Sunday, October 26, 2008

When adverts go bad...

One of the pleasures of flipping through old music magazines is finding those woefully misguided advertisements that surely remain a source of embarrassment for the acts they were intended to promote. Today, I thought I'd scan a couple to share with you.

Typically, an ad is placed to hype a hit. Here is a rare example of an ad inspiring a hit:

In 1976, Heart's debut album Dreamboat Annie had become a left-field million-seller and the group's label, Vancouver-based Mushroom Records, patted itself on the back with this National Enquirer-styled ad that appeared in December of that year.

"Regional hit mushrooms into million seller," read one headline.

"Tiny Record Co. Beats The Odds," read another.

In the end, tiny record co. beat itself.

The ad also pictured Ann and Nancy Wilson, seemingly topless and back to back, above the headline, "Sisters Confess: It Was Only Our First Time." The sisters were so appalled by the implication they were lesbian lovers they broke their contract with Mushroom, not long after this ad appeared, and signed with CBS affiliate label Portrait.

Barracuda, the leadoff single from Heart's first Portrait album, was inspired by the above ad; many of Ann's lyrics (You lying so low in the weeds/I bet you gonna ambush me") are surely directed at Heart's former label.

Next up, this gem from Fall 1981, promoting U2's sophomore album October.

The band is described as the "one thing standing between you and assembly-line rock," a reminder these future rock superstars were once simply upstart newcomers, considered longshots to knock the likes of Foreigner, Journey and Styx from their lofty perches. (To be fair, all three bands have played to bigger audiences than U2 so far in 2008.) Yet the ad's real delight is found in the copy below the picture. Does anybody remember Bono being nicknamed "The Green Tornado," or the Edge being known as "the man of a thousand guitars"?

Actually, U2 does.

"There was this really embarrassing line of promotion on our very first album," Bono told BBC, erroneously, in 1992. "When we arrived in America and we were feeling pretty cool...for about a minute. And (laughs) they described The Edge as 'a man of a thousand guitars.' They thought this was very exciting."

"It was ironic," revealed The Edge, "since I had only one guitar at the time."

Then drummer Larry Mullen reminded the BBC of Bono's short-lived Green Tornado nickname.

"I wasn't gonna bring that up," replied Bono, so embarrassed, he surely conceived his Mephisto alter-ego later that day.

From this fall's two-CD reissue of October:

A Celebration (link expired)

Buy Heart here

Buy U2 here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Here Comes A Saturday/Wish — Cowboys International (1979)

Cowboys International: Terry Chimes, far left

Sometimes one blog post begats another. While I was writing last weekend about Topper Headon's 1986 solo album Waking Up, I felt compelled to devote some words to the post-Clash career of the band's other significant drummer, Terry Chimes. He played on the Clash's incendiary 1977 debut (credited as Tory Crimes), left soon thereafter, only to return to the fold in May 1982 following Headon's firing. Between those two stints, Chimes sat in with Johnny Thunders's Heartbreakers and Generation X, but more significantly, he was a member of the short-lived Cowboys International.

Chimes didn't simply join a gang of Clash wannabes. Fronted by vocalist-composer Ken Lockie, Cowboys International specialized in propulsive, highly stylized synth-rock that, like many new wave bands of the era, was heavily influenced by Bowie, Roxy and Eno. If Lockie and Co. were trying to predict what '80s pop would sound like, give 'em credit: they were on the right path. (One suspects the nascent Psychedelic Furs were listening and taking notes.)

Today's posts come from the quintet's 1979 debut, The Original Sin. Here Comes A Saturday was the languid, glacial single, while Chimes drums the hell out of the album's closing track, the whirlpooling Wish, which also features a guest turn from Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene (also another Clash alumnus).

Alas, this Cowboys International lineup was disassembled about six months after The Original Sin's release and Lockie toured the record with an almost entirely different group of musicians. He released a solo disc, The Impossible, in 1981 before briefly joining PiL as a keyboardist. In 2003, he reissued The Original Sin as Revisited and, a year later, recorded a new Cowboys International album, The Backwards Life of Romeo.

Chimes, as previously mentioned, rejoined the Clash in 1982 and can be heard pounding the skins on the group's recently released concert set, Live at Shea Stadium. Chimes and The Clash parted company again in 1983; the drummer joining Hanoi Rocks and later Black Sabbath, before pursuing his current career as a chiropractor.

Here Comes a Saturday (link expired)

Wish (link expired)

Buy it here

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not One Of Us — Peter Gabriel (1980)

Just a guess, but I suspect Sen. John McCain ain't big into rock music. That's OK, rock music ain't big into him, either. No wonder, then, the GOP's presidential candidate and his running mate are having a dickens of a time finding a rallying anthem for their campaign.

To date, John Mellencamp, Jackson Browne, The Foo Fighters and Heart have all asked the McCain-Sarah Palin ticket to stop using their songs. Browne even launched a lawsuit over the use of Running on Empty in a McCain TV spot, although you'll notice those truth-in-advertising watchdog groups didn't say peep about it. ("Running on Empty? Yup, that pretty much sounds right. Next...")

I may not be allowed to vote in the U.S. election, being a Canadian and all, but I'd like to contribute to the process in some small but meaningful way. So, today, Bongo Jazz would like to suggest the ideal anthem for the McCain-Palin ticket. Admittedly, the song wasn't a big hit, like Pink Houses or Barracuda or My Hero, but it chimes with an emerging theme of the McCain-Palin campaign: be suspicious, even afraid, of those people who are not exactly like you.

Palin may become tongue-tied when asked difficult, 'gotcha' questions like, "What newspapers do you read?" — damn that liberal media — but she was articulate and at-ease spreading xenophobic disinformation (how Christian of her!) by telling crowds last week that Barack Obama "palled around" with terrorists and that he "doesn't see America as you and I do." Meanwhile, Time magazine reports McCain volunteers are being encouraged to accuse Obama of being a terrorist, of being a secret Muslim, of refusing to salute the flag, of hiding where he was actually born. And some sheep ... er, value voters are believing this nonsense (see video below ... and get really depressed), pointing to what they consider irrefutable evidence: Obama's name sounds kinda threatening, especially the Hussein part. His skin isn't middle-America white. His family tree has roots around the world. And these McCain-Palin supporters are reacting exactly how you'd expect folks who respect the sanctity of life would: By shouting "kill him," and "off with his head," in reference to Obama, during GOP rallies.

Now imagine how energized this base would become if McCain-Palin adopted today's post, from Peter Gabriel's third solo album, as their official campaign song. Its chorus — "Not one of us/Not one of us/Oh no, not one of us" — boils down the intellectual complexity and philosophical nuance of the GOP's key campaign plank into just six words ... so few, even McCain-Palin supporters could memorize them all before election time. Republican strategists will nod their heads in agreement to the line, "There's safety in numbers when you learn to divide." And everyone who believes 'foreign' is a synonym for anti-American will surely chant "USA! USA!" after the lyric: "A foreign body/And a foreign mind/Never welcome in the land of the blind." (Blind, in this context, is not an insult. Travel and book-learning opens the eyes and makes you an elitist, don't you know.)

Of course, Gabriel is rebuking, not endorsing, xenophobic impulses, although methinks some of the people who now suspect Obama masterminded the 9/11 attacks might not be gittin' the rest of his lyrics.

Since Friday, McCain has tried to tone down the 'who is the real Barack-Obama' rhetoric at his town halls meetings but, sadly, the genie is now out of the bottle. The war hero is being heartily booed by his own supporters for stating the simple truth that Obama is "a decent family man." McCain and his handlers are fools if they expected any other reaction from their reconcilatory about-turn. I am reminded of a line in Bruce Cockburn's The Trouble With Normal: "What did they think the politics of panic would invite?

Not One of Us (link expired)

Buy it here

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Topper Headon's Waking Up (1986)

This has been an eventful year at retail for The Clash; not bad for a band that imploded almost a quarter century ago. Earlier this year saw DVD releases of Revolution Rock, a collection of live performances and TV appearances, and The Future is Unwritten, Julian Temple's acclaimed documentary on the life of Joe Strummer. This month, there has been a new record, Live at Shea Stadium, and an upscale coffee table book (very punk rock!) that doubles as the band's autobiography. It makes you wonder: has the bottom of the barrel been scraped clean, or can more CRP* be dredged up to lure Clash fans to the cash register?

(* Clash-related product.)

Clash Mark II guitarist Vince White has proposed a re-recording of the band's much-reviled swansong Cut the Crap that would use Strummer's existing vocals, a la Free as a Bird. An intriguing proposition, especially if Mick Jones were involved, but also a potential train wreck.

I'd rather see a CD reissue of Topper Headon's one and only solo album, Waking Up, originally released in 1986 and swiftly relegated to the delete bins. It deserved a better fate. Headon had been booted out of the Clash four years prior due to his heroin addiction and was still a user when he recorded Waking Up, although song titles such as Just Another Hit and Monkey on My Back are the disc's only signs of his junkie lifestyle. Otherwise, the eight originals and two covers (Gene Krupa's Drumming Man and Booker T's Time is Tight) are flamboyant and lively, reflecting Headon's lifelong affection for old-school soul, jazz and funk. Much credit goes to Headon's fine band, featuring guitarist Bob Tench (of The Jeff Beck Group), Clash session keyboardist Mickey Gallagher and veteran soul belter Jimmy Helms (who would later found Londonbeat and write its 1991 chart-topper I've Been Thinking About You).

Since this album has been long unavailable, I'll post three Waking Up highlights: Leave It To Luck, a gritty Sam and Dave-styled number with a bravura vocal from Helms; I'll Give You Everything, an infectious pop-soul tune that should've been a hit; and Got To Get Out of This Heat, a groovesome, '80s-funk instrumental that would have fit snugly on a Style Council record.

Leave It To Luck (link expired)

I'll Give You Everything (link expired)

Got To Get Out of This Heat (link expired)

Headon was imprisoned for drug-related offences a year after Waking Up's release. He has since conquered his drug addictions and, last January, joined former Clashmate Jones onstage for the first time since 1982. Here's footage of Topper, sitting in with Mick's new band Carbon-Silicon, playing the Clash's Train in Vain ...

... and Should I Stay or Should I Go.

Buy it here

Friday, October 10, 2008

Slow Down — Gonzales (2008)

A love letter to the smooth sounds of the Yacht Rock era? Or an impressively detailed pastiche slathered in irony? I'm still not certain how to view Soft Power, the latest album from Jason Charles Beck, a.k.a. Gonzales. As the title suggests, Soft Power is a virtual compendium of soft-rock styles that dominated sales and radio play in late-'70s and early-'80s. Maybe Gonzales is simply allowing his inner Stephen Bishop to come out and play. Or maybe he's just taking the piss. All I know is: I put the record on, I feel like I've tuned into an AM station from 30 years ago and I get swept away by the lushness of it all, so much so I don't care if Gonzales' tongue is resting in his cheek.

Personally, I don't think that's the case. Most of the songs on Soft Power are so lovingly crafted, with such attention to period detail, that I'm confident this Montreal-born, Paris-based singer-songwriter-producer has genuine affection for the era he's mimicking.

Today's post is a Soft Power standout — a plush, mid-tempo piano ballad that's a little Stephen Bishop, a little Player (ask your mom about them), and a whole lot of Todd Rundgren's Can We Still Be Friends, topped off by the sort of overemotive sax solo that was once de rigueur for male singer-songwriters wanting to underscore their unassailable sensitivity (in an effort to get into some lovely lady's Jordaches).

Quite simply, no one makes music like this anymore. If alternative is hip, and you're striving to be truly 'alternative' in 2008, don't sound like My Chemical Romance — sound like Christopher Cross. Using this logic, Soft Power just might make Gonzales the hippest musician alive. Award the man bell-bottoms, a kaftan and a mood ring.

Slow Down (link expired)

Working Together is another Soft Power highlight; it's a little funkier than Slow Down and contains a lyric that'll resonate with anyone who related to the movie Office Space. Here's the track's delightfully sardonic video:

Buy it here

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Bruce Wayne Campbell Interviewed on the Roof of the Chelsea Hotel 1979 — Okkervil River (2008)

"So what you are about to see and hear is an unusual and exciting theatrical event," Gladys Knight said, with emphasis on the word 'unusual', when introducing a performance by Jobriath on the Midnight Special that aired March 8, 1974. "This young man, uh, you're about to see this morning is the act of tomorrow." Knight, of course, couldn't have been more wrong although, judging from her delivery of the introduction (see video below), it's clear the soul legend didn't believe a word she was saying. Just over 12 months later, this 'star of tomorrow' would see his glam-rock career implode under the weight of outrageous hype, overzealous management, drug abuse and widespread critical scorn, much of it undeserved.

Needless to say, his is one of rock's saddest tales. Jobriath — born Bruce Wayne Campbell in 1946 — was coming off the original Los Angeles run of Hair and a stint in a short-lived prog outfit, Pidgeon, when he signed as a solo artist with onetime Carly Simon manager Jerry Brandt. Glam-rock was at its commercial zenith and Jobriath — rock's first openly gay performer — was pitched to labels as the natural successor to the sexually ambivalent likes of Marc Bolan and David Bowie. ("I'm a true fairy!" Jobriath told Rolling Stone in October 1973.) Many labels passed — Columbia Records' Clive Davis reportedly described the Jobriath's demos as "mad and unstructured and destructive to melody" — but Elektra Records bit ... and bit hard. Label head Jac Holzman signed Jobriath for a reported $500,000 advance and sunk more big dollars into the promotion of the singer's self-titled debut, released in late 1973. World domination, at least according to Brandt, was a foregone conclusion.

Except it wasn't. Despite a 50-ft. billboard in Times Square, posters throughout the London transit system, full-page magazine ads and an appearance on the nationally televised Midnight Special, Jobriath's first album didn't sell and neither did its hastily recorded followup, Creatures of the Street (released just six months later). Jobriath's timing didn't help: glam-rock had peaked commercially and, by 1974, Bolan's popularity was in sharp decline while Bowie had wisely moved onto the plastic soul of Young Americans, which dovetailed with the nascent disco movement. (Some actually blamed Jobriath for the death of glam.) In 1975, first Elektra dropped Jobriath — Holzman later calling the music an "embarrassment," a sentiment shared by most critics at the time — and then Brandt ditched him, too. The singer announced he was quitting music and retired to the glass pyramid he erected on the roof of the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Attempts to break into the movies, to write a musical based on his life and to record a third album all failed and, by the early 1980s, he was working as a singer in a New York cocktail bar. In July 1983, Jobriath, a has-been-who-never-really-had-been, died of AIDS-related illnesses. He was 36.

Austin's Okkervil River never struck me as a band that would know, much less empathize with, a largely forgotten, glam-rock footnote. Yet today's post, which closes the band's outstanding new album The Stand Ins, is a heartfelt elegy to the late singer. The music is fittingly ambitious and disarmingly beautiful (Jobriath surely would have approved), while singer-lyricist Will Sheff uses a first-person narrative to inhabit the thoughts of his subject during those wilderness years in the glass pyramid. If you know some details of the period, Sheff's words ache with sorrow and regret; the general tone vacillating between self-pity and bruised dignity. "Pull down the shades/Let's kill the morning/Let it die ... Fuck long hours sick with singing the same songs/In the bars they'll soon be drinking/Let's cash my cheque and drink along." This is the autobiographical musical Jobriath never completed, condensed into six minutes of pathos. It is, as Knight would say, an unusual and exciting theatrical event.

Bruce Wayne Campbell (link expired)

Here are performances by Jobriath from that Knight-hosted Midnight Special, first playing Imaman...

... and later Rock of Ages.

Buy Okkervil River here

Buy Jobriath here

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hey. Stay. Wait. Explode! — Oh Darling (2008)

For some people, cute is a four-letter word. Um, maybe I need to rephrase that. Let's just say, I can understand why certain folks wouldn't fall for the considerable charms of Portland's Oh Darling. For starters, the illustration on the cover of debut CD, Nice Nice (pictured below), is filled with more hearts and flowers than you'll find in a diary of some lovestruck Grade 8 girl. Pry the CD out of the jewel case and you'll see a hidden message: "we heart you." (Awwwww!) And then there's lead singer Jasmine Ash, whose little-girl vocals make Lisa Loeb sound like Tom Waits ... after a weekend-long, Drano-swigging bender. So, yes, there are some aspects to Oh Darling that are so precious, I wouldn't be surprised if fuzzy kittens and Gerber babies worldwide launch a class-action lawsuit charging copyright infringement.

However, if the above observations don't spark an uncontrollable urge to blast a Black Mountain CD, then perhaps you should give this two-boy, two-girl outfit a listen. You'll quickly notice Oh Darling aren't as cute as first impressions suggest. Ash's high, twee voice hardly prepares you for a withering putdown like, "I'd love you if I could/But just enough to fake it." The band's effortlessly melodic, hook-laden originals aren't dainty but muscular and agile, often recalling the springy, fizzy indie-pop of The Breeders. Meanwhile, if Ash's vocals are the first thing you notice about Oh Darling, her keyboard work slowly reveals itself as one of the band's most pleasing features. Today's post is an excellent example of this: The best part of this track is not its naggingly infectious chorus but the instrumental passage that follows, where Ash's synth swirls around Daven Hall's ascending, heavily treated guitar — a la The Cars' Greg Hawkes and Elliot Easton — to achieve a thrilling, 'we have liftoff' moment.

So, to cap: Cute on the suLinkrface, darker and more complex upon closer inspection.

(Hey, do I see human skulls amid all the hearts and flowers on the cover?)

Hey. Stay. Wait. Explode! (link expired)

Here's a video for another Nice Nice standout, Against the Skyline, which contains that forementioned 'fake it' lyric:

Buy it here