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.”

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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 26 – People Didn’t Need Authority To Board The Chicago Train

Rock is often considered sexy and about sex, but seldom have bands been as “horny” as Chicago in their early days. Of course, we mean that literally – they along with Blood, Sweat and Tears were the leaders in a move to bring horn sections into rock at the end of the ’60s. We hear that clearly on their sophomore album, now nicknamed “Chicago II” which came out on this day in 1970.

we say “nicknamed” because technically the album was simply entitled Chicago. Their debut, released eight months earlier had been called Chicago Transit Authority but they’d dropped the last two words after being threatened with a lawsuit by the Windy City commuter bus and train system of the same name.

If the band lost a couple of words from their name, they gained some strong musical direction… and one of music’s best-known visuals, their curly logo which first showed up on this record. They got the idea for the logo which has appeared on all their albums since, from Coca-Cola’s cursive emblem.

Chicago at the time was a seven-man ensemble many consider the “classic” lineup for the band which has seen members come and go rather regularly through its 55 year run to date. Bassist Peter Cetera and guitarist Terry Kath pretty much split the lead vocals while Robert Lamm played keyboards and added backing vocals and their was James Pankow on trombone (plus lesser-known Walter Parazaine and Lee Loughlaine on more horns plus drummer Danny Seraphine.) Of the seven, the trio of horn players plus Lamm are still in the touring version of the group. The writing was a little more widely-distributed; while Kath and Cetera wrote a large portion of it, Pankow also added significant parts including the album’s standout, “Ballet for A Girl In Buchannon”. That one is hardly a household name, and at 13 minutes, understandably isn’t a mainstay of radio but is typical of the album and contributed two of their best-known songs: “Make Me Smile” and “Color My World.” It is one of three lengthy pieces on the double-album which are sprawling and composed of several different, distinctive parts.

The band put the album together surprisingly quickly, inside of a month during the summer of ’69 under the guidance of their producer of choice, James Guercio. Thanks to the essentially double A-sided single “Make Me Smile” / “Color My World” and the song Billboard pick as their best (albeit not best-selling) of their career, “25 or 6 to 4”, the record shot up the chart and quickly eclipsed the first album’s sales. The album hit #4 in the U.S., #5 in Canada and #6 in the UK and went platinum at home. In Canada, it ended up triple-platinum, making it their best-seller outside of a Greatest Hits package. “Make Me Smile” was their first top 10 hit in the states, going to #9 while the next single, “25 or 6 to 4” rose to #4 (and #2 in Canada.)

And by the way, what of that song? Some thought “25 or 6 to 4” was drug slang, or maybe some weird morse code for a famous person. Writer robert Lamm throws cold water on those conspiracy theories saying he was writing it in the middle of the night and merely jotted down the time as a working title. He began it around 3:34 or 3:35 AM, hence “25 or (twenty) six to four.” The song lives on anytime of the day not only on radio but on parade routes as well. An Omaha newspaper ranked it as the #1 Marching Band Tune of all-time.

Critics were mixed as to how they felt about it. Some saw it as new and progressive. The hometown Chicago Sun-times thought them “one of the most exciting, most original, most accomplished jazz-rocks in existence.” New York’s Village Voice only gave it a “D+”, calling it “sterile and stupid.” Eventually it probably came down to whether you thought rock was a stagnant, narrow genre or a growing sound willing to incorporate elements of other genres. Allmusic definitely goes with the latter, giving it 4.5-stars, best of the ’70s catalog and praising it for “complex jazz charges with heavy electric rock and roll that the band so brazenly forged” to create “some of the best and most effective pop music of that era.” Ultimately, we agree with them. Rock as we know it wouldn’t have gone on to what it was in the ’70s and ’80s if not for innovators willing to expand its boundaries in the early days, from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin to yes, Chicago.

January 22 – Al Took Us To Another Place, Another Time

The year after the “Year of the Eagle” (the Bicentennial) was the year of the cat? Could be, since Al Stewart‘s lush record hit the American Top 40 on this day in 1977, his first significant radio hit.

The Scottish-born folkie had already put out six albums after his 1966 debut single (“The Elf” which had Jimmy Page playing guitar on it but sold a lofty 496 copies!) prior to his RCA Records debut, Year of the Cat. He became a part of the burgeoning British folk scene in the mid-’60s and was a friend of Cat Stevens and briefly the roommate of Paul Simon! Pretty good foundation for learning to write songs, one would think. The album was recorded at Abbey Road studios and produced by Alan Parsons, a pretty good set of ingredients to add to the recipe of making a hit. The album contained the popular song “On the Border”, but its real standout was the exotic title track. As Stewart later told a Toronto radio station, “if this isn’t a hit, then I can’t make a hit.”

Turns out he could; the single got to #8 on Billboard, and the album went platinum in the U.S. In Canada, it hit #3 yet in his homeland, it missed the top 30 – like all his songs have! He’d score an even higher chart hit the following year with “Time Passages”, but the song about the mysterious woman in the country where they turn back time remains his best-loved and best-known track. It was the only song on the album that he didn’t write entirely by himself. This one is co-credited to Peter Wood, his touring keyboardist at the time (and later a touring member of Pink Floyd during The Wall years.) Green played a piano riff every soundcheck and Stewart says “after I heard it about 14 times, I said ‘you know, there’s something about that. It sounds kind of haunting and nice. Can I write some lyrics to it?” But finding the right lyrics was a bit of a challenge. He tried ones about a comedian who commit suicide and Princess Anne and her horse, but nothing felt right. He says “I had a girlfriend at the time and she had a book on Vietnamese astrology, which is kind of obscure. It was open at the chapter called ‘The Year of the Cat’…I recognize a song title when I see it, and that was a song title.” He was right, and after some unsuccessful lyrics about a tabby that made him crabby, he settled in to watch Casablanca and let his imagination run wild until he had the lyrics that made him a part of music history. The history buff has also referenced everything from Stalin and WWII to Nostradamus in his songs. He continues playing music to this day

January 20 – Journey To Infinity And Beyond On The Charts Began 45 Years Ago

One of San Francisco’s hardest-working bands journey from obscurity to superstardom took a big leap forward on this day in 1978Journey released their fourth album, Infinity.

The album quickly goes on to eclipse the combined sales of their previous trio of jazz and prog-rock influenced records and establish them as one of America’s big FM rock bands, thanks largely to the singles “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky.”  Surprisingly, looking back, neither of those singles hit the top 40, even though they have now become rock radio standards.

The band had ingredients for success from the start. Gregg Rolie, their first vocalist, had worked with Santana and sung his “Black Magic Woman” and was a quality keyboardist; drummer Aynsley Dunbar had been an in demand studio musician used by John Lennon and David Bowie and Neal Schon (the only person to be a member for the band’s 40+ year history) had also been in Santana’s band. But what they lacked perhaps was a great, power voice and a producer to tie it all together. On Infinity, they got both, adding Steve Perry, which allmusic correctly noted was “a stroke of genius” and bringing in producer Roy Thomas Baker, which probably was another one. Thomas had just finished working with Queen on their A Night at the Opera album and its epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Allmusic rated it 4-stars, better than any of the previous efforts, applauding “Perry’s soaring whale of a voice (and) Schon’s scorching fret work” and the band’s “traditional pop arrangements” leaving “dead and buried were the jazz fusion overtones” they had favored in their early days. Journey’s fourth would hit the U.S. and Canadian top 30 and eventually hit 3X platinum at home, but was quickly over-shadowed by even more successful albums like Departure and Escape in the next few years.

January 19 – A Warehouse Of ’90s Sounds Arrived Three Years Early

The shape and sound of much of the ’90s was made on this day in 1987, although few knew it then! Husker Du released their great, powerful yet tuneful Warehouse:Songs and Stories double album.

The Warner record was the last for the Minnesota trio that influenced a whole range of musicians, most notably Nirvana who all echoed the sentiments of Krist Novoselic who said “Nirvana was nothing new, Husker Du did it before us.” Dave Grohl was also a noted fan and has appeared several times with Husker’s singer/guitarist Bob Mould since. Not only did Husker Du break the ground for what would become “grunge”, they also were highly influential among underground rock bands of the ’80s by being the first American “punk” act to sign with a major label (Warner Bros. in 1986) and put out records that sounded much the same as their indie work had. This showed the likes of R.E.M., Sonic Youth and later Nirvana that getting backing of a big label wasn’t necessarily “selling out.” As for Warehouse, it was a bit of a departure for the trio, but not a drastic one. The band had made a name for themselves with short, powerhouse rockers dished up grittily, such as “Makes No Sense At All”, which had been a hit on British indie charts two years earlier. On Warehouse , years of maturing and a bigger budget helped make the sound a bit more palatable without compromising their energy or anger. Unlike their previous five records, this one they wrote and rehearsed in an old Twin Cities warehouse (hence the title) rather than on stage and they took full advantage of a decent studio to overdub some guitars and a keyboard bit here and there. The songs though were pure-Husker Du, and if anything more angry than ever, owing to a personality clash between Mould and drummer Grant Hart (according to many a couple who were splitting up romantically during the recording) who also wrote some of their tracks including the second single off it, “She’s A Woman.

Spin gave it 7 out of 10 and Rolling Stone considered the record a “viable candidate for album of the year”  but the public weren’t as enthusiastic. Although it hit #31 in New Zealand and squeaked into the Canadian album charts, it missed in Britain (where they’d had good success before) and more importantly, in the U.S. despite the catchy single “Could You Be The One?” getting decent play on MTV. Allmusic later graded it a full 5-stars and perceived what made it special: though it had fuller production… to their credit, they never sound like they are selling out” and Bob Mould “nearly arrives at power pop” with his songs, something that “pointed the way to the kind of ‘alternative’ rock that dominated the mainstream in the early-’90s.” Or to paraphrase, being an innovator pays off in respect, but not dollars!

January 18 – Not So Much A Roar As A Sweet Purr

When you think of great alt-country, Americana style music, you might think it could come from, say, Nebraska. You probably wouldn’t think of it arising from Sweden’s largest city. Yet, that has been the case at times recently Stockholm by way of Omaha, thanks to the Swedish sisters Joanna and Klara Soderberg, aka First Aid Kit. They began to garner international attention on this day in 2012, with the release of their second album, The Lion’s Roar.

At the time, Klara was still a teenager and Joanna, 22. But they’d made a name for themselves in Sweden, first via MySpace and busking in downtown Stockholm, then with their first album, The Big, Black and the Blue, which sold decently for them at home two years earlier. Both were proficient in English and fans of ‘western’ music. Klara in particular was fond of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris music, influences which come through in their music.

For The Lion’s Roar, they traveled to Omaha, Nebraska to record with Mike Mogis, a producer and multi-instrumentalist member of the indie band Bright Eyes. He and his band filled in on instruments the girls didn’t play – Joanna played keyboards and autoharp, while Klara was on guitar – except bass. Keeping in mind their ages, perhaps, their dad, Benkt Soderberg was there on the bass and no doubt keeping an eye open for his girls.

The resulting album was a great ten song effort that the duo wrote themselves but seemed to channel southern California and the Appalachians more than Scandinavia. The song “Emmylou” in particular, written for their hero Ms. Harris, evoked Americana and got them widespread notice on this side of the ocean, with them playing it on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman’s talk shows and with Rolling Stone listing it among the year’s ten best songs.

The album drew great reviews far and wide, including Britain’s NME (8 out of 10), and Q, 4-stars, with American Rolling Stone rating it 3.5-stars. Soon after, allmusic gave it the same score, calling it a blend of “autumnal folk and wistful ’60s Americana”, centering out “Emmylou” (“juxtaposing the girls glorious ethereal harmonies with a genuine sense of melancholy”) and the “lush acoustics of ‘I Found a Way’” as highlights.

The album quickly went to #1 in Sweden – the first of three in a row for them – and won the Nordic Music Prize for best album. Although it’s success was more limited elsewhere, it did go gold in the UK , where it hit #35 and at least charted in North America. In so doing, it opened up the doors for even greater success with their follow-up, Stay Gold.

January 17 – From Prairie Bars To Paris, Joni Sparked Interest

Joni got jazzy. And a little more personal, and the results were great. Joni Mitchell put out her sixth album, Court & Spark , on this day in 1974. It quickly became her most successful work, commercially and by many critics estimation.

It was her second since joining Asylum Records, and like many of her works it was self-produced and featured a cover illustrated by one of her paintings. (At times she’s described herself as a “painter derailed by circumstance”). Also like many of her works, she recorded it in L.A., using a great crew of that city’s best session players to add to her piano and acoustic guitar playing. Among the ones showing up on Court & Spark were bassist Max Bennett, who’d played with artists ranging from Arlo Guthrie to Frank Zappa before, Larry Carlton on lead guitar (Carlton had worked with a range of stars including Henry Mancini and the Four Tops) and both Jose Feliciano and Robbie Robertson, who lent their rock guitar stylings to the album’s lead single, “Raised on Robbery.”

Which points to some of the differences from her earlier work. Thematically, it was more personal and loosely a concept album about various relationships. Sonically, it was, to quote Pitchfork, “her official severance from folk music.” Breezy jazz-rock numbers dominated, leading British scribe Will Fulford-Jones to suggest it was rather “like Steely Dan…a jazzy, radio-friendliness.”

There were 11 tunes, ten originals she wrote and a cover of an early-’50s jazz song, “Twisted.” Among the better known, and perhaps best overall, were the title track, “Just Like this Train” and the trio of singles – “Raised on Robbery”, “Help Me” and “Free Man in Paris.” “Raised on Robbery” was as rock-sounding as Joni gets, a tale allmusic call “acutely funny”, a story of a hopeful prostitute having trouble luring a man away from the Maple Leafs hockey game on in a hotel bar. “Help Me”, an ode to falling in love and all the emotions that go with it, while “Free Man in Paris” was written for her friend, label-boss David Geffen – and his role in the “star maker machinery” of the world of pop music.

The album was an instant hit, her only #1 one in her homeland of Canada, where it spent three weeks on top. In the U.S., it came close, getting to #2, also her high water mark. “Raised on Robbery” was perhaps a bit too raw for some of her fans, and didn’t do well except in Toronto, where perhaps the hockey reference made it a top 10 single. “Help Me”, however, was a major hit, getting to #6 and #7 in Canada and the U.S. respectively . Oddly, it didn’t make the British or European charts, despite the record getting good reviews there as elsewhere. ”Free Man in Paris” added in another North American top 30 single. When all was said and done it ended up double platinum in the U.S. and sold better than three million copies in total.

The album garnered good reviews then and has grown in accolades since. Rolling Stone, allmusic and Pitchfork all give it perfect-scores of 5-stars (or 10/10 on Pitchfork) with Rolling Stone currently putting it at #110 on their best-ever list. Allmusic call it “a remarkably deft fusion of folk, pop and jazz” while Fulford-Jones declares “the loose, sun-soaked sound is the greatest surprise.” However, every album has its detractors. It’s said that Bob Dylan didn’t care for it and in fact fell asleep when it was played for him for the first time.

January 14 – Knopfler Played A Twist On Fans 40 Years Ago

A belated Christmas gift for their fans perhaps? One of the oddest, but not unsatisfying, moments in the career of Dire Straits came this day in 1983 when they released the single “Twisting by the Pool” and a three or four song EP. The vinyl version was generally titled ExtendeDancEPlay, while the same release on cassette was simply named Twisting by the Pool. They contained two more Mark Knopfler-penned songs, “Two Young Lovers” and “If I had You”, on the Vertigo Records release. The U.S. version alone, on Warner Bros., added in a fourth one too, “Badges, Posters, Stickers, T-shirts.”

No matter which version you got, the focus was the upbeat, slightly retro-sounding single. The things which made the release odd, and surprising, were twofold. First, they’d only just released a whole album, Love over Gold, three months earlier. They had in fact recorded the three tracks for this approximately the same day that album dropped to stores. That this was generally just a three-song album (?) also seemed odd, but to many the real surprise was how upbeat, cheery and almost goofy it sounded. Allmusic years later would comment it was “the closest thing to exuberant rock and roll this seemingly humorless band had ever attempted.” Likewise, Rate Your Music suggested “Mark Knopfler did show on occasion that he could let his hair down and …have fun,” with this being the case in point. It might seem that even if they had the song ready in time for the previous album, it might have sounded out of place on it.

But it didn’t sound out of place on radio or MTV. The EP went platinum in Canada, and the single itself hit #1 in New Zealand, #2 in Australia and #14 in Britain. In the U.S however, it failed to crack the top 50 on either the album or singles chart, despite the allure of that extra song.

Sadly it seems to be largely forgotten amongst their catalog. If you’re looking to find a copy, there are still some 12” vinyl versions out there. It was never officially released as a CD, but you can find “Twisting by the Pool” on their greatest hits compilation Sultans of Swing, or you can try to hunt down a “rare” CD-single of the song that was released years later which included the video. There seem to be quite a few online, starting at about $25. Which to a diehard fan, might be a small price to pay to hear and see Mark Knopfler let down his hair.