January 31 – Blondie Found High Tides Soon Ebb

What do you get when you put a Big Apple punk group in Hollywood and have them listen to some music of the Islands? Well, in 1981, the answer was a major #1 hit – “The Tide is High” by Blondie. It topped the charts this day 42 years ago. It was their third American #1 in less than two years.

Of course, calling Blondie a “punk” band is misleading even though many, if not most, music writers and radio people of the day did just that. Despite their CBGB origins in New York, they’d become a fairly talented bunch of players who’d scored major success with songs that varied from straight-out disco (“Call Me”, “Heart of Glass”) to pure pop (“Sunday Girl”) to good ol’ fashioned rock & roll (“One Way or Another”). That in mind, “The Tide is High” might not have been so surprising.

The song was a cover of a 1967 song by Jamaican reggae/rocksteady band The Paragons. It hadn’t received a lot of attention, likely even on their own island, since it was a b-side of a single. But somehow it ended up on a Jamaican music compilation cassette that Blondie’s Deborah Harry & Chris Stein found when holidaying in England. They both liked it straight away and decided to record it.

It made its way onto their fifth album (and third since becoming popular at home in North America), Autoamerican. They’d decided to make some changes for that record, including recording it in L.A., something Chris Stein didn’t like but producer Mike Chapman insisted upon. Drummer Clem Burke on the other hand said it “was fun! We got to spend two months in California.”

They also decided to expand their musical horizons, for better or worse, with an old 1920s-style crooner (“Here’s Looking At You”) , a rap-based song (“Rapture”, the follow-up single and their final #1 hit in many places) besides this tropical-sounding effort. Stein liked the band The Specials and asked them to play with Blondie on it, but they declined. So instead they brought in some extra session players including a trio of percussionists and some unfortunately uncredited horn players to add authenticity.

The album did well, but not as well as the previous pair of hits, going platinum in the U.S., UK and Canada. “The Tide is High” led the way being a #1 hit not only in the U.S. but Canada, the UK and New Zealand as well. It came close, top 5, in most other “Western” countries like Ireland and Australia. It earned them their sixth gold single in Britain and third platinum one in Canada.

However, their time in the sun was running out, figuratively and literally. After “Rapture”, they struggled to get noticed for years and Debbie Harry went solo by the end of 1982, leaving the band on a 15-year break.

One curious bit of trivia about “The Tide is High.” It knocked John Lennon out of the #1 slot which his “Starting Over” had been at for five weeks. That seemed fitting because according to Sean Lennon, it was the one modern track his dad really liked just before his death. He said John “played (it) constantly…when I hear that song, I see my father, unshaven, his hair pulled back into a ponytail, dancing to and fro in a worn out pair of denim shorts with me at his feet.”

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January 31 – Manzanera ‘The Man’ For Stylish Guitars

Happy 72nd birthday to one of Britain’s most accomplished and adventurous guitarists – Phil Manzanera. Phil was born to an English dad, but Colombian mother, who played a little guitar. As a kid, he spent time living in South America and Cuba, which goes a ways towards showing why so much of his guitar work seems Latin-tinged. And perhaps why he’s Phil “Manzanera” even. He was born Philip Targett-Adams, but when young idolized Mexican guitarist Armando Manzanero, whom seemingly inspired not only some of his picking but the picking of his professional name.

He’d moved back to the UK by the time he was ready for college, and along the way made friends with another guitar great in the making – David Gilmour. While Phil was in several bands during his college years, the big break was joining Roxy Music just as they were ready to begin recording their first record. Curiously, he was their second choice after Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno auditioned several guitarists, but their first pick quit a week or two after the band formed. Manzanera answered the call, and never looked back, being one of the three constants in the oft-changing Roxy lineup, along with singer Ferry and sax-man Andy MacKay.

Manzanera’s often-flamenco tinged guitars were a big part of the Roxy sound, and from time to time he wrote with Ferry, co-writing songs including “Out of the Blue,” “Trash” and “Take A Chance With Me.” The latter was on their last, but biggest-selling, studio album, Avalon, which they recorded in Phil’s own studio. Among the other clients there were noted Roxy Music fans Duran Duran. He recalls running into them while both bands were playing in Germany around 1983 and “they ended up coming to my studio to record a single…”Is There Something I Should Know?” And then they went on to be more famous. A bit of fairy dust was sprinkled over them from the Roxy studio,” he jokes, noting they’re “very sweet guys.”

Never one to let grass grow under his feet, he’d already begun a solo recording career in downtime with Roxy in the ’70s, and to date has put out nine studio albums of his own, plus some more with his on-again, off-again project 801, which at times has included MacKay and Eno. Phil worked on a pair of Eno’s solo efforts too; the two seemed close and Eno ran much of Manzanera’s guitar recordings through his own synthesizers to manipulate the sound for the first two Roxy records.

And then there’s his old buddy David Gilmour. Phil co-wrote the hit “One Slip” with Gilmour for the first post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd album, and since toured with him and produced a pair of Gilmour albums, On An Island and Rattle This Lock.

Of late, Phil’s been busy with writing and producing a 14 hour radio series on “The A-Z of Great Guitarists” and in 2020 had a new release out with old bandmate Andy MacKay. Roxymphony was a live record where the Roxy Music guys got together a 20-piece orchestra and a full choir and performed Roxy songs like “Love is the Drug” and “Sentimental fool” in a big orchestral manner. “It was a revelation to us how well-suited the songs were to being orchestrated” he says. They were able to discover that more last year when Roxy Music toured again. He says that came about when Bryan Ferry, who lives near him, dropped by for a tea and said “do you fancy doing some gigs?” Realizing their ages and that it would mark the 50th anniversary of their first record, he responded “well, if there’s ever a time to do it, it’d be now. So yeah!”

Coming from a background that includes chameleonic Roxy Music, with ties to Pink Floyd, Eno and a host of Latin American artists, I think none of us should be surprised at how limitless his six-string sounds can be.

January 30 – U2 Won New Fans & Taught A Little History

Today’s music history lesson is a real history lesson, and not a very happy one at that. This was the day of the “Bogside Massacre” in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, aka “Bloody Sunday” which inspired the U2 song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”

Most of the island of Ireland, including Dublin (from whence U2 and Guinness beer arose) is a separate country, largely Catholic in nature. However, the island was partitioned in 1921, and Northern Ireland is considered part of Great Britain and is largely Protestant. These differences have caused decades of discontent with tension between the religions and between those who are allied to “Eire” vs. those loyal to the Crown in London. By the late ’60s, a movement had arisen in the north to cut the cord to the UK and join the rest of the island in a united Ireland and violent conflicts had become common. In August, 1971 Britain began a law called “internment without trial” for Northern Ireland, which allowed their police or troops to arrest people simply suspected of being violent or subversive, without charging them. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the locals and between the time the law was passed and the end of the year, over 30 British troops were killed in street violence there, seven of them in Londonderry (or just “Derry” as the locals know it), the district’s second-largest city. Catholics tended to despise Protestants and vice versa; the British Army were present and essentially at war with the upstart IRA.

All this led to the Civil Rights March planned for this day. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association wanted to protest “internment without trial” and parade from the Catholic “Bogside” area of town to the city’s main public area, Guild Hall Square. The British government was willing to allow the march through the Catholic area of the city but ordered the Army in to prevent the protestors from getting close to the civic square. The day began reasonably well enough, thousands of protestors (estimates vary from 3000 to 30 000) started out calmly enough until they encountered a barricade of Army paratroopers and vehicles blocking their path. the majority of them turned and headed in the direction the government wanted them to, but some confronted the troops… and the bedlam and bloodshed began.

The marchers hurled insults and possibly a few rocks at the armed forces who in turn turned water cannons on and fired tear gas at the “rebels.” Knowing when they were beaten, the protestors turned around and ran away, presumably to rejoin the rest of the marchers. That should have been the end of it, but alas it wasn’t. The Army gave chase, shooting at the retreating mob, in the end hitting 26 of them, 14 fatally. Another pair were run down by the armored vehicles. Later studies showed at least 100 shots were fired by them after Army HQ issued a “ceasefire” order.

The result was inevitable. Violence escalated across Northern Ireland and the violent, terrorist to some, IRA grew immensely in popularity. The British government ordered an inquiry, The Widgery Tribunal, which did find soldiers acted in a way “bordering on the reckless” but essentially exonerated them. However, another investigation they launched in 1998, The Seville Inquiry, took a dozen years to complete but in the end slammed the Army.

It said they “lost control” and “concocted lies in their attempts to hide their acts”, discrediting soldiers’ stories about being fired at first (something no witnesses, including journalists present ever corroborated and was not backed by any physical evidence.) It concluded that those shot weren’t posing “a threat of causing death or serious injury” to the soldiers and said the incident was unjustified. The Londonderry coroner of the day also concurred, saying “it was quite unnecessary… it strikes me the Army ran amok that day and shot people without thinking.”

As a result of the inquiry, Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the British actions.

Not surprisingly, the slaughter enraged many artists too. A number of plays and books have been written about it and only two days after it happened, Paul McCartney had written and recorded a song about it , “Give Ireland back to the Irish.” The BBC promptly banned it.

Also not surprisingly, it had a major impact on the members of U2, who were school kids at the time. The politically-outspoken band wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in summer 1982 for their third album, War. The album came out in early 1983 to critical accolades. Rolling Stone suggested “the songs here stand up against anything on The Clash’s London Calling” and gave it a 4 star out of 5 rating and it enhanced their reputation and profile in North America. War went on to be their biggest album to that point, being certified multi-platinum in the US and Canada as well as in the UK. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was released as a single in March of that year and while not as big a hit as “New Year’s Day”, it became one of their signature songs. The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame picked it as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock’n’Roll” and Time listed it as one of the top ten protest songs of all-time. U2 play it at almost every concert, typically with Bono opening the song by shouting “this is not a rebel song.” Bono apparently re-wrote the original lyrics The Edge had written to make it less specific to the events of the one day. Drummer Larry Mullen explained why in a 1983 interview: “We’re into politics of people, we’re not into politics. People are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying ‘why? what’s the point?’… let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shouting at each other and sit around the table and talk about it.”

That day hasn’t come to fruition yet, but at least Northern Ireland is a calmer place of late. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 acknowledged the differing concepts of what Northern Ireland could be and gave it some level of autonomy as well as the right to secede entirely from Britain if it chose to. The violence of the IRA has largely subsided and been evolved into political discussions so there’s hope there’ll never be a repeat of the events of Bloody Sunday. And perhaps, in a small way, we have U2 to thank for that.

Sometimes rock is more than just music.

January 30 – New Order Didn’t Need To Change Hit-making Technique Much

Can a dance-oriented, singles band find happiness on the album charts? Turns out it could, at least if that band was Britain’s most successful “indie” band of the ’80s, New Order. They put out their fifth full album, Technique, on this day in 1989.

The band which sprung from the ashes of the gloomy Joy Division almost a decade earlier had become immensely popular, especially at home in the UK, with a string of dancey, yet strangely listenable, ear-worm ready singles through the decade and had in fact put out 14 singles which topped Britain’s Indie Chart before this album. They included ’80s staples like “Bizarre Love Triangle” and “Thieves Like Us” and of course “Blue Monday”, a song which hit the overall top 10 twice during the decade and is by many counts still the biggest-selling 12” single ever. Their albums had sold modestly though, until they put out a greatest hits package, Substance 1987, which did rise up the charts and breakthrough into the North American market, going platinum in the U.S. and Canada. That album, and its new single “True Faith” (yet another Indie #1) had gotten the band – and its struggling Factory Records label – thinking of bigger things, Unfortunately, they weren’t all that sure how to do so.

Lead singer and main synthesizer guy Bernard Sumner didn’t want to tour and had just formed a side project band, Electronic, with Johnny Marr. Peter Hook was also doing side projects while the remaining pair, keyboardist Gillian Gilbert and her husband, drummer Stephen Morris were working on movie scores on the side. And there wasn’t quite a unanimous opinion as to what the sound of their next, possibly “make or break” record should be. Sumner correctly noted “we were in the position of being known for this dance, electronic sound and it would have been daft to have just stopped it.” But the highly-skilled bassist Peter Hook was tiring of all the synths and sequencers and said “I still wanted us to be a rock band.”

Generally the former won out, and they headed out to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza to work on Technique, undoubtedly a “Fine Time” for the quartet who were well known for partying and liking certain pills. They got entranced by the so-called Balearic Beat, the dance/house sound of the island, and incorporated it into their music, which ended up a bit lighter and more “chirpy, upbeat” (in the words of Uncut) than much of their earlier work. Morris thought it had a “last day of school” vibe to it. They came back to Britain to finish up, at Peter Gabriel’s studio, which they termed a “more sober” experience than Ibiza!

The result was a nine song, 40-minute piece made for the dance floor. It anyone missed that point, the fact that one song is called “Mr. Disco” might drive it home! But as usual for New Order, the standouts were the singles, three of which were launched from Technique“Round & Round”, “Fine Time” and “Run” . For the latter, they brought in R.E.M. sidekick Scott Litt to remix it as a single, with Scott editing a few solos and cutting back on the echos and effects, with it being released as “Run 2”. Another thing that stood out about that one, if you looked at the liner notes that unlike all the other songs, collectively written by the band, it had John Denver co-credited as a writer. They didn’t fly the Country Boy to Ibiza for a jam session; his publishing company felt “Run” sounded too much like “Leaving on a Jet Plane” so they wisely added his name to the credits and cut him in on it without going to court.

Perhaps a bit surprisingly, the album met with good critical approval, something not always true of their ’80s work. Melody Maker called it a “rare, ravishing triumph”; the NME gave it 9 out of 10 and shortly after, Q ranked it as the 21st best album of the decade. Even on this side of the ocean, reviews were decent. The oft-snarky Village Voice compared them to the other big British new wave act of the ’80s, saying they were “a lot franker and happier than Depeche Mode.” Rolling Stone gave it 3-stars but said it was a “solid blast of sonic presence with immaculate playing.”

The fans certainly agreed. Both “Fine Time” and “Run 2” added to their impressive list of Indie chart-toppers , the former being a top 10 hit in Ireland as well, while “Round & Round” went to the top of U.S. dance charts. And that helped the album itself become their first #1 in Britain and get to #11 in New Zealand and #32 in the States, with it being gold in those countries and Canada – their best showing to that point (with the exception of the greatest hits package) in all those lands.

Oh, and if you notice there’s a sheep bleeting on the single “Fine Time” – one of the rare instances of farm animals doing guest vocals on an ’80s hit – and laughed a little, turns out they were laughing at you. They said it was put in there to represent how the way fans were just “following the flock.”

January 29 – Many Were Oblivious To Frame’s Talents

Happy 59th birthday to Aztec Camera! Well, actually to Roddy Frame, who for all essential purposes was Aztec Camera and is now sometimes described as “the elder statesman of melodic wistful Scotpop.” The Scot singer/songwriter/guitarist put out six albums with an ever-changing list of backing musicians under the name Aztec Camera and has since put out several well-reviewed but poor-selling albums under his own name, although none since 2014.

Frame taught himself guitar, recalling “I started learning guitar when I was about four…I was just completely crazy about it.” His list of musical influences is long and varied, starting with the Beatles, Stones and Bowie when he was young to Echo & the Bunnymen and the Teardrop Explodes when he was starting to create his own music to Springsteen and Dylan when he moved briefly to the U.S. in the ’80s. His records have traversed quite a range of styles but are always strong on melody. He says he’s most comfortable writing “personal one to one songs” but admires Billy Bragg’s politicism. Allmusic consider their debut album, High Land, Hard Rain a perfect 5-star “must-have” album, something echoed by Creem magazine which said of it “the world ain’t perfect but High Land, Hard Rain comes close.” They started their career off with a bang in Britain, with their first five singles all being Indie top 10 hits, including “Walk Out To Winter” and the great “Oblivious”, which was a #1 on that chart and made it into the overall top 20 there. That success got them signed with Warner Bros. and the 1987 album Love, which went platinum in the UK, largely on the strength of the hit “Somewhere in My Heart.” However, despite the critical adoration and heavy airplay on Toronto’s CFNY (their #17 record of the year) and LA’s KROQ, the band never really took off in North America and have only one top 10 hit or platinum record in the UK to show for their talent.

Frame currently lives with his wife in London.  Although he hasn’t said he’s retired from music, his website hasn’t been updated for five years, leading one to be a bit “oblivious” to expect new material anytime soon from Frame and his Aztec Camera

January 29 – Sarah Topped A Flood Of Canadian Talent Doing Good

Yesterday’s birthday girl, Sarah Mclachlan (she turned 55 in case you were wondering) was busy showing again why she was given the Order of Canada. And that the message of Live Aid lived on two decades later. On this day in 2005, she headlined a concert at GM Place in her adopted hometown of Vancouver that she’d hastily arranged along with Nettwerk Records boss Terry McBride. It was to raise funds for charities helping victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami which had occurred a month earlier.

Sarah was winding down her tour and promotion for the late-’03 album Afterglow but had done a set on Good Morning America the previous week. She had, of course, experience setting up multi-star concerts through her involvement in the successful Lilith Fairs or the late-’90s.

A sell out crowd of 18 000 turned out to see the event, including according to local newspaper the Georgia Strait, an “older portion…dressed in their Sunday best.” The crowd was “bitch-free” according to the newspaper, with only one police officer, a female patrolling the arena halls “eating an overpriced hot dog” seen. Sets included ones from  Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, the Barenaked Ladies (whom apparently “drew the largest applause and brought everyone to their feet”) , Raine Maida (of Our Lady Peace) and his wife Chantal Kreviazuk and perhaps most surprisingly, comic Robin Williams “resplendent in a crimson suit” were on before Sarah’s set. the four hour event was event hosted by TV comics Brent Butt and Rick Mercer and . The show raised over a million dollars (about $3 million by some accounts) and she did it again two nights later in Calgary.  The event took place a week after a similar and even larger benefit concert in Wales drew 66 000 to see a lineup headlined by Eric Clapton, with Jools Holland and Manic Street Preachers among others on the bill.

January 28 – Now Came 38 Years Ago For Angsty Generation

We’re not getting any younger, and it would seem neither is our music!” Generation X’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’” turns 38 today. The lengthy and moody “How Soon Is Now?” was put out as a single by The Smiths this day in 1985. And like many other cultural milestones, its importance took awhile to really be clear.

Even the band – or else their record label, Rough Trade (on this side of the ocean, Sire/Warner Bros. had them but they were on the small indie label in their native land) – didn’t seem aware of how good the song was. It was first released a in fall ’84… as a b-side to the single “William It Was Really Nothing”, which seems quite forgettable now. It was then included in Hatful of Hollow, the unusual second album from the Manchester quartet. Unusual because after only one regular album, they came out with Hatful… which was really a compilation album of standalone singles they’d released, b-sides and live recordings from appearances on the BBC’s John Peel show. It was only when fans began going crazy for it and radio began spinning it that the record company decided they had a potential hit and put it out as a single. Even then they struggled to get it right. While the full-length 6:45” version was released on a 12” single (and later a CD single), the song was shorn of much of the remarkable guitarwork for the 7” single, which was only about half as long.

Perhaps the greatness of the song was overlooked at first by those close to the band because it was atypical of the Smiths. Generally known for short, snappy pop songs driven by straight-ahead jangly guitars; their first British hit “This Charming Man” rather set a basic template for them. This song however, was lengthy, atmostpheric,slower and echo-ey. the music was composed by their outstanding guitarist Johnny Marr, who had a simple – well, rather difficult really – goal in mind: “I wanted an intro that was almost as potent as ‘Layla’”, he said. Among his inspirations for it, surprisingly, were Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley’s “It’s All Right.”

With his bandmates, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke, they came up with the music, at that time called “Swamp.” Noteworthy was that for whatever reason, Marr ditched his normal Rickenbacker guitar for it in favor of a Les Paul model. Anyway, when that was done, producer John Porter earned his keep and then some. He decided it would sound better with a bit of reverb and effects. So he and Marr went through a process “that took an eternity,” to make it sound like the song we know. They ran the recording of the guitarwork and ran it through three amps simultaneously, with tremolo or vibrato set to different levels on each and recorded the resultant other-worldly echoing sounds. Not so easy to do, but well worth it!

Enter singer Morrissey a few days later who essentially improvised the nakedly honest, depressed lyrics. The first line, “I am the son, and the heir”, were inspired by a George Eliot novel he was reading that refers to a lad “born the son of a Middlemarsh manufacturer and heir to nothing in particular.” He did the song in just two takes, and Marr was in awe. “when he sang ‘of a shyness that is criminally vulgar’, I knew he’d hit the bullseye.”

Indeed he did. Marr recently correctly assessed that it was “our most enduring record. It’s most people’s favorite, I think.” What it wasn’t necessarily, was a smash hit. Although it did their fifth #1 hit on the British Indie chart in just two years (by the end of the decade and their career, they’d score 14 of those), overall it only got to #24 in the UK. Years later it would return to the charts and make it to #16 there. It also was a top 5 in Ireland, but in most other places, nada.

On our side of the ocean, the single didn’t sell much at all and since Sire didn’t bother releasing Hatful of Hollow at the time in North America, fans who wanted it on an album had to wait until it was tacked onto the next Smiths album, Meat is Murder. But even though it wasn’t getting played next to Michael Jackson or Huey Lewis on American hit radio, it had its rabidly loyal fans and quickly became a staple on college radio and the few pioneering alternative rock ones around. CMJ in fact logged it as the fifth most-played song of the ’80s on U.S. college radio stations while in L.A., KROQ ranked it as the 22nd top song of 1984. Toronto’s CFNY was even more enthusiastic. In 1999, they ranked it as the second-best song – ever. (Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was the one that topped it, in case you were wondering.)

The song was adopted as the anthem of a generation of disaffected, lonely youth and was described by British journalist Louise Segrue as “a triumph thanks to Marr’s genius layering of sliding and oscillating vibrato guitar…and Morrissey’s defiantly anti-pop lyrics.” Or more simply, as allmusic call it, a “masterpiece.”

If the song sounds familiar to you…but not quite, you may have watched a lot of TV last decade. Psychedelic Furs-spinoff Love Spit Love recorded a cover version of it in the ’90s for the movie The Craft which was later used as a theme song for the TV series Charmed.

January 28 – Geils Dished Up A Hearts & Candies Alternative

This day in 1980, one would have seen the usual seasonal stuff on display if they’d wandered into a typical K-mart or mall – lots of red, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, cupid-bedecked cards, fake roses. Valentine’s prepwork was in full effect for all the lovers out there. But, offering the opposing position were the J. Geils Band, who put out their ninth studio album that day, Love Stinks.

While it was the Boston band’s ninth record, it was only their second with EMI Records, who seemed to feel that a change would do them good. That the J. Geils Band could achieve far more than they had in their Atlantic Records years prior, when they sold moderately-well, had the occasional single squeak into the top 40 and had a loyal, modest following for their energetic live sets. They seemed to want them to try to be a bit more current-sounding and pop-oriented. One of the changes they made was handing over the producing job to their keyboardist, Seth Justman. Time would prove that Seth was better able to come up with a catchy hit single than the rest of his bandmates…but that his direction also irked others in the band including Geils himself and the fast-talking, charismatic singer Peter Wolf, who both seemed to prefer more standard, older-sounding blues rock the band had made its name with.

Love Stinks was a bit of a compromise between the two. The nine songs included some that would have fit just fine on one of the band’s early-’70s records, like “Til The Walls Come Tumblin’ Down” (a “typical Geils rave-up” in the ears of Rolling Stone) and their cover of the ’60s Strangeloves song “Night Time”. But there were more AM-ready songs with more synth than the fans might have been accustomed to… the lead off single “Come Back” for instance, and the love ballad “Desire”. Then there were the two most memorable songs on it – the weird, spoken-word pizza saga “No Anchovies Please” and the title track. Sure at the time Billy Preston was in the middle of a comeback with his duet “With You I’m Born Again” and the Captain & Tennille were riding high one last time with the seductive “Do That To Me One More Time”, but Geils delivered an anthem for the unhappily single at Valentine’s Day with the in-yer-face title song. Ultimate Classic Rock point out that the idea of unrequited love was one they’d touched on several times before, with songs like “Lookin’ for a Love” but they were more “on target” this time around.

Perhaps it sounded a bit disparate and confusing as an album; critics didn’t seem to quite know what to make of it. The Village Voice then graded it “C+”. Rolling Stone, long a fan of Geils summed it up as “a step backwards” for them, even though “Peter Wolf and Seth Justman finally seem to have developed a songwriting flow”. They were fine with the more conventional-sounding JGB tunes : “Just Can’t Wait” was “an infectious, uptempo pop rocker that boasts an irresistible hook” for example. But much of it struck the magazine as “indifferent”, “No Anchovies Please” was just “embarassing” and Justman’s production “bloated and uneven.” Allmusic would echo a few of those concepts years later, giving it a good 3.5-stars but pointing out that it “now sounds a little outdated” and while there were good songs like “Night Time” (“another great, although somewhat typical” track for them) and “one of the most recognizable FM songs ever” – the “infectious” title track – it was “solid” but mstly only noteworthy for setting the stage for the following year’s Freeze Frame.

That it did, quite nicely. As Ultimate Classic Rock pointed out, despite good reviews for their previous couple of records, they’d gone “five years without a gold LP…that’s an eternity in ’70s pop music terms.” Love Stinks corrected that, going gold in the U.S. (at the time, their third such honor.) It hit #18 on the charts at home, but oddly it really broke through in Canada, where it got to #4 and went platinum. More surprising since they’d not matched their U.S. success north of the border in the ’70s. Both singles, “Come Back” and “Love Stinks” broke into the American top 40, and Canadian top 20.

That helped build their profile and have people instantly interested in their next album, Freeze Frame, which would be a worldwide smash…but also probably set the wheels in motion for the band to break up a few years later due to personality conflicts coming from different musical preferences.

January 27 – Van’s Dance Into The Mystic And Acclaim

It’s been called the “blueprint for Blue-eyed soul” as well as the starting point of “soft rock.” Quite a legacy, no matter what your opinion of those two “genres” is (and here, we like both just fine.) There could be debate aplenty as to what record, if any one did, merited such accolades, but definitely Van Morrison‘s Moondance, of which that was said, is a contender. It came out this day in 1970.

Moondance was Van’s third solo album, but second on a big label, Warner Bros., and it came out just over a year after its first, Astral Weeks, to which it seems to always be compared. Astral Weeks had been loved by critics, but generally totally ignored by record buyers, much to both Van and Warner’s dismay. So Van the Man decided to change things up a bit rather than record a direct, folky sequel. He brought in a horn section, wrote some songs that were a bit more upbeat and at times jazz-tinged, and took over producing the record himself. “No one knew what I was looking for except me, so I just did it,” he said about that. “When I go into the studio, I’m a magician. I make things happen.”

He did that with the ten song effort. It was written and recorded in the summer of ’69, a happy time for Van. He was in a state of “domestic bliss” with his first wife Janet. They were living in the Woodstock, New York area (surprisingly he left the area by the record’s release, finding it becoming too busy for him after the famous concert nearby) and taken by the natural beauty of the Appalachians. Many critics have noted how most of the songs seem to touch on the spiritual nature of life and the spirit of nature he was surrounded by.

Of the ten songs, five became “classics”, all of them on Side 1 of the LP version as it happened : “And It Stoned Me”, the title track, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic.” Curiously, Warner Bros. only put one single out off it, “Come Running”, from Side 2. Years later they’d issue “Moondance” itself out as a 7” when the album’s legacy was growing.

Many “classic” albums are ignored in their own time, but such was not the case with “Moondance.” It was a rare one almost all critics seemed to approve of right away. The Village Voice, for instance, gave it an “A” and told readers to “forget Astral Weeks! This is a brilliant, catchy, poetic and completely successful LP.” Years after that, they’d still think it sucessful, putting it as the seventh best album of the 1970s. Rolling Stone at the time were a bit surprised by its “horn-driven, bass-heavy” sound but still liked it and declared “Caravan” and “Into the Mystic” were songs which “will carry it past many good records we’ll forget in the next few years.”

Perhaps so. To this day, it garners lots of respect and accolades. Rolling Stone, retrospectively, have constantly placed it among the 200 Greatest albums of All-time (most recently #120) applauding its “more structured, less acoustic” sound compared to Astral Weeks and terming it “the blueprint for Blue-eyed Soul.” Time magazine has it listed among its All Time 100 best albums and Ptichfork, giving it 8.5/10 note that “it would solidify Van Morrison as an FM radio mainstay (and) act as a midwife for the burgeoning genre of ‘soft rock’”. British journalist John Tobler, of the NME and other publications declares Van’s singing “charismatic” and adding “the first side of the LP is almost perfect.” Allmusic grade it a perfect 5-stars and suggest “Into the Mystic” is the “quintessential Morrison moment.”

For all those kudos, the public was not as swayed. It did sell much better than Astral Weeks, getting to #29 on the charts in the U.S. and #32 in the UK, but it only made the top 10 in the Netherlands. It sold adequately, but after becoming an FM staple, it kept selling and it’s now his biggest-selling record, being triple platinum in the U.S.

If you want the dance to keep going after its 38 minutes, you have options. Van’s put out 40 studio albums since Moondance.

January 27 – People Couldn’t Bear It If It Really Was Edward’s Last Song

A few years before Rush took flight, another Toronto trio was having a decent, if short, run in the sun. On this day in 1973, Edward Bear had their first song hit the U.S. top 40… oddly enough with a ditty called “Last Song.”

Bear had begun in the Ontario city some six years earlier, playing many of the same cafes and clubs Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot frequented, and got signed by Capitol Records in 1969. It was pretty much the brainchild of Larry Evoy, the band’s main writer, singer and drummer. He got the name from a Winnie the Pooh book; the careful reader of A.A. Milne will find that Pooh’s real name is “Edward Bear.” Evoy’s pop interests were counter-weighted by the original guitarist, bluesy Danny Marks and a jazz-inspired keyboardist, Paul Weldon. Although their early sound was blues-rocky enough to have them open for Led Zeppelin once, Marks left the band early on and the band soon found a niche with soft rock tunes that largely populated their four albums.

they found great success in their native Canada in the early-’70s, where “Last Song” was actually their fifth top 30 hit out of seven eventually. It was however, their only #1 hit in Canada (spending two weeks on top before being bumped out by Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”) and their only sizable international hit, making it up to #3 in the U.S. and #2 in Australia. Evoy says the inspiration came to him easily: “it was literal. I would go to sleep with my light on, hoping she’d think I was still awake and would drop by.” The next single, the apparent sequel, “Close Your Eyes” was another big hit in Canada but only made it to #37 Stateside, and soon after Edward Bear went into permanent hibernation.

Weldon went on to become a successful architect and graphic artist; Marks a respected blues guitarist and eventually a radio host with a nationwide show playing jazz and blues. He remembers the Bear days. “The real danger of being so big, so young was that it seemed too easy,” he says noting at the time he was surprised that after Bear he was soon “playing every strip joint on Yonge Street” in Toronto and known as “the king of chicken wing bars.”

As for Evoy, he and his wife run a horse farm in Ontario and he also is in charge of the Edward Bear catalog and publishing rights. “In the States, where all those oldie goldies stations keep playing our songs, it’s almost a full-time occupation,” he says, adding “it’s wonderful to know that our songs still have this life so many years after they were recorded.”