Archive for June, 2011

“Limelight” by Rush (1981)

Rush is a Canadian group led by Geddy Lee (bass, vocals, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitars), and Neil Peart (drums, lyrics). They are one of the most successful and long-standing rock group’s ever, though their mainstream popularity was essentially short-lived. As depicted in the film I Love You, Man (featuring a cameo by the band), the group’s fanbase is almost exclusively male. Each member of the band is a virtuoso on their respective instrument, and the group’s sound have varied from hard rock to progressive to even reggae-inspired sounds. The group has 24 gold records and 14 platinum records, placing them third behind only The Beatles and Rolling Stones for most consecutive gold or better albums.

Formed in Toronto, the first Rush album was released in 1974. The group’s original drummer John Rutsey quit shortly thereafter, replaced by Peart. The group’s popularity ebbed and flowed for a couple years before the album 2112 was released in 1976. Featuring a 20 minute title track broken into seven sections on side one, the album featured a hard progressive sound, the album was a watershed for the group. Several albums in this style followed.

In 1980, the group released Permanent Waves which featured a more mainstream sound and more radio-friendly songs. It was the group’s first top 5 U.S. album, featuring the hits “Spirit of the Radio” and “Freewill”. In 1981, the group returned with Moving Pictures which continued the trend.

Moving Pictures took the group’s popularity to superstar levels, eventually selling over four million copies in the U.S. The album features numerous FM radio hits including “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta”, and the instrumental “YYZ”. The album featured increased use of keyboards played by Lee. “Limelight” was another standout track from Moving Pictures and like “Tom Sawyer” was a rock and pop hit. Ironically, the lyrics by Peart express dissatisfaction with mainstream popularity, something that increased after the release of the song. This song was played live by Rush in I Love You, Man and also used in Adventureland and Fanboys.

Rush continued to release Platinum albums for most of the next decade, increasing their use of keyboards as well. Use of the keyboards were reduced in the 1990s. The group continues to record and play live. With the group’s distinctive sounds and Lee’s high-pitched vocals, their mainstream success in 1981 was sort-of a fluke, but the group’s longevity cannot be denied.

“Limelight” Video (embedding disabled)

As an example of the group’s male fan-base, check this video from the mid-1980s as several high school boys mime to “YYZ” while one of them plays along with a saxophone. Disclaimer: the sax player is a friend of the author, though that doesn’t lessen the impact of this incredible video.

“We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s (1981)

The Go-Go’s are an all-female group formed in Los Angeles and were one of the leading American groups of the New Wave music scene of the early 1980s. The group was founded by Belinda Carlisle (vocals) and Jane Weidlin (guitars, vocals), and were later joined by Kathy Valentine (bass), Gina Shock (drums), and Charlotte Caffey (guitars). The group’s party image and upbeat songs made them early superstars of the era.

We Got the Beat” was the group’s first single, recorded in 1980. Issued originally in Europe, the song and the group began to get a cult following on both shores. The group was signed to I.R.S. Records and the song was re-recorded in 1981 for release on the group’s album, Beauty and the Beat. The album’s first single was “Our Lips are Sealed” which became a top 20 hit in the U.S. The album took off in the spring of 1982 when “We Got the Beat” was re-released and became a top 5 hit, pushing the album to number one for six weeks. The song was also used for the opening credits of the classic 1980s film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Beauty and the Beat has sold over two million copies and is a seminal album of the decade.

The Go-Go’s follow-up 1982 album Vacation featured the title track as a top 10 hit, and the album went Gold. Band tensions and drug use made the group’s third album Talk Show not as successful, and the group ultimately broke up. Carlisle had several solo hits after following a more pop-oriented sound, though The Go-Go’s have reunited several times since the mid-1990s. A fourth album was issued in 2001 and the group is touring in 2011.

The Go-Go’s were the first all female group to have a number one album while writing and performing their own songs.

“Planet Earth” by Duran Duran (1981)

Duran Duran were one of the most popular groups to emerge from the “second British Invasion” of New Wave music. The period produced a whole series of new “modern rock” sounds starting in the late 1970s and into the early-mid 1980s. Duran Duran came from the glam-inspired New Romantic sect, focusing not only on music but also fashion. The group was led by keyboardist Nick Rhodes and bassist John Taylor. Joining the group shortly thereafter were the rest of classic lineup, Simon LeBon on vocals, Andy Taylor on guitar, and Roger Taylor on drums (no relation among the Taylors). The group was often called “The Fab Five” in reference to The Beatles, since the group’s teen popularity was the most frantic since early days of Beatlemania.

The group’s first album was issued in 1981, and the lead single was “Planet Earth“. The pulsing keyboard sounds and guitar sounds were good examples of the New Romantic sound of the day (“new romantic” is even mentioned in the song). The song was a top 15 hit in the U.K. and set the group up for a series of hits to follow. This is one my favorite songs from the group and the video highlights the sound, fashion, and music video technology of the day. Future videos from “Planet Earth” director Russell Mulcahy would be more professional produced, earning the group a leading status in the emerging music video field. The group’s interesting videos and poster-boy looks made sure the group was a staple of MTV.

The Duran Duran album was ignored in the U.S., later issued with a new song and new cover in 1983 after the group’s second album Rio was a hit. During 1983-1985, no group was more popular, as the group scored a huge number of popular singles and albums worldwide, culminating in the theme song for the James Bond film, A View to a Kill. In 1985, the group played Live Aid but also performed in two offshoot groups, The Power Station (featuring John Taylor and Andy Taylor) and Arcadia (LeBon, Rhodes, Roger Taylor).

“Start Me Up” by The Rolling Stones (1981)

The Rolling Stones issued Tattoo You in 1981, the group’s eighth consecutive number one album in the U.S. (also the group’s last #1). Comprised largely of songs recorded over the past decade, the album and subsequent tour was one the biggest of the decade.

Tattoo You was powered by a classic Stones rock song, “Start Me Up“. Based on an earlier reggae-inspired song “Start It Up”, the song’s lyrics and structure were changed to focus on a mainstream rock sound and lyrics that have nothing to do with motorcycles. Keith Richards’ opening riff is right up there with “Satisfaction” as the Stones’ best, and Mick Jagger’s vocal work is in fine form as well.  The song peaked at #2 on the Hot 100 and was a worldwide hit.

The Stones have continued to record with regular frequency since 1981, and their albums and tours continue to sell in large quantities.

“Turning Japanese” by The Vapors (1980)

The Vapors were a New Wave band from England who scored a big hit with their 1980 song “Turning Japanese.” The song was a top 40 hit in the United States, and has since become a sort-of time capsule both culturally and musically. With Japan being a big business influence in the 1970s and 1980s, there was increased interest in the county and culture. The song features the Oriental Riff on guitar.

The lyrics of the song imply the singer likes to take pictures of his love. Some (including this author) conclude the song is about masturbation, though the band denies it. The song features the choppy lyrics and a peppy beat. The high energy guitar riffs were consistent with the New Wave trend, though the use of keyboards is fairly minimal. Lead singer David Felton’s unfortunate haircut and the band’s black clothing were also fashionable at the time. The song was a top 5 hit in Britain, the only major hit by the band. After two albums, The Vapors broke up and were never heard from again.

“Breaking the Law” by Judas Priest (1980)

Judas Preist was formed in 1968 and recorded their first album in 1974. By this time the core of the group was in place, including Rob Halford on vocals, K.K. Dowling and Glenn Tipton on twin lead guitars, and Ian Hill on bass. The group evolved from a blues-influenced band including some keyboards and by the late 1970s were playing a new breed of heavy metal. The group’s sound is highlighted by Halford’s high pitched wails.

Priest’s 1980 album British Steel would be a watershed for the group. The album was a huge hit and contained the popular tracks “United”, “Living After Midnight” and “Metal Gods” where the group got their nickname. The provocative album cover went along with the group’s S&M-inspired leather look (influenced by Halford’s then-closeted homosexuality). The group’s commercial success came at a time when the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” was a popular trend. NWOBH used increasing tempos inspired by Punk.

Breaking the Law” was one stand-out track from British Steel, and the group filmed a popular music video for the song (using guitars instead of machine guns to rob a bank). The song became their highest charting single in the U.K. (#12), and certainly help personify the group’s “outlaw” image. It remains one of the group’s most popular.

Priest had a series of popular album in the 1980s, but Halford left the group in 1992. He was later replaced by a singer from a Priest cover band (inspiring the movie Rock Star). Halford has since rejoined the group, who continue to record and tour.

“Kiss on My List” by Hall & Oates (1980)

Darryl Hall and John Oates hailed from Philadelphia and became one of the most successful muscial duos during the mid-1970s and especially during the early 1980s when they were among the most popular groups in the world. Early efforts used both voices in roughly equal measures, though Hall was always more comfortable as the frontman and was more prolific as a songwriter. During their 1980s heyday, Hall took a much more central role, with Oates relegated to backup vocals and “acting goofy” in the group’s popular music videos.

Hall & Oates (or, “Darry Hall & John Oates” or “Darry Hall John Oates”) scored a number of soul-inspired hits during the mid-1970s. Top ten hits included “Sara Smile”, “She’s Gone”, and the number one hit “Rich Girl” from 1977. For the next couple years, their success waned.

In 1980 the group recorded in New York for the first time, rather than Los Angeles, and took a more active role in producing. The group also added new synth sounds to make their “blue eyed soul” quite a bit more contemporary. The result was Voices, which featured two top 40 hits before their breakthrough number one smash “Kiss on My List.” That song was followed by the top five song “You Make My Dreams”. In an interesting footnote, the album also contained “Everytime you Go Away” which the group did not release as a single, but became a smash for Paul Young in 1985. Voices shot into the top 20 and went Platinum.

Kiss on My List” begins with a great piano riff, which makes the song very dancable. Jeff Southworth contributed a nice guitar solo and the song very much sent the template for the peppy pop that the group used for the next several years. The song was cowritten by Janna Allen, sister of Sara Allen (of “Sara Smile” fame), Hall’s love interest at the time. According to Hall, Eddie Van Halen ripped off the synth riff for this song for use in “Jump.”

Hall and Oates had massive success through the rest of the decade, and Hall had a few solo hits as well. After taking some time off apart from each other, the duo continues to tour and record.

“Call Me” by Blondie (1980)

Blondie are a new wave rock band founded by singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein. The group mixed sixties pop sensibilities with the energy of the New York musical scene, incorporating punk, disco, reggae, and rap elements into their music. The band’s style was decidedly New Wave, and the group became breakout stars within the genre, scoring several number one hits. The focus, of course, was on the group’s pretty blonde singer. But Stein along with drummer Clem Burke, keyboardist Jimmy Destri, and bassist Frank Infante formed a solid musical foundation.

The group scored big with the disco-tinged “Heart of Glass” in 1979, but other tracks from their album were more in line with the group’s traditional sound. “One Way or Another” was a more straight-ahead rocker, as was “Hanging on the Telephone.” In 1980, the group issued an album featuring the hits “Dreaming” and “Atomic” but the group scored an unlikely number one thanks to a song from a movie soundtrack. “Call Me” was the theme song from American Gigolo, and was produced by famed disco producer Giorgio Moroder. Moroder wrote the music and Harry the lyrics, with the song recorded by the band. The song touched on the prostitution themes of the movie, and was a number one hit for six weeks.

In 1981, the group returned with reggae song “The Tide is High” and “Rapture” which featured a rap by Harry during the middle of the song. Both songs hit number one, and “Rapture” became the first number one hit with hip-hop elements. A poorly received 1982 album led to the group’s breakup, with Harry forging a mediocre solo career. The band reformed for a new album in 1999, including the global hit “Maria”. That song hit number one in the U.K., making Blondie the only American band to score number one hits in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

Blondie released a couple albums since, but is still very popular on tour.  Harry and Stein have been a couple since the early 1970s, but never married.

“Private Idaho” by The B-52′s (1980)

The B-52′s are a new wave band from Athens, GA who combined sixties pop sound and fashion, along with big surf guitar, wacky keyboards to become one of the most original party bands of all time. The group’s original members were Fred Schneider (vocals, cowbell), Kate Pierson (vocals, keyboards), sister and brother Cindy Wilson (vocals, tambourine, bongos) and Ricky Wilson (guitar), and Keith Strickland (drums). Pierson and Wilson would often sing in harmony, often in call/response fashion with Schneider who served as the group’s nominal master of ceremonies. The band’s positive songs have made them favorites in concert.

The band’s first album was issued in 1979, containing the hits “Rock Lobster”, “Planet Claire” and “Dance this Mess Around.” The mix of guitars and keyboards made the band one of the first new wave groups to hit big, and their album eventually went platinum. The group’s second album, Wild Planet, was issued in 1980 and was musically very similar. Key songs were “Strobe Light”, “Party Out of Bounds” and “Quiche Lorraine.” The album cracked the top 20 and eventually went Gold.

Private Idaho” was the main single from Wild Planet, and became the group’s second chart hit. The song features a hard guitar riff from Ricky Wilson, and lead vocals from Schneider and Pierson. The song would later inspire the movie My Own Private Idaho.

The group’s mid-1980′s albums were a mixed bag, as they used more synthesizers and drum machines. In 1985, the group recorded Bouncing Off the Satellites (issued in 1986), but shortly after recording Ricky Wilson died of AIDS. He had hid his illness even from his bandmates.

The band took a long break and considered breaking up. Several years later, Strickland switched from drums to guitar and the band reformed for what would become their biggest album ever. Cosmic Thing was released in 1989 and featured a breakthrough hit “Love Shack” which became a top 5 hit. The album also featured “Roam” (also top 5), “Deadbeat Club” (top 30), “Channel Z” (number one modern rock song), and “(Shake That) Cosmic Thing.”  Cosmic Thing eventually sold over 4 million copies. A follow-up album Good Stuff was released in 1992 without Wilson, who participated in the band on and off for the following decade. A greatest hits package in 1998 featured the new song “Debbie”, a sort-of homage to Deborah Harry from Blondie.

In 2008 the band reunited for Funplex, their first studio album in over 15 years. The band continues to perform, recently touring with Blondie.

“Back in Black” by AC/DC (1980)

AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott died tragically on February 19, 1980, but the band quickly went looking for new singer. They quickly settled on Brian Johnson, who fronted English band Geordie. The band then went into the studio in April-May 1980 with Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, who produced the band’s previous album. The resulting album, Back in Black, functioned as a macabre tribute, a rebirth of a band, and perhaps the band’s seminal recording.

AC/DC Back in Black

The album’s dark cover is an obvious tribute to their fallen friend (and later became the object of parody in This is Spinal Tap). The album’s opening track “Hells Bells” continues the theme both sonically and lyrically (“I’m a rolling thunder, pourin’ rain. I’m comin’ down like a hurricane. My lightning’s flashing across the sky. You’re only young but you’re gonna die.”). Another song from the album is thought to have a direct connection to Scott. “Have a Drink on Me” contained another reference to hell within the lyrics, “So join me for a drink boys. We’re gonna make a big noise. So don’t worry about tomorrow, Take it today. Forget about the tip.  We’ll get hell to pay.  Have a drink on me.”.

Other key tracks from the album included “Shoot to Thrill”, “Let Me Put My Love Into You” (rated the sixth most filty song ever by the PMRC in 1985), and “You Shook Me All Night Long” which was a rare top 40 pop hit for the hard rock group.  The album was completed and issued to stores in July 1980 where it was an immediate hit. The album was top 5 but continued to sell in large quantities, eventually selling over 22 million copies in the U.S. alone, and 49 million worldwide (the second highest ever). Johnson’s powerful voice and good-natured stage presence easily won over fans mourning Bon Scott.

The title track “Back in Black” was also a top 40 hit, and featured an oft-sampled guitar riff (later used, without permission, by the Beastie Boys). The song’s theme “I’m back…” is in a sense a tribute to Scott, but perhaps most connected to the other members of the band. Johnson has been quoted extensively about writing lyrics for the album, but the timeline makes that seem quite unbelievable. I believe the lyrics were written by Angus and Malcolm Young, perhaps in combination with Lange (Johnson wrote only occasionally for Geordie, and has not received songwriting credits for any AC/DC album issued after 1990 – ten years after he joined the band).