comes from Garland’s 1981 Escape Artist album, as well as his live Rock ’n Roll Adult LP from the same year. He’s the focus of a short report that reads: “Garland Jeffreys continues to confound the savants. At a time when touring has soured for most bands, he’s drawing crowds in areas where he’s never had a track record of serious album sales. Now he’s planning to test the international arena with a world tour in 1982. ‘Comes this time next year,’ he asserts, ‘you’ll know where I’ll be—on the road. And I’m enjoying it because I’m getting what I want—I put out a record and I tour around it.’” He also had an MTV special lined up; was planning a new album; and was “in the process of fulfilling his ’35-millimeter dreams’ by writing music for a new film titled The Breaks, which tentatively costars Jeffreys and Harvey Keitel.”

IMG_08073) Garland Jeffreys – “96 Tears.” Garland is also mentioned in one of the articles about the Rolling Stones’ tour, as he opened for Mick & the Boys in Hartford. “Although Garland Jeffreys had been set to open the Brendan Byrne Arena shows, a scheduling foul-up within the Stones organization resulted in his dates being shifted to Hartford. Nevertheless, when all was said and done, Jeffreys found it an exhilarating experience. ‘When it came down to the show in Hartford, the Stones and their crew treated us wonderfully. Mick, Charlie, and Bill came backstage to greet us…I was very moved.’”

So, though I rarely indulge in twin spins, the double mention deserves a double-shot. As with the first clip, here’s Garland on the ABC late-night sketch-comedy show Fridays.

IMG_08064) Neil Young – “Shots.” re*ac*tor receives a negative review from Wayne King, who writes: “What saves the record is the last song, ‘Shots,’ the kind of song Young always comes up with when he needs it. Car horns and exploding amplifiers become the shots, ‘ringing all along the border’ of the nightmare world that Young transports us to with his best material. It’s probably appropriate that the song’s best line points up why so much of Reactor is a failure: ‘lust comes creeping in/through the night/to feed on hearts.’ If Young had focused less on the objects that move people, and more on the emotions that drive them, he might have made a great record.”

I think I’ve written this before on this blog, but if I haven’t: re*ac*tor was the first Neil album I purchased; and I liked it enough to name it my Album of the Year for 1981. Of course, I was 16 and heard music in a different way than, say, I do today. In retrospect, I wouldn’t choose it for top honors – that would go to my No. 2 that year, Beauty and the Beat by the Go-Go’s. But, while re*ac*tor isn’t a great album, per se, it does possess some truly stupendous moments, such as “Southern Pacific,” “Rapid Transit” and, as Mr. King mentions, “Shots.”

IMG_08105) Elvis Costello – “A Good Year for the Roses.” Another album reviewed by Wayne King is Elvis’ country outing, Almost Blue: “Elvis, known to be a bit of a wise guy on his own, doesn’t sound too convincing on a track like ‘Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down,’ and, hell, I don’t think he’s much of a drinker, either. Right there is the dilemma Almost Blue never resolves: imagine this punning, paranoid Britisher as a good ol’ Southern boy. That would require a leap of faith that the music won’t let you make.”

I’ve written before about this song, and shared this same video, but – hey, unlike Mr. King, I find the album extremely listenable and likable. Maybe not Elvis’ best, but definitely worth a spin.

And… one bonus:  the Go-Go’s – “Lust to Love.” As Record’s list shows, Belinda & Band opened for the Stones in Rockford. There’s no mention of them in the article, though. One wonders how they were received – hopefully well, as they were a punky bunch. Here they are in December ’81:

Today’s Top 5: January 1978 (via Trouser Press)

IMG_0005When January 1978 began, I was 12 and far from a music freak. I owned a few bargain-bin Elvis Presley LPs that collected the King’s movie music along with his Golden Records collection, The Monkees Greatest Hits, a two-LP Donny & Marie collection and the soundtrack to The Spy Who Loved Me, along with a handful of singles by Jan & Dean. The untimely death of the king of rock ’n’ roll, Elvis Presley, in August ’77 kickstarted something, but most of my time was spent on other pursuits – TV, the movies, pro wrestling and comic books, primarily.

America, that winter, was limping along: 1977 ended with unemployment at 7.1 percent and inflation at 6.5 percent. Jimmy Carter was president. The biggest movie of the previous year was Star Wars, and other popular films included Smokey & the Bandit, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl, The Spy Who Loved Me and Saturday Night Fever. The last film, thanks to its Bee Gees-laden soundtrack, pushed the disco craze over the top.

The Bee Gees eventually became one of the main targets of the disco backlash, but at the crack of dawn on January 1st, 1978 – a Sunday – they were ensconced atop the charts with “How Deep Is Your Love.”

“Baby Come Back” by Player would displace it a week later, but no matter – by the start of the next month, they’d be at No. 1 again with “Stayin’ Alive.” Other popular songs that New Year included Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again,” Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life,” Paul Simon’s “Slip-Sliding Away”…and Shaun Cassidy’s “Hey Deanie.” (The year’s week-by-week charts can be found here.)

IMG_0015Not that you’d know any of that from this issue of Trouser Press. Billed as “America’s Only British Rock Magazine,” it opens with a note from editor-in-chief Ira A. Robbins: “For those of us permanently afflicted with a fascination for the rock ’n’ roll business (as something totally detached from the music), this is an amazingly interesting time to be alive. The first attempts by U.S. companies to import new wave bands are vying with and against home-grown groups trying to win acceptance in their own backyards. The first half of 1978 is the make-or-break time for p*nk rock in America because U.S. companies know their limits when it comes to developing new trends in music: they’ll go as far as it takes to decide how much (or little) money there is to be made, and base their future involvement on the early results.”

IMG_0007There’s also a reader’s poll of the best LPs of all time. Who’s Next tops it, followed by Ziggy Stardust, the White Album, Sgt. Pepper and…The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis?! Genesis scores an impressive three additional albums on the list, too, including the Gabriel-less A Trick of the Tail; solo Gabriel scores one, too. I’ve never been much of a Genesis fan, but that seems about right for that time and place. Some punk/new wave make the cut, too, but so does – as evidenced by the Gabriel-era Genesis – a preponderance of progressive rock. ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery rates higher than the Clash’s self-titled debut. (To see the entire list, click on the image.)

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5: January 1978 (circa Trouser Press).

IMG_00091) Suzi Quatro – “Devil Gate Drive.” My introduction to Suzi Quatro wasn’t that different from most of America: on consecutive Tuesday nights in November 1977, when she guest starred on Happy Days. The Detroit-born rocker found success in England in the early/mid ‘70s, and would score a hit in the U.S. in 1979 with “Stumblin’ In,” but – for a generation of kids – she’ll always be know as Leather Tuscadero, the kid sister of Fonzie’s one-time flame Pinkie.

IMG_00112) The Jam – “In the City.” There’s an excellent article about the Brit band by Robbins. It opens with: “Try calling Paul Weller of the Jam a punk rocker, and find out how icy a cold stare can be.  The intense young man who fulfills the Townshend role in England’s only mod new wave band has very definite ideas about the Jam, and punkdom plays no part therein.”

IMG_00123) Graham Parker & the Rumour – “Stick to Me.” Parker sits for an interview about his third album, Stick to Me. The initial, month-long recordings for the album had to be scrapped due to a serious mishap, as the rocker explains: “We did the whole thing and it sounded absolutely great. When we went to mix it, the power didn’t come out. We went to another studio and they said there’s something wrong with the bottom frequencies, some fault with the studio.” So back into the studio they went, with Nick Lowe as producer, and they banged out the album in about a week.

The interviewer, Jon Young, mentions that he hears Motown influences on the first two albums. Parker agrees, to an extent: “Definitely the power of some of that stuff. I mean, you couldn’t say we sounded like a soul band, but the dynamics of that are something we learned.”

“I think it’s much more valid than Bruce Springsteen,” comments Young.

“I don’t know about that,” responds Parker. “I’m a fan of his. I can’t wait for his new album, whenever he gets it together. He’s done loads of tracks.” (That album-in-the-making, of course, was Darkness on the Edge of Town.)

IMG_00134) David Bowie – “Heroes.” John Walker delves deep into Bowie and Bowie lore in his review of the Heroes album, opening with: “If David Bowie ever conceded that his origins were extraterrestrial, I think the announcement would carry about as much impact as his earlier admission of his own bisexuality. People would ‘ooooh’ and ‘ahhhh’ for a bit, then it would be cool to admit that you were from another planet; finally the Western world would assimilate the outer space culture. Eventually Bloomingdale’s would offer a line of antennae.”

Of the song “Heroes,” he writes that it “could be Dream #1. It too offers no promise of physical permanence – ‘Though nothing will keep us together/we can beat them/for ever and ever’ – but ‘we can be Heroes/just for one day.’ The persistent set of quotation marks surrounding the title indicates some sort of neo-realistic perspective that acknowledges a context greatest that the world of celebrities.”

The review ends with: “I suggest you buy two copies. Listen to one and bury the other in the garden. See what happens.”

IMG_00175) The Clash – “White Riot.” In Brian Hoggs’ “Ramblings” column, he mentions/reviews a Clash concert. “…Joe Strummer had spent most of the day in bed, trying to shake a throat infection. (He’d collapsed twice the night before in Glasgow.) It was a miracle that the show was on; two other places had refused to let the Clash play. But they came; Joe screamed ‘London’s Burning’ and everything else was forgotten. Mick Jones’s guitar work gets better and better, spitting and spilling solos. Paul Simonon’s bass is tight and Nicky Headon is a perfect drummer for the group, forcing and cutting into the rhythm. But your eyes fall back on Strummer. Sometimes he plays guitar, smashing into the sound, sometimes he doesn’t, but leans and screams into the mike. Sometimes he stands just stares and twinkles.”

The piece concludes thusly: “The Clash finished their set with a ‘White Riot’ that had eight times the power of the album and single version put together. It showed how far the group as progressed even with their older material. It also reminded me of when the 45 first came out and how the Clash has possibly become the most vital and exciting British group in years.”

Today’s Top 5: October 1985 (via Musician)

IMG_5332I first picked up Musician magazine in the early 1980s. As the name indicates, it was geared to musicians – of which, I wasn’t one. I didn’t buy it for the pictures of instruments and tech gear, though they all looked nice, but the profiles of musicians and record reviews.

This issue, as evidenced by the picture, featured John Cougar Mellencamp on the cover; and has an insightful five-and-a-half page article about him. The Indiana rocker, at the start of his career, hit a few obstacles, essentially flooring the gas pedal without first opening the garage door. He signed with Tony DeFries, David Bowie’s manager, who insisted on the “Cougar” moniker, released a few slipshod albums – his first, Chestnut Street Incident in 1976, sold a grand total of 12,000 copies – and earned a reputation of being a Grade A jerk. “I really didn’t have any handle on my career,” Mellencamp explains. “I was just insecure enough to listen to anybody who’d been in the business a long time—I figured they knew more.”

IMG_5333He gradually learned that there was more to rock music than looking the part, however. “I Need a Lover” (1978), “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (1980) and “Hurts So Good” (1982) were solid stepping stones, serviceable tunes that wouldn’t cause anyone to change the radio station. And then ”Jack and Diane” happened. The reaction to that imperfect, but heartfelt song caused him to rethink his approach to music. Like “Hurts So Good,” it hailed from American Fool (1982); a four-star song on a two-star album, in other words. Uh-Huh (1983), his next effort, was better – “Pink Houses” is a classic slice of heartland rock, and “Crumblin’ Down” and “Authority Song” are damn good, too. But those songs didn’t foretell just how good he’d become; his next two albums, Scarecrow (1985) and Lonesome Jubilee (1987), stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best albums of the 1980s.

scarecrowThe Wikipedia entry gives conflicting release info for Scarecrow – September is cited in the first paragraph, but November is listed in the quick-hit section on the right. AllMusic lists November, too, but I recall playing the cassette, which came with an extra track (“The Kind of Fella I Am”), long before Thanksgiving – and this Billboard record chart from September 1985 that I just found proves me right.

Anyway, at the time, I was a junior at the Penn State mothership in State College, aka Happy Valley. I’ve covered the same timeframe here and here; there’s not much to add. I’d like to list the albums and singles I purchased this specific October, but my desk calendar, where I kept track of such things, remained at home with most of my things. I suspect, though, that it was none. Money was tight, and most of my cash went to non-dining hall food and other essentials, like pencils, typing paper and beer.

In fact, there were a few weekends when I hit the road in order to spend Saturday at the department store where I worked – when I didn’t have a Folk Show gig, of course. October 4th was one such example. I made money other ways, too: I rented out my season football pass; and sold my plasma twice a week. On the former: demand wasn’t great (or I was a bad scalper); I made 15 or 20 bucks a pop. On the latter: I possessed strong antibodies, I was told, so earned more than the going rate. My memory says it was $10 the first go-round and $15 the next.

About the Folk Show: I’d been on-air a total of two, maybe three times, by October’s end. The first teetered on disaster: a cart tape malfunctioned. Flustered, I muttered “What the fuh…” into the microphone, catching myself just in time to block the the final “ck” from slipping out. I’m sure the listeners were laughing their heads off.

As for Today’s Top 5, culled from this Musician:

IMG_53521) John Cougar Mellencamp – “Minutes to Memories.” The early and mid-1980s were a hard time for rural America: family farms were failing, and the reverberations expanded beyond the farms to the many businesses supporting them. On the Scarecrow album, Mellencamp took what he’d learned from “Jack & Diane” and “Pink Houses” and applied it to the reality that surrounded him in small-town Indiana – as Timothy White says in the review on page 109, “It’s a rock ’n’ roll Grapes of Wrath.”

There are many excellent songs on the album, but – to my ears – the best is ”Minutes to Memories,” written with childhood friend George Green. It spins the tale of an old man offering a young ‘un advice gleaned from his life’s experiences:

On a Greyhound 30 miles beyond Jamestown,
he saw the sun set on the Tennessee line.
He looked at the young man who was riding beside him.
He said, ‘I’m old, kind of worn out inside.
I worked my whole life in the steel mills of Gary
and, my father before me, I helped build this land.
Now I’m 77 and, with God as my witness,
I earned every dollar that passed through my hands.
My family and friends are the best thing I’ve known.
Through the eye of the needle, I’ll carry them home.’

‘Days turn to minutes
and minutes to memories.
Life sweeps away the dreams
that we have planned.
You are young and you are the future,
so suck it up and tough it out,
and be the best you can.’

Near the end, there’s a dramatic reveal: the young man, now older himself, is the narrator, and sharing the same hard-earned wisdom with a younger man – his son, perhaps:

The old man had a vision, but it was hard for me to follow.
I do things my way and I pay a high price.
When I think back on the old man and the bus ride,
now that I’m older, I can see he was right.

Another hot one out on Highway 11.
This is my life, it’s what I’ve chosen to do.
There are no free rides, no one said it’d be easy.
The old man told me this, my son, I’m telling it to you.

It’s a remarkable song from an undeniably great album.

IMG_53502) Neil Young – “My Boy.” Jimmy Guterman disliked Old Ways: “Neil Young’s desire to make real country music may be sincere, but succumbing to formula isn’t how to do it. ‘Old ways can be a ball and chain,’ Young sings. So can new beginnings.”

Despite having the trappings of country music, including fiddles and guest turns by outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, the album isn’t that far from the Comes a Time and Harvest blueprint. It doesn’t match either in terms of quality, mind you, but compared to the albums that it followed (Everybody’s Rockin’) and preceded (Landing on Water), it was an aural oasis. This touching song became a semi-staple during my days on the Folk Show.

3) Dwight Yoakam – “Guitars, Cadillacs.” After a failed stint in Nashville during the Urban Cowboy era, Dwight headed west to L.A., where his brand of honky-tonk music fit in with the burgeoning “cowpunk” scene. He released an EP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., on an independent label; and earned enough rave reviews to get picked up by Reprise, which re-configured the EP into a full-length album the following year (which is when I bought it).

Writes J.D. Considine: “It’s one thing to cut a ‘Ring of Fire’ that makes the man in black sound like a city slicker, quite another to write ‘Miner’s Prayer,” a genuinely affecting Kentucky lament.” The title tune is a classic –

IMG_53554) Bryan Ferry – “Slave to Love.” The ever-suave Ferry sits for an interview with future Billboard editor Timothy White, talking about Roxy Music and his solo Boys and Girls LP, which had been released over the summer. “I didn’t want the album to be Avalon, Part Two, but it does have a continuity in that at least 10 of the musicians on both records are the same. And I’m the same composing-wise that I was on the previous album. But it has some differences as well. I’m always seen my Roxy catalog as my main body of work, as opposed to my solo career, and I do see Boys and Girls as coming from my Roxy work.”

As far as checking out the competition: “Currently, I don’t listen to what anybody else is doing in music because there are so many things that seem to remind me a bit of what I do or have done. It gets incestuous. [laughter] At the end of the day, you just have to know that no one can be you, and at best there can only be superficial similarities. I’m just getting further and further into myself.”

I owned the album; and, to my ears, it was Avalon, Part Two sans the hypnotic pull of the original – actually, Avalon, Part Three, given that Roxy Music’s live High Life EP (later released as the full-length Heart Still Beating CD) was, kinda sorta, Part Two.

5) David Bowie – “Heroes.” Hooked on Digital? asks the headline of Scott Isler’s in-depth article about compact discs, which were far from mainstream in 1985. Only 3300-4500 titles were in print (vs. 85,000 LPs) – a lack of printing plants was one reason. Another: the need to renegotiate royalty agreements. The article also dwells on the analog v. digital differences in both recording and listening; and predicts the increasing scarcity of vinyl. Doug Sax, the president of Sheffield Lab and the Mastering Lab, and Emiel Petrone, a senior vice-president at Polygram Records and chairman of the Compact Disc Group, “agree the LP will linger on only as a high-end curio for audiophiles willing drop a couple thou on a cartridge alone.”

Now, Bowie isn’t mentioned in this article. What’s the connection? Those first months at Penn State, I fell in with a guy who not only owned a CD player, but had an eclectic CD collection that included titles by Kitaro, Michael Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis…and David Bowie (the original RCA issues, for anyone who’s curious). This song was always one of my favorites to listen to with headphones –