Archive for August, 2011

“Vogue” by Madonna (1990)

One of the biggest hits from Madonna‘s stellar career was nearly issued as an obscure B-side. But when the singer took the song to the record company they understood they had a potentially massive hit so they kept the song as the lead single for the upcoming album related to the Dick Tracy movie that Madonna starring in. Some lyrics were changed for family-friendly audiences, and the song’s spoken word section paying homage to famous actresses of the past fit with the period theme of the film.

Vogue” was a massive hit upon release, cementing the “house” sound common in dance clubs. The spoken word section was hip-hop-esque and the dance moves in the song’s music video (directed by David Fincher) made the song trendy as well. The song quickly went to number one for several weeks, and was ultimately the number one single of 1990 in the United States. The album I’m Breathless has since gone double platinum.

Vogue music video

“Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode (1990)

Depeche Mode followed the success of Music for the Masses with an even bigger album, Violator. The lead single was “Personal Jesus“, a unique mix of drum beats with a bluesy guitar riff – the first prominent use of guitar in Depeche Mode’s history. The song also continued Martin Gore’s lyrics related to religion and other dark topics. The song was a top 30 pop song and top 5 modern rock chart hit.

Violator would become the group’s biggest seller, topping three million copies sold in the U.S. and also becoming the group’s first top 10 album. “Enjoy the Silence” became the group’s second top 10 hit and propelled the group to further stardom. Other singles included “The Policy of Truth” and “World in Your Eyes” which also were met with success.

The group’s 1993 follow-up Songs of Faith and Devotion continued the trend toward organic instruments and was also a big hit. However, lead singer Dave Gahan’s heroin use increased during the tour, leading some to ponder whether Depeche Mode would ever make music again.

Personal Jesus music video

“More” by The Sisters of Mercy (1990)

The Sisters of Mercy are a gothic rock band from England who released three studio albums between 1985 and 1990 to moderate success. Since 1992, they have been at odds with their record company and have not released new material, though they continue to tour frequently. The group is led by singer-songwriter Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche on drums (Dokto Avalance is the name for a series of drum machines). The group is known for dark and moody songs that sometimes crossover onto the more mainstream Modern Rock and Dance charts.

The group’s early work was less commercial, with songs like “Black Planet” and “First and Last and Always”. The group’s second album contained the UK and Dance hits “This Corrosion”, “Dominion” and “Lucretia My Reflection”. The group’s 1990 album Vision Thing contained a number of popular songs such as “Doctor Jeep” and “When You Don’t See Me” and the group’s sound was slightly more “metal” sounding.

The group biggest hit was “More” from Vision Thing. The song was number one on the Modern Rock charts for five weeks, and clocked in at over eight minutes on the album. The song was cowritten and produced by Jim Steinman, an accomplished songwriter who previously worked with The Sisters on “This Corrosion” and also with Meat Loaf, Barry Manilow, and others. The song featured female backing vocals, which were unusual for the group.

The Sisters of Mercy’s last single “Temple of Love” was for their 1992 greatest hits album.

“Cherry Pie” by Warrant (1990)

Warrant were a popular group who rode the pop metal wave of the late 1990s to score several top charting albums. They also became the poster children for the changing tastes of rock music in 1992.

The group’s debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was issued in 1989 and featured the #2 single “Heaven”, a power ballad classic. The band’s charismatic lead singer Jani Lane was straight out of central casting – pretty, blonde, and a hearthrob for girls. The band did have musical chops though, driving the album to double platinum status.

The group’s second album Cherry Pie was an even bigger hit in 1990. It was led by the single “Cherry Pie” that was a strong rocker yet still made the top 10 on the pop charts. The song bore similarities to “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, both musically and lyrically (Lane wasn’t singing about a fruit-filled desert). The popular music video is now a classic of the “hair metal” genre. Cherry Pie also featured the popular singles “I Saw Red” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

Lane once told the story about his experience with his record company. When the group came to the headquarters before Cherry Pie was released, they were greeted by a giant sign in the lobby “Welcome Warrant”. But just two short years later, when they made the return trip they were greeted by a sign that said “Welcome Alice in Chains”. The grunge trend was already happening and Warrant among others were the victims. Dog Eat Dog didn’t sell at double platinum levels but barely made Gold, with no chart singles.

Warrant has continued with changing lineups. Lane left the group and later became the lead singer of Great White. Sadly, Lane died recently of an overdose of alcohol and pills.

“Heartbreaker (at the End of Lonely Street)” by Dread Zeppelin (1990)

Ask any true music fan what the best album of 1990 was and Dread Zeppelin‘s seminal debut Un-Led-Ed will surely make the list. Unfortunately, the world is not run by true music fans but casual music fans, which probably explains why you’ve never heard of Dread Zeppelin.

The band started as a joke – Led Zeppelin songs played in a reggae style. With the addition of charismatic frontman Tortelvis (an Elvis impersonator), you suddenly had three separate and distinct musical touchstones to mine. And Dread Zeppelin combined those elements to aplomb. The group didn’t just play Zep songs with a rasta beat, they combined elements from several songs to create a interesting and unique blend of pop culture references.

Un-Led-Ed mostly pulled material from the first two Led Zeppelin albums, along with the Led Zeppelin 4 track “Blackdog” (including references to “Hound Dog”). The key track from the album was “Heartbreaker (at the End of Lonely Street)” that combined Zeppelin’s second album hit with Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel”. The song showcased Dread Zeppelin’s musical chops, as the layered instruments combined for a full sound with wild solos and satisfying percussion.

The cover of Un-Led-Ed had to be changed due to request from the Elvis Presley estate. But Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant was a vocal advocate of the group, often seen wearing Dread Zeppelin tshirts. Later, INXS sought out Dread Zeppelin as the opening act for their tour.

Despite the power and urgency of Dread Zeppelin’s masterpiece recording of Un-Led-Ed, the group was seen as a novelty act. On their third album Tortelvis left the group and they went into a disco direction, to the ire of many fans. Since then, with Tortelvis back in the fold, the group has carved out an identity as a touring band with the occasional album release.

“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey (1981)

Journey started as a Santana offshoot founded by guitarist Neal Schon and vocalist/keyboardist Greg Rollie. Sales were not successful and the band moved into a harder but still commercially viable direction and eventually hired Steve Perry as lead vocalist. This propelled the band to a series of commercially successful albums where the band was one of the biggest selling acts in the world. During the 1980s the band was the basis of video games and were often derided for their commercial sales and appeal to women.

In 1981, Journey released Escape, their biggest album to date. The album sold over nine million copies thanks to hit singles such as “Open Arms”, “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and “Stone in Love”. Though not the highest charting single (still a top 10 hit), the biggest endearing song from the album is “Don’t Stop Believin“. The song was a popular anthem for the group during their 1980s heyday and has since become the largest selling song ever on Apple’s iTunes music service. The song is often featured in popular culture, including the debut episode of Glee. It was also a sort of theme song for the San Francisco Giants’ quest for a World Series in 2010.

Journey continued making hits into the mid-1980s, but broke up after 1986′s album Raised on Radio. The group reunited in 1996 but afterwards Perry has avoided appearances with the group. The group continues to tour, though Schon has remained the only constant member.

“Once in a Lifetime” by The Talking Heads (1984)

The Talking Heads were pioneers in new wave music, and later developed into a band that introduced new instrumentation and sounds into popular music. The group was led by frontman David Bryne, along with Jerry Harrison (guitars), Chris Franz (drums), and Tina Weymouth (bass). Franz and Weymouth were married, and later formed the successful side-project The Tom Tom Club. The Talking Heads combined elements of punk, new wave, and synth music – along with a flair for visual style that was featured in the group’s videos and in film.

After a series of acclaimed albums in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Heads broke through into the pop top 10 with “Burning Down the House.” This propelled the group to greater acclaim and recognition of their earlier work, including “Psycho Killer”, “Life During Wartime”, and “Take Me to the River”.

In 1984, the group’s concert film Stop Making Sense was directed by Jonathan Demme. The movie was the first made using digital audio techniques and featured an unique ongoing building of a set during the concert. Footage of the audience was scarce but the sound quality and the energy of the performance was legendary. The film is noted for Byrne’s “big suit” during “Girlfriend is Better”, an often parodied visual.

One key track from the film was a 1982 single for the band, “Once in a Lifetime“. The song had not charted but was popular among modern rock fans. The lyrics are said to be about midlife crisis and the sacrifice of youthful dreams. In the film, the song is presented in a single take with no edits.

The Stop Making Sense soundtrack went double platinum, as did the Heads’ follow-up album Little Creatures in 1985. The sound for this album was much more commercial, thought he band did retreat back into art-rock territory for their next two albums, one of which served as as the basis for the songs in in the film True Stories (directed by Bryne). After 1988′s African-influenced Naked, the Talking Heads broke up. Bryne had a solo career, including an Oscar for film scoring. ¬†Harrison, Weymouth and Franz reunited in 1996 under the moniker “The Heads.”

“Walk this Way” by Run-DMC (1986)

Run-DMC were rap pioneers and were among the first truly mainstream acts within the genre. Founded by Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, the group was augmented by Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizzell. The group came from Queens New York and quickly became rising stars within the hip-hop circle. The group was one of the first acts to leave behind the early funk/disco elements and embrace harder beats and rock riffs as part of their sound.

The group’s third album Raising Hell was released in 1986, and produced by Rick Rubin. The group’s previous albums had charted in the top 60, and they scored several R&B chart hits. But the group became superstars thanks to the slick production from Rubin and some key tracks including the lead single, “Walk this Way“. The song was a cover of the 1975 Aerosmith classic, and featured samples from the song and guest performances from Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. The song was a top 10 hit for Aerosmith and was top 5 for Run-DMC. The popular music video featured both band’s prominently.

The success of “Walk This Way” paved the way for addition singles including “My Adidas”, “It’s Tricky” and “You Be Illin”, ultimately pushing Raising Hell to triple platinum status. Run-DMC scored another platinum album and a gold one, before slowing down from recording in 1994. Musical differences between Simmons and McDaniels created delays in further production, and a 2001 ‘reunion’ album only featured McDaniels on three tracks. In 2002, Mizzell was shot and killed outside a recording studio in Queens. The group broke up shortly thereafter.

“Walk This Way” also served as a relaunch of Aerosmith’s then-floundering career as well. The band got sober (or, at least a lot more close to sober) and issued a series of popular albums and singles in the mid-1980s to late 1990s.

“Johnny B. Goode” by Marty McFly and the Starlighters (1985)

Back to the Future was a big hit movie in 1985 and one of the key sequences was this performance of “Johnny B. Goode”. According the plot of the film, Marty McFly travels back in time to 1955. Marty is a musician so he decides to play a song at the school dance, selecting an “oldie but a goodie” from Chuck Berry. The “origin of Rock and Roll” is shown the film when Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck and lets him hear “that new sound you were looking for.”

During the guitar solo, McFly borrows elements from many famous guitarists:

  • Chuck Berry’s duck-walk
  • Dick Dale’s slide riffs
  • Pete Townsend’s power chord
  • Eddie Van Halen’s tapping technique
  • Angus Young’s back slide

Actor Michael J. Fox did not sing or play on the track itself, though he later developed into a credible guitarist and singer.

“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen (1984)

Van Halen was one of the most influential hard rock / heavy metal groups to emerge in the late 1970s, and were fairly unique in that they were American not British. They were led by guitar virtuoso Eddie Van Halen and his drummer brother Alex Van Halen. The group was completed by Michael Anthony on bass and by flamboyant lead singer David Lee Roth. The group’s mix of hard rock, party themes, and reverence for standards made them one of the most popular groups during the early 1980s. During this time, they headlined the US Festival.

Van Halen as a group were known for several innovations. Eddie Van Halen’s ‘tapping’ guitar solo technique was widely copied by others, where both hands play on the guitar neck. In addition, Van Halen was one of the first groups to put unusual items in their contract riders, such as providing M&Ms with the brown ones removed. This was done to assure that the contract was read and implemented properly; if the band saw brown M&Ms they would turn around and refuse to perform.

After five previous albums that all went multi-platinum, Van Halen returned in 1984 with their album 1984. The group became known to a new set of fans thanks to Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and from 1984′s lead single, “Jump”, that featured a pronounced keyboard riff. “Jump” went to number one and helped make 1984 one of the biggest albums of the year (it has since sold over 10 million copies in the U.S.). Further hits included the top 15 hits “I’ll Wait” and “Panama”.

The last single from 1984 was “Hot for Teacher“, which featured a humorous music video that is a time-capsule of Van Halen at it’s peak. The song features some energetic drumming and a big guitar riff, along with lots of screaming and hooting from Roth. The band’s party image is in full effect.

David Lee Roth had a solo e.p. in 1985 and departed from Van Halen shortly thereafter. The group recruited Sammy Hagar as a replacement singer, but that is a different story for another day.