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.”


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 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 23 – Clash Rocked The Cashbox (And Billboard) 40 Years Ago

In the early-’90s, the world of pop music was thrown for a loop when “alternative” rock became so popular it was suddenly really the mainstream music. A decade earlier though, it was happening on a slightly smaller scale. On this day in 1983, those angry, political punks from Britain, The Clash, were having their finest hour in America and in so doing, standing toe to toe with such decidedly-mainstream artists as Phil Collins and the J. Geils Band. “Rock the Casbah” peaked at #8 in the U.S. 40 years ago.

Three years after they first hit the U.S. airwaves with the similarly upbeat-sounding “Train in Vain” , “Rock the Casbah” quickly became their biggest hit there. That was fitting perhaps since it was recorded in New York, not their home base of London. In the UK meanwhile, at the time it only got up to #30, making it only their sixth-biggest single to that point, although oddly it would make it up into the top 20 in 1991 there around the same time another single from the same album, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” got to #1 there after being used in a Levis TV ad.

The single helped The Clash and their Combat Rock album break through into the American market in a big way, going double-platinum; at home the sales were below London Calling and about on a par with their other three previous albums. What it wasn’t though was representative of British punk rock, nor of The Clash’s sound necessarily, although on their previous couple of records – London Calling and Sandinista – they’d experimented with enough different music genres as to not have a “sound” beyond the gruff vocals of Joe Strummer tying it all together.

The fun, dancy tune is atypical of The Clash in another way. It was the only track written and performed largely by drummer Topper Headon. He had the piano melody in his head and ended up in the studio hours before the other three in the band, so he recorded away, doing the piano work, then his drums and even bass before Strummer heard it. the singer later acknowledged “the real genius of ‘Rock the Casbah’ is Topper.”

What wasn’t necessarily genius was Topper’s lyrics, about his girlfriend, and depending on which person close to the band you ask, either very “sappy” or rather “pornographic.” Strummer looked at them, tossed the lyric sheet in the garbage and started on the witty geopolitical statement we know. The song which gloriously showcases the Middle Eastern dichotomy of both a fascination with and a hostility towards American pop culture was something Strummer had in his mind for awhile. The lyrics had begun falling into place when he’d seen a documentary on Iran, and in an interview aired on I-heart Radio, he said he was astounded to find that having a bottle of Jack Daniels there could get one “forty lashes.” “I was trying to say ‘fundamentalism is nowhere, man’”. Around the same time, manager Bernie Rhodes was complaining to him that his songs were getting increasingly like “ragas” – long, complex Indian musical pieces, which is where that word in the lyrics originated.

CBS Records sensed it had a hit on its hands and remixed it as a single with more bass and the extended vocal bit on the word “jive”, then sent the band to Texas to record the armadillo-featuring video which became an early favorite on MTV.

There were a couple of ironies in the success of “Rock the Casbah.” First, while it was more the work of Headon than any other Clash song, he’d been fired from the group by the time it began its run up the charts. Headon had deepening drug problems which curtailed his ability to perform and didn’t sit well with Strummer. So Topper doesn’t even appear in the video.

More galling to much of the fanbase, is that the U.S. military adopted the song as an unofficial theme or anthem for the 1991 Operation Desert Storm (the mini-war to free Kuwait from Iraq’s grip.) The left-wing band surely never expected their music to be the soundtrack to an American military operation and as one journalist quipped, “the notion of The Clash as spokesfolk for (military) adventurism in the Middle East might have been enough to bring Joe Strummer back from the dead.”

The Clash rocked the casbah, but didn’t rock very much of anything after. Strummer was also getting tired of guitarist Mick Jones as well and perhaps was getting weary of the Clash altogether. They recorded only one more album, 1985’s under-achieving and critically-panned Cut the Crap. That one lacked Jones, Headon and had only a passing involvement from bassist Paul Simonon but did have their business manager in charge of drum machines and production. After that, Strummer knew it was time to move on and leave the band’s legacy alone.

January 22 – The Voice That Started San Fran Band On Journey To Superstardom

Cake? Chocolate? Red velvet perhaps?  “Anyway you want it”, Steve Perry– it is your birthday after all! The former Journey singer turns 74 today.

His dad (who was Portuguese and was born “Pereira”) was musical, loved to sing and owned a radio station in California and Steve learned to play guitar quite young and played in his school band but it’s always been Perry’s voice that has set him apart. Rolling Stone rank him as one of the 100 greatest singers of all time and Brian May of Queen says of him “he’s a voice in a million.” Randy Jackson (American Idol judge who also happened to play bass on Perry’s first solo record and then ironically joined Journey, without Perry) says “other than Robert Plant there’s no other singer in rock that even can come close to Steve.” The powerful tenor voice certainly helped Journey as much as the band helped Steve. After three relatively poorly-received albums, heavy on instrumentals and with another singer, Journey’s manager Herbie Herbert called on Perry who was then in a struggling Bay Area band called Alien Project. The result was staggering – Infinity (which we talked about earlier this week here) put the band on the charts with Perry’s singing and radio-friendly writing and from there he went on to be the voice of all of the band’s hit albums, including 1981’s Escape, which sold in the area of 10 million copies. His first solo record, Street Talk, from 1984, was quite successful too, going double platinum in the U.S. on the strength of “Oh Sherrie”, a single he wrote for his then girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, whom he featured in the video. Perry left Journey for good in 1996 after a hip injury resulted in him being unable to tour and caused conflicts in the group.

Perhaps he’s better off that way. Currently various members of Journey are suing one another over use of the name. Perry, meanwhile, has been busy getting back to music lately. Apparently that came out of dying wishes of his girlfriend Kellie who passed away from cancer in 2012. He put out his third solo album, Traces, in 2018. The album hit the U.S. top 10 and garnered decent reviews; since then he’s put out a Christmas album and Traces (alternate versions and sketches), essentially an “unplugged” version of the previous one. “I just wanted to strip it down and show everybody the raw emotion that exists in those songs,” he says. As for Journey, don’t look for a reunion any time soon. He did attend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction with his former band in 2017, but in a show of unusual respect (for the entertainment world), let their new singer, Arnel Pineda sing for the show’s concert, while he watched from the sidelines. Still, we likely haven’t heard the last of Steve. He’s agreed to work with Dolly Parton on her upcoming rock record and not long ago said that he has several more tunes in the works. “I think I’m too old to stop now,” he told journalists. Let’s hope so.

January 21 – Chart Finale 1 : Police Had Public Wrapped Around Their Finger

They indeed had the public wrapped around their finger! The Police, still riding high on their Synchronicity album this day in 1984 , hit the U.S. top 40 charts yet again, although it was with what would turn out to be their final hit song – “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. (In Europe, this was released earlier and “King of Pain” was their final hit).

The fans may not have known it but the band itself probably was well aware that the critically-acclaimed and massive selling Synchronicity – their first U.S. #1 hit album – was going to be their swan song. Sting’s ego was said to be getting out of control and he was allowing less and less input from Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland; during the recording the members of the band tended to play in separate rooms and producer Hugh Padgham had moved them to Quebec from Montserrat so Sting could blow off steam skiing when not in studio. Sting’s first solo album came out in ’85 and an attempt to put together a new record in ’86 was cut short by Stewart Copeland falling off a horse and breaking his collarbone, although as Summers recalls, “it was clear that Sting had no real intention of writing any new songs for the Police.” They did get together for a reunion tour in 2007 and say they are now friends again.

As for this single, Sting admits (like the earlier single “Every Breath You Take”) it’s a “spiteful song.” He was going through a painful separation from his first wife at the time, and it showed in the band’s lyrics…but it sounded good! And as for the lyrics… well, you can tell Sting was a teacher at one time. While the basic theme is clear – a young guy becoming enthralled by an older woman who wants him to marry her, with the balance of power , so to speak eventually shifting to where he is in control, there are some odd words in there. For example “caught between Scylla and Charibdes”? We can hear you saying “is that what he’s singing?” all the way over here. Turns out Scylla and Charibdes are two water monsters that menaced Odysseus when he’s out sailing in the book Odyssey. Roughly translated it means pick the lesser of two evils.

“Wrapped Around Your Finger” became their sixth #1 single in Ireland, while it made the top 10 in the States, Canada and Britain where it became their tenth such hit.

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!