Taking me back to my youth

26 05 2010

I’ve always loved music.  By the age of 4 or 5, I was a pretty ardent Beatles fan.  I cut my teeth on “oldies” on the radio, Olivia Newton John, Linda Ronstadt and other soft rock, with some country sprinkled in.  But my musical coming-of-age, if you will, was during the early days of MTV.  While we didn’t have MTV in our house — my mom didn’t get cable TV until the late 90’s — I watched it at other people’s homes.  MTV made music videos, as a medium, explode across the rest of TV.  Anyone remember “Friday Night Videos”?  More than that, MTV, at least I would argue, helped spread fresh music back through FM radio.  Bands that had big video hits seemed to be able to make radio hits out of songs that probably wouldn’t have gotten much airplay otherwise.

What that whole period — 1982 through 1985 — did for me was expose me to all kinds of styles.  Hard rock and heavy metal were starting to explode, hitting something of an apex with the success of the countless hairbands (which happily ended when “Grunge” took over in the early 90’s.)  Punk morphed into a more listener-friendly style: New Wave.  Rap (the nice kind that doesn’t talk about murder and drugs) also took off like a rocket.

I wasn’t necessarily into New Wave.  In fact, I was more of a rocker.  Van Halen was my favorite band back then.  But New Wave, then and now, defined the sound of that period.  Just like the Beatles or the Yardbirds take Baby Boomers back to the mid-60’s or Elvis and Buddy Holly take the previous generation back to the mid to late 50’s, New Wave takes me back the early to mid 80’s.  Much of what is called “80’s music” these days is really the New Wave, which ranged from dark and edgy (The Cure) to pop (Soft Cell.)

I can hear the Beatles and not think of the 60’s or hear the Bee Gees and not think of the disco movement of the 70’s.  But I almost cannot separate New Wave from that period.  I can’t hear it in a vacuum.

All that said, this song, which, ironically, is from 2009, takes me right back to that period.  I hear it a few times a week at the gym and I flash back — not necessarily in thought but in feeling — to 1983.   It’s a pretty catchy song.  I wish I had written or performed it.


Even they gotta be embarrassed

30 10 2009

I don’t like Kiss.  Never have.  Never will.   But I did like at least one song, “Lick It Up.”  Notice the past tense; “did like.”  In 1983, this song seemed catchy, with a good pop-metal hook.  Now it seems insipid.

The video, though, is hysterical.  In the early 80’s, the video was kind of cool and had a tough-guy rock vibe.  Now it’s comic genius.  When the band walks down the street singing and flexing, why are there human skills on the ground?  The band had “unmasked” several years before this.  Their make up and costumes was replaced with huge hair, tight jeans, ripped t-shirts, belts, bandanas and all the other trappings of hair bands.   They look like Flock of Seagulls meets New Jersey housewives.

Vinnie Vincent, Ace Frahley’s replacement on ax, is in all his gender-bending glory, with his pink guitar and soft feminine features accented with more blush, mascara and eyeliner than you could find at an Avon party.  I remember thinking, “Dang, he looks like a girl.”  And he did.

Why are they guys drinking out of plastic gas cannisters?  At one point, one of the savage girls and later a guy on the band look like they are drinking out of a mustard squirt bottle.  Crimped-haired dolls feed the band like they are starved savages.

Not surprisingly, the video more or less ends  with the band “performing” on a stage beset with fire.  The whole set looks so post-apocalyptic.

Paul Stanley couldn’t be bothered to actually play the guitar he’s holding.   He’s too busy swinging an thrusting his pick hand in the air.  Ditch the guitar Paul.  It’s an instrument, not a prop.

No Kiss experience would be complete without having to see Gene Simmons’ slithery snake-tongue.  Sadly, I think Gene has always believed that is sexy to see.

And just what are we supposed to “lick up”?  What is the “it”?  They don’t really tell us.  But we do know that “it’s only right now”.  If you take anything away from this masterpiece — and my ramblings about it — remember this: “it ain’t a crime to be good to yourself.”


25 10 2009

Busy and uninspired lately, I’ve had nothing I felt I really should or could say.  But writing nothing, or waiting for the urge to write, seems unwise.  So here’s a little filler for you.

For whatever reason, this song and video came to mind.  As a Van Halen fanatic as a kid, I thought this song was one of the best of the Roth era.  Actually, it’s gotta be in my top 10 favorite Van Halen songs.  The video, though kind of fun for 13 year old boys (and back in the day when the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition was risque), is somewhat embarrassing now.  Still, it’s a great song and the video has camp.

Without further ado I give you…”Hot for Teacher”

Video Flashback: “Africa” by Toto

1 03 2009

One of the coming-of-age social events for me was spending the night at a friend’s house.  Other than relatives, I wasn’t really allowed to do that until 6th grade.  But one cold winter night when I was 11, my mom finally buckled and let me stay at Jimmy’s house.

This was pretty exciting for me.  Jimmy, his little brother Tommy, and I started the evening playing Donkey Kong on Intellivision.  Mrs. ***** moved us from the living room to the boys’ bedroom as it got late.  We didn’t go to bed, of course, but stayed up until the wee hours talking, joking, passing gas, calling each other names, and expressing our budding interest in our female classmates.

A song that takes me back to that night is “Africa” by Toto.  We played the local top 40 radio station all night and this song was in hot rotation.  It must have been a top 10 hit at the time because it was played probably once every hour.  Other songs were played, too, but this one burned into my memory. [In this case, it wasn’t the video that we saw, just heard the song on the radio over and over.]

It’s funny how, like smells, music can trigger a very specific, very limited memory.  The smell of mothballs always, without exception, reminds me of my great aunt’s house (when I was six.)  I’ve heard “Africa” hundreds of times, but it always, without fail, takes me back to that night.

I wonder what Jimmy is up to these days.

February 5, 1967

5 02 2009

On this day in 1967*, the Beatles began shooting the promotional film for “Penny Lane.”  The promo film for “Strawberry Fields Forever” was already complete and a film for this double A side single needed to be made.

The promo film is somewhat deceiving as it gives the impression of having been filmed, at least in part, in the Penny Lane district of Liverpool.  But it was actually filmed in London with previously shot footage of Liverpool intercut with the sequences of the Fabs walking around town.  The pastoral scenes were shot in Knole Park.

Some folks may not realize that the Beatles were one of the first bands, if not the first, to pioneer use of promotional films in music.  As George Harrison said in the Anthology, in a way the Beatles invented MTV.  It made an awfully sense to send around films — videos — to places where they couldn’t go (or simply didn’t want to be.)  For us fans that grew up in the 80’s, we had the benefit of having some old Beatles “videos” to watch.


*Occasionally, I like to look and see what the Beatles were doing on any given day on the calendar.  They packed so much into their relatively short career that there was always something going on with them.  Sometimes something will catch my eye and I’ll write about it.

Video Flashback: Frida’s “I Know There’s Something Going On”

3 02 2009

6th grade.  My tennis shoe-roller skates were packed and ready to roll.  Jimmy, who was already a ladies’ man at 12, showed me how to feather my hair and helped me clean up as best as I could.  He had Jordache Jeans and a cool Members Only shirt and jacket.   I was probably wearing worn corduroys and a USMC t-shirt, the same outfit I wore 3 times a week.

We headed down to Skateland West in Westland, Michigan, for an afternoon of roller skating.  I suppose I was interested enough in girls that I wanted their attention, but I think I was more impressed in what Jimmy would think of me should a girl show some interest.  If I hadn’t been going there with Jimmy, my focus would have probably been on skating, which I liked.

Videos were still something of a novelty at that time.  No one in our town had cable so MTV had not reached us.  We saw videos on a big projection screen when we went skating.  The video that stands out on this particular trip was “I Know There’s Something Going On” by Frida, born Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the raven-haired former one-fourth of Abba.

I was pretty innocent in those days, but I was alert enough to catch the sexual undertones of the song.  The video seemed kind of risque, though I wouldn’t have used that word as an 11 year old.  Whether it was the song, the video or both, that few minutes in time nearly 30 years ago seered into my brain.

I saw the video once (until years later when I found it on youtube) and heard the song dozens of times on the radio.  It was (or seemed to be) a big hit at the time, but it’s not one of those songs that has found its way into the rotation of stations that play 80’s music.   Maybe this blog will start a revival. *wink*