Category Archives: Musician (magazine)

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.’”

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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.”

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

IMG_1063September 1983: I was 18, attended Penn State’s Ogontz campus, lived at home and worked part-time as an usher at the Hatboro Theatre, a single-screen movie (not-quite) palace that was torn down the following year to make room for a Wendy’s.

At the start of the month, the Eurythmics ruled the charts with “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”; and Billy Joel held the top spot with “Tell Her About It” by its end. Popular films included Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Risky Business, Cujo and Easy Money.

My purchases for the month: Kate Bush’s The Dreaming and her self-titled mini-LP (kind of a mini-sampler); Michael Jackson’s Thriller; Joan Jett’s Album; Patti Smith’s Easter; Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New; Heart’s Passionworks; Led Zeppelin’s Coda; the Beatles’ Revolver; Bad Company’s Desolation Angel; Pat Benatar’s Live From Earth; and Harry Chapin’s Heads & Tales. I also picked up five singles: Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless,” Janis Joplin’s “Down on Me,” the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” Don McLean’s “American Pie” and Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People.”

I also bought this issue of Musician. Prince is on the cover, and there’s an in-depth interview with him inside, but I bought it because of the name below his: Joan Jett.

IMG_1064Anyway, at that point, Prince was still riding high on the success of 1999, which had been released the previous October, but the Q&A (by Barbara Graustark) is about much more than that double-LP set. It delves into his early years, rocky relationship with his dad and entry into music, as well as the esoteric subjects of the songs themselves.

“I think I change constantly, because I can hear the music changing,” he says. “The other day I put my first three albums on and listened to the difference. And I know why I don’t sound like that anymore. Because things that made sense to me and things that I liked then I don’t like anymore. The way I played music, just the way I was in love a lot back then when I used to make those records. And love meant more to me then—but now I realize that people don’t always tell you the truth, you know? I was really gullible back then. I believed in everybody around me. I believed in Owen [Husney, his first manager], I believed in Warner Bros., I believed in everybody. If someone said something good to me, I believed it.”

Anyway, onward to today’s Top 5:

IMG_10661) Prince – “Controversy.” In addition to the Graustark piece, there’s a short Q&A with rock critic Robert Hilburn.

Musician: I liked your first two albums, but it seemed to me that the third record, Dirty Mind, was really a growth.

Prince: Yes, the second record (For You) was pretty contrived. After the first record, I put myself in a hole, because I’d spent a lot of money to make it. With the second record, I wanted to remedy all that, so I just made it a “hit” album. I usually write hits for other people, and those are the songs I throw away and don’t really care for. Dirty Mind started off as demo tapes; they were just like songs inside that I wanted to hear. So I took it to my manager and he said “This is the best stuff I’ve heard in a long time. This should be your album.” The drag is that I don’t know how I could make another album like that. I usually change directions with each record, which is a problem in some respects, but rewarding and fulfilling for me. I have mixed emotions.

Musician: The fourth album, Controversy, sounds more new wave. 

Prince: It depends a lot on what instrument I write on. When I write on guitar, I come up with songs like “When You Are Mine” and “Ronnie Talks to Russia.” When I start with drums, I get “Controversy.” Controversy is a little erratic. I’m really proud of this new album (1999).

IMG_10672) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Fake Friends.” Charles Young has an excellent profile of former Runaway Joan Jett that, among other things, delves into her gum-chewing prowess: “‘I like to make a lot of noise and blow bubbles,’ chews Joan, now twenty-three and still fully cognizant cool. ‘It’s a good way to clear out sleeping space on airplanes.'” Of her old band, she says: “We were just a good band that wanted to have a good time onstage. What were all those other groups singing about? They didn’t have to answer those naive questions: ‘Oh my God, this is your career? What are you going to do if you find the right boyfriend? Will you dump your career?’ Well, not me. When I listen to our old records or read old articles, I still don’t understand what got people so uptight. They were afraid we’d rob their houses or kill someone.”

Of this song she says, “I think ‘Fake Friends’ is not so much about anger as a show of disgust. It’s not a big deal to lose fake friends, people who just tell you what you want to hear. You don’t have to be in rock ’n’ roll to understand that.”

IMG_10693) Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “The French Song.” In addition to the Young piece, there’s a review of Jett’s third album, simply titled Album, by one R.J. Smith, who summarizes it as “better than Wayne Newton, gravel in a Maytag, and is frequently the equal of Jett’s two earlier records.. It shows her uneasily accommodating to her arena-sized success. But if the record’s an on-again, off-again rumbler, it frequently bangs about with the glory of a buffalo padding down Park Avenue.” Later, he observes that “[t]he production terraces the sound on Album in surprising ways. On ‘The French Song,’ for instance, half the chorus soothes like a Stevie Nicks velvet glove, just before the rest of it interrupts with a punch.”

He concludes with: “‘I am what I am,’ Jett growls in ‘The French Song,’ like Popeye immediately after a green fix. And what she is comes into focus on Album: not the dedicated fan of I Love Rock ’N Roll, but a professional who knows it’s too late to turn back now. For the first time, it’s her original material and not the covers that carries the day. She has to think harder about what to do next, in the wake of her chart-topping success. Album isn’t a full answer. Still, it provides more than enough reasons for waiting around until she tries again.”

IMG_10704) Kate Bush – “Sat Into Your Lap.” In June 1983, EMI release a five-song EP to help introduce Kate to us Americans. It featured two tracks from The Dreaming, including this one.  J.D. Considine first raves about the cleaner sound for the tracks lifted from The Dreaming. It “makes it easier to absorb the layers of detail Bush packed into “Sat Into Your Lap” and “Suspended in Gaffa.” The rippling rhythms of “Sat” are far more effective when you can hear them all, and the nuances of Bush’s vocals stand out impressively. But at the same time, the sonic clarity also shows up just how much of Bush’s handiwork is gimmickry and how little is magic.” He also equates “Babooska” with an “elementary school Christmas pageant,” and concludes with “[a]fter The Dreaming suggested that Kate Bush was both daring and different, this record seems to show that she’s really pretty much the same as any other over-ambitious chanteuse.”

IMG_10725) The Plimsouls – “A Million Miles Away.” J.D. Considine is much nicer to the Plimsouls, one of the great lost L.A. bands of the ‘80s (and featured to great effect in the classic Valley Girl film): “Now here’s a garage band that has come to terms with its time. Even though producer Jeff Eyrich has slicked up the Plimsouls, tightening the arrangements and turning ‘A Million Miles Away’ into mainstream hit material, he’s left the band’s drive and bite intact. So not only are the Plimsouls able to make the most of their smarts, as on Peter Case’s ‘Shaky City,” they also enjoy the luxury of sounding dumb, as on the grimy ‘Lie, Beg, Borrow and Steal.'”

Today’s Top 5: November 1984 (via Musician)

IMG_0993November 1984: Have I covered this month before? No, apparently not. Oh, I have a Top 5 that covers the previous month and also penned a remembrance of a Walter Mondale rally I attended (though not for the politics) that same October. It feels like I have, though, and I likely would’ve pivoted to an Of Concerts Past piece this week except for this:

On Friday, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band canceled tonight’s concert in Greensboro, N.C., to protest the state’s recently enacted anti-LGBT law.

As happenstance would have it, earlier in the week, while contemplating what this post should be about, I came across this exchange in a Chet Flippo-penned article in the November 1984 Musician magazine:

Musician: Are you going to vote this year?

Springsteen: I’m not registered yet. I think I am gonna register and vote my conscience. I don’t know much about politics. I guess my politics are in my songs, whatever they may be. My basic attitude is people-oriented, you know. Kind of like human politics. I feel that I can do my best by making songs. Make some difference that way.

I’m not sure whether that means Bruce never voted before ’84 or just that he hadn’t in a long time, given that one’s voter registration doesn’t lapse overnight. That aside, it shows how he has grown from not knowing much about politics (or, perhaps, not wishing to discuss them) in 1984 to become a reliable liberal champion in the present. He campaigned for John Kerry in ’04 and barnstormed the country as part of the Vote for Change tour in ’08, after all. Anyone shocked or surprised or outraged that he decided to take a stand on this issue hasn’t been paying attention through the years; they’re likely the same folks who (still) mistake “Born in the U.S.A.” for a jingoistic paean.

Anyway, enough about the political and onto the music. Here’s today’s Top 5, as drawn from the November 1984 edition of Musician:

IMG_09941) Lindsey Buckingham – “Go Insane.” There’s a solid piece by one Sam Graham about Buckingham: “For the moment, [he] has canceled his reservations for insanity. The events of the past couple of years – in particular the torturous breakup of a six-year relationship – took him perilously close to the brink of personal and professional madness, but Buckingham has reeled himself back in. And the reel he used, the album appropriately titled Go Insane, not only loosely chronicles those events but serves as a cathartic release from them.”

The piece concludes with: “‘My life is so simple now. I’m living more or less alone, and all my focus is on this record. [Fleetwood Mac’s plans are uncertain at best.] That’s fine for the time being, although it can get lonely. I mean, I can’t handle going down to Le Dome to meet people.’ What he can handle is regaining some control over his life. ‘I lost my power in this world,’ [he] sings in ‘Go Insane,’ ‘cause I did not use it.’ That power, he observes, is ‘the power of discipline, the power to progress. There was a time when I really did think I’d lost it. But in the end, making this album was a reaffirming experience. I think I’m gaining some of that power back.’”

IMG_09962) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – “Street Fighting Man.” Chet Flippo’s interview with the Boss is basically about the Born in the U.S.A. album and tour. Of the album, Springsteen says “I wanted the record to feel like what life felt like. You know, not romantic and not some sort of big heroic thing. I just wanted it to feel like an everyday, Darlington County kind of thing. Like ‘Glory Days,’ it sounds like you’re just talking to somebody; that’s what I wanted to do.”

He expounds on that a few questions later: “Born to Run and Nebraska were kind of at opposite poles. I think Born in the U.S.A. kind of casts a suspicious eye on a lot of things. That’s the idea…. These are not the same people anymore and it’s not the same situation. These are survivors and I guess that’s the bottom line. That’s what a lot of those characters are saying in ‘Glory Days’ or ‘Darlington County’ or ‘Working on a Highway.’“

And, finally, regarding the tour:

Musician: You’re doing the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” as an encore. Is that a political statement?

Springsteen: I don’t know. I like that one line in the song, “What can a poor boy do but play for a rock ’n’ roll band?” It’s one of the greatest rock ’n’ roll lines of all time. It just seemed right for me to do it. It’s just fun. In that spot of the night it just fits in there. After “Born to Run,” we got to go up. That’s the trick. ‘Cause it’s hard to find songs for our encore. You gotta go up and then you gotta go up again. It has tremendous chord changes, that song. 

IMG_10013) U2 – “Pride (In the Name of Love).” J.D. Considine reviews U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, a good-but-not great album that includes, in my opinion, one of the greatest singles of the ‘80s, “Pride (In the Name of Love).” Considine says that it “sidetracks its tribute to the Reverend Martin Luther King’s non-violent struggle for civil rights through brash sloganeering. In a way, it’s almost a slap at their earlier songs, in which the desire to say something subsumed the message itself, until it sinks in that King died for ideas as basic as these slogans, a realization that’s as invigorating as it is frightening.”

IMG_10024) Rickie Lee Jones – “It Must Be Love.” Anthony DeCurtis opens his review of The Magazine with: “Blending early 60s R&B crack, beat-poet lyricism and cabaret jazz ease, Rickie Lee Jones’ best tracks turn the tough trick of using entirely familiar elements to disorient listeners’ expectations. Her infinitely elastic voice is the main instrument of this aural upset, wrapping itself around everyday words and feelings in ways that restore their meaning and wonder.”

As a whole, though, he thinks Rickie Lee overreaches, and offers something of a confused conclusion: “[It] falls short of its greatest artistic goals, but its many achievements wouldn’t have meant so much within the context of any less full-hearted effort.”

IMG_10035) The Everly Brothers – “On the Wings of a Nightingale.” So, after a decade apart, Don and Phil came together for a much-praised reunion concert in London in 1983 and then recorded EB ’84, their first studio album in 11 years, with producer Dave Edmunds. This Paul McCartney-penned tune is (rightfully) called “charming,” but the uncredited reviewer isn’t thrilled with the rest. Frankie Miller’s “Danger Danger” is “stompy and undistinguished”; Jeff Lynne’s “The Story of Me” is “mawkish”; and Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” is called “an oddball choice.” Dave Edmunds, too, is taken to task for his heavy-handed production, which – according to the writer – is laden with reverb, echo and compression.