February 17 – Turntable Talk 11 : They Were The Champions, & They Rocked Us

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 11th instalment! But for new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is A Really Big Show. We’ve asked our guests if they had a time machine, and could go back and see one concert what would it be? It could be a show from before they were born, one tey missed or one they actually attended and would like to relive. Big festival, small club show, you name it.

Today we wrap up this round, with a few thoughts from me here at A Sound Day.

A big thanks to my guest contributors again! I hope you’ve enjoyed their columns and thoughts as much as I have and I have to admit, I’ve been surprised at the range of shows they’d have liked to go back and see. From Count Basie in a swingin’ pre-war show in the Big Apple to the post-modern Talking Heads at their creative zenith in California to a huge hard rock festival I’d never heard of, we saw some great shows through their eyes (and ears).

If asked the same question myself, I’d be quite torn… so many good choices. First let me say, that honestly I would not have picked some obvious choices. Beatles? No thanks. Hey, I love their music and think they influenced modern music more than anyone else but, let’s face it – they quit playing live when they were coming into their real peak period and the shows they played leading up to that – Shea Stadium, etc –  had a poor sound system and the fans in the stands were screaming so much you could barely hear the Fab Four. Their rooftop show, documented in Get Back, a cool idea and some fine tunes, but I’d probably be with the few other amused fans and passersby on the street below, in the cold, not being able to see them and hearing it amidst the other street noise. Woodstock? Certainly a historic event, and some fantastic bands, but honestly, quite a few acts that were just a bit before my time and didn’t wow me all that much. Not enough to endure all that rain and mud… plus, I’d not like that some of the better artists were showing up onstage literally in the middle of the night!

I’d also consider going back to re-live a few concerts I did go to, to appreciate them more. U2 on The Unforgettable Fire tour at Maple Leaf Gardens. Powerful, brilliant rocking show finishing with all 18000 or so of us singing the chorus to ’40’ as we exited the building onto Carlton Street in Toronto. Today’s other column’s subject, The Stranglers, in a mid-sized bar in Toronto promoting the Norfolk Coast. Unlike their ’80s concert I saw in a big theater, this time the sound was perfect and they picked a great set of both their old ‘punk’ singles and newer, refined tunes. Frontman JJ Burnel even posed and grinned for a few photos for me while I was only feet from the stage – a marked contrast to the band’s ’70s behavior when he’d likely have cut the song and jumped off the stage to kick my camera out of my hands. This time around I wouldn’t end up losing the SD card! And R.E.M., my favorite band of my own generation. I’ve seen them several times but would probably go back to the Up tour show. Oddly, it was the first album of theirs I’d bought that under-whelmed me a little, and was the first without drummer Bill Berry but the concert was aces. Michael Stipe was chatty and humorous, they played some old nuggets I’d not heard them do before like “Cuyahoga” and they had an incredible, gaudy, fun backdrop of dozens of bizarre neon signs, flashing and looking like a Las Vegas cartoon. And as a bonus, Wilco opened the show! At the time (1999) I remember thinking they were quite good, but only knowing two songs they played. Twenty-odd years later, I’d appreciate their set more too I bet. But for all that, there’s really only one show that would win the “time travel trip” for me. The ultimate live music event of Gen X and in fact, of many of our lifetimes – Live Aid. Set the Time Travel dial to July 13, 1985, destination, London, England.

First off, it was a piece of History. I mean, you can’t think of ’80s music and not think about Live Aid and the fundraising records for the same African charities, notably “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are The World.” People (like me) who weren’t there on that – happily – sunny day, were able to watch on TV for the most part. It was shown on television in over 150 countries and the audience was estimated at over a billion people! Talk about an event bringing the world together. As co-organizer Bob Geldof said, “thru the lingua franca (common language) of the planet – which is not English, but rock’n’roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus.” Which brings me to another point – it was for good. George Harrison had started the ball rolling over a decade prior, with his Concert for Bangladesh; Bob Geldof and Midge Ure drove it home this day. Rock and pop music can bring about change for the better in the world both by raising money for worthy organizations that help and, more importantly by shining a light on serious problems many might not have known about. Obviously, the African situation – millions starving, droughts, civil wars – was complicated and throwing a few million dollars at it wasn’t going to solve all the troubles. But at least it helped a little, fed some and made people think about the world scene and how they could make a difference more than they had before.

All that aside, the day was about great music first and foremost and boy, did it deliver. I might add that of course a companion show took place closer to home, in Philadelphia. It too had a great lineup, including the Four Tops, Neil Young, Tom Petty, the Thompson Twins (oddly since they were London-based), riding high still from their Into the Gap, and a perhaps less-than-all-that reunion of Led Zeppelin with Phil Collins on drums. But still, for a non-stop tops show, the London one was it. No doubt to the delight of Princess Diana and not so much for Prince Charles (now “King Charles”) who were in attendance.

It kicked off at high noon with the Royal Coldstream Guards playing a little royal salute and part of “God Save the Queen” – the one Elizabeth would approve of, not the Sex Pistols one – before turning over the stage to Status Quo. No disrespect to them, but that would probably have been my cue to try to get to the snack bar to pick up a bite to eat and some drinks, because after that… it was a pretty jam-packed list of great music I liked, starting with the Style Council. Geldof’s own Boomtown Rats were up next and brought down the house with “I Don’t Like Mondays”. That awed Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp who said “you would follow (Geldof). He has just great charisma. He’d make a frightening politician.”

Spandau Ballet were on themselves soon after, but not before a brief appearance from Adam Ant and a longer one from Ultravox, the other organizer ‘s (Midge Ure) band. They kicked off their set with my two favorite songs of theirs, “Reap the wild Wind” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”. It was barely 2 PM when Elvis Costello came on to do a “little northern folk song”, which turned out to be “All You Need is Love.” Next up, Nik Kershaw, one of the more promising newcomers from the New Wave who was hot at the time but seemed to close to disappear from the scene not long after. Stylish Sade came on and then a super-pairing of Sting and Phil Collins. They cranked through eight songs including “Roxanne” and “In the Air Tonight” before dueting on “Every Breath You Take.” As Phil no doubt ran offstage to catch the Concorde – remember he also appeared at the Philly show later in the day – Howard Jones was on. Unfortunately, he did just one song, and honestly, “Hide and Seek” wasn’t one of his best.

No time to worry about that, because then Bryan Ferry, fresh off the release of his first post-Roxy Music record, Boys + Girls, was up with a new guitarist … David Gilmour of Pink Floyd! Continuing in the stylish vein, Paul Young appeared, joined by the great voice of Alison Moyet for one song. By the time he’d cleared off, I might be getting a bit hungry, but I wouldn’t have been going anywhere because it was U2. More than anything else, their short-ish but express train-energetic set of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and a long take on “Bad” with bits of other tunes worked in was probably what made them rise from popular to contenders for “biggest band in the world.” Remember, they were on in a great time slot and about a billion pairs of eyes were watching Bono & Co.

Speaking of bands who were at the top back then, next up – Dire Straits, who brought Sting back out to help deliver “Money For Nothing.” By the time they were done, the sun would have been dropping in the sky a little. It was nearly 7 and coming on were some ’70s favorites who’d not been making much impact lately on my side of the ocean. But let’s hope no one looked away or dashed to the bathroom, because Queen put on their performance of a lifetime.

Following that was an unenviable task, but David Bowie tried and put on what Rolling Stone said was “arguably his last triumph of the ’80s”. He was in turn followed by The Who. There are people around who like The Who more than I do, but it’s always been a band who knew how to put on a power-packed, entertaining show, and in this case they played one of their (to me) under-rated songs, “Love Reign O’er Me.” It brought to mind a hypothetical question – if you had that time machine, could you take modern equipment like digital cameras with you? Hope so, because I’d want momentos of the day and would have tried to record a bit of the Who for our friend Max from Power Pop Blog.

Not many could properly come on after Queen, Bowie and the Who … but Elton John could. And he did with the longest set of the show, six songs and over half an hour. Interestingly, he brought George Michael on to do “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” which they put out as a single in the ’90s. Also unexpected, he finished with a Marvin Gaye cover, “Can I Get A Witness?”. No chicken suit for Elton but a pretty great set nonetheless, all the more surprising since we now know his mental state and addictions in that period.

Well, it would be almost time to go home with a headful of magic and music, but before doing so, Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen came back to sing “Is this the World We Created?” (I wondered if that was scheduled or a  last-minute kind of encore for them after seeing how well their own set went over), and a grand finale. And for a British rock show, what could be more fitting that than The Beatles? Sadly we didn’t get a reunion of ¾ of the Fab Four but did get Sir Paul doing “Let it Be” with a little help from his friends, including Bowie, Pete Townshend, Moyet and Gedof. Sure, Paul’s mic was wonky and the sound for it wasn’t great but hey… after that day, who’s complaining?

Live Aid ’85. The Show of Shows, and one I rather think, regrettably, will never be matched. It’s hard to imagine these days how one could get 30 or more top name acts together for a big concert that would appeal to over a billion people and have a lasting generational impact. I was there, via the TV screen. If I had a time machine, I’d have been there with 71 999 others at Wembley Stadium.


December 17 – Temptation To Call Him Birmingham’s Favorite Singing Son

One of Motown’s great voices was born 83 years ago today. Eddie Kendricks (actually born “Kendrick”) grew up in Alabama, singing as a child in Birmingham church choirs.

He formed an R&B group, The Cavaliers in 1955 and they moved to Cleveland soon after, thinking Northern audiences were a bit more receptive to Black musicians in that era. A couple of name changes and another move, to Detroit, got them a deal with Motown as Mary Wells backing band, called The Temptations. Motown soon realized they had talent in their own right and soon they were one of the label’s top acts, with Kendricks’ adding a falsetto-take to his deep tenor voice on songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “I Can’t Get Next To You”- as well as picking out the snazzy wardrobe the group was noted for!

Unfortunately, he didn’t like the band’s shift in sound in the late-’60s nor Motown itself (he later said of Berry Gordy “I know he didn’t particularly care for me”) yet signed a contract with them again when he left the Temptations in ’71. He had minor solo success in the ’70s, most notably with his ’73 American #1 single “Keep on Truckin’” and briefly returned to the Temptations in 1982, even appearing with them on stage at Live Aid with Hall & Oates. Unfortunately years of smoking had hurt his voice and ultimately cost him his life. He died of lung cancer in 1992.

As time has passed, his reputation has grown somewhat. During his tenure with the band, he was often seen as a “minor” singer, and compared negatively to David Ruffin. Rolling Stone for instance, have Ruffin on their list of 100 greatest singers, but not Kendricks. But recently many, like Soulful Detroit have re-thought that. That publications says they “think he’s under-rated compared to David (Ruffin)… the two men shouldn’t be compared. Vocally they are very different…Eddie’s tenor was brilliantly sweet (at its) best conveying love and romance.” His native Birmingham love him though and dedicated a park , complete with sculpture of the Temptations, to him a few years later.

December 5 – Neil Showed ‘Who Needs C, S Or N?’

Neil Young‘s first American top 40 solo hit, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” peaked at #33 in the U.S. this day in 1971. In his native Canada, he’d scored a hit earlier in the year with “Cinnamon Girl” as well.

Young was already well-known to international audiences through his work with Buffalo Springfield (who had a Top 10 in 1967 with “For What It’s Worth”) and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Stills helped out Young on After the Gold Rush, the album which the single came from and that set the table for huge success with the 1972 album Harvest. Stills wasn’t getting along well with people at the time, so it was rumored the song might be about him, but later on Young confirmed it was actually about or for Graham Nash, after he’d broken up with another Canadian folkie, Joni Mitchell.

The song has become rather iconic. Artists who’ve covered it include Natalie Imbruglia, St. Etienne, Everlast and Nils Lofgren (now with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) , who appears on Young’s record. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played the song on their Live Aid reunion. Even scholars have weighed in. An Indiana University text mentions it and how it’s a “seemingly simple song which actually displays considerable attention to detail in deployment of instruments.” After the Gold Rush is also notable for the angry song “Southern Man” which references crosses burning and bullwhips cracking…and prompted a response from Lyrnyrd Skynyrd in the form of “Sweet Home Alabama”! While the album is great, it is largely acoustic (as were his subsequent hits in the following months, “Old Man” and “The Needle and The Damage Done”) and biographer Jimmy McDonogh has suggested that has perhaps harmed Neil’s career. Though Ol’ Neil has gone on to dabble in most every form of pop music known to man, from country to hard rock to electronica , many still typecast him as an angry folk singer with an acoustic guitar and miss a good deal of what he’s done. Not so the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though; they’ve inducted him twice, as a member of Buffalo Springfield and for his solo work.

As much as for his folk songs, he might be known for his conscience and speaking out whenever he sees fit. His strong social conscience shows in projects he’s involved with like Farm Aid , which he started along with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson, and the Bridge School Concerts (fund-raisers for a school for disabled youth.)

November 8 – Modern Music’s Best Year?

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! As by now, regular readers know, that’s when I have several interesting guest writers sound off on one topic related to the music that we look at here daily. This is our eighth round of it, and if you’re new here, I recommend taking a look back at some of the earlier topics we’ve covered like why the Beatles are still relevant, or “did video kill the radio star?” or the one dealing with one hit wonders we ran at the start of last month.

This month, a simple category…but one which is challenging and should bring up some interesting memories : Those Were The Days My Friend. Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.”

Obviously, that’s a pretty subjective choice. A few executives might try to look at sales charts and give a statistical answer based on album sales or concert grosses, but to most it comes down to the year that seemed to be when the best music was played, or when the most really good records came out. We’ve not limited it but I would expect that most are going to pick a year from the ‘rock era’ in the second half of the 20th Century. But if someone opines it was 1804 because that was when Beethoven started working on his 5th Symphony, that’ll be interesting to read about. Today we wrap it up, with some thoughts on the topic from me here at A Sound Day.

First, I’d like to thank again all seven of the contributors who took the time to write and tell us about their favorite year in music. I figured that it might be a Beatles-centric list – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but I was a bit surprised six of seven opted for the 1964-71 period. That obviously shows how enduring the music of that era is. Of course, to be fair, it also represents something of the makeup of our guests here…most of us are, to be honest, middle aged. If we’d put the same question to a group of Gen Z’s or twenty-somethings, we might have gotten an entirely different set of picks. Although in my personal experience I do wonder how many of our young who fit that category have such passionate feelings about the music of their lifetimes to begin with.

Anyway, for me there is no “right” answer to the “best” year for music. When I was pondering it myself, a couple of years quickly popped into my head as “important”, in the frame of pop/rock at least – 1967 then 1977. ’67 of course was “the Summer of Love” and seemed like the time rock really went off in all directions, including psychedelic ones. It was the year the Beatles put out my favorite album of theirs, and one of the best ever – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Then they put out Magical Mystery Tour a few months later the same year for good measure. It was the year the Doors opened their own door to our stage and minds and the one Otis Redding became known outside of the R&B stations with his appearance at Monterrey Pop and his recording “Dock of the Bay” (which as Max pointed out became a massive hit early in ’68). Frankly I was surprised no one picked 1967!

Skip ahead a decade and we came to 1977. Music was at a crossroads. Fleetwood Mac put out maybe the best “California sound” album ever, the enduring, 40-million selling Rumours. Crosstown the Eagles rose to mega-stardom with Hotel California, which arrived just in time for last minute Christmas shoppers in ’76 and shared the top of the charts with the Mac for much of ’77. But there was an undercurrent of youth who were tired of the slick production values and what to them seemed mundane topics and lack of edge on hit radio. Hence punk rock smashed its way into the public consciousness. Sure the Ramones and Pistols had been at it for two or three years, but few in the masses had noticed… until ’77 when Never Mind the Bollocks arrived. So too the debuts by The Clash, The Stranglers and The Damned, all three about as angry and in-yer-face as they come, even though all three later showed they possessed a good amount of musical prowess. Punk woke up the music world and brought low-production, low-budget, fun rock back into the vocabulary, and soon the likes of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Blondie had emerged with their own takes on a new sound.

Those years produced great records and changed the trajectories of popular music, but weren’t my personal favorites as much as I liked much of the music that came out. No, to me, two other years duked it out.

First there was 1972. That was my first thought, actually. No doubt that was partly nostalgia. I was only five or so but it was the first year I was given my own radio – a tiny transistor radio with the thumb-knob to tune those AM stations and a single ear bud if quiet was called for. I soon found CHUM radio in Toronto, then the top “hit” station in the land. I saved my allowances and bought 45s at the Eatons department store, probably at about 59 cents a piece. I didn’t yet have my own record player, but I could sneak them onto my dad’s in the living room and enjoy at times. I can’t say for sure what the first record I bought was but I recall having Jim Gold & the Gallery’s “Nice to Be With You”, Bread’s “Guitar Man” and the Carpenters “Hurting Each Other” back in that time period. I like all three songs still, maybe more than I would otherwise for the sentimental reasons.

1972 had an extraordinary run of great singles. It might have been AM radio at its very best. I looked at an archive of CHUM’s #1 songs that year…. talk about solid gold! Among them : “American Pie” by Don MacLean, “Heart of Gold” by Neil Young, the soulful “Oh Girl” by the Chi-lites, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”, Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” for a little rock, “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts, “I’d Love You To Want Me” by Lobo,  “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” , one I still consider Motown’s finest, by the Temptations. And that’s the short list. Granted there were a few that didn’t quite match up – Chuck Berry might be a great and a living legend but his “My Ding-a-Ling” wasn’t his finest hour. Likewise, “Coconut” probably wasn’t the epitome of Harry Nilsson’s talent. But overall, it was a great percentage of songs I still love. Add in others like “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green, “Taxi” by Harry Chapin, “The City of New Orleans” by Arlo Guthrie, “Rocketman” by Elton John, “Space Oddity” by David Bowie, (which had come out years earlier but only hit the charts in ’72), the country stylings of Mac Davis and his “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” and there was an embarrassment of musical riches in that year. Not to mention the arrival of some pretty great acts on the scene – Steely Dan, Roxy Music, the Eagles and Jackson Browne all put out their first records, for example.

As much as I love almost all the hits from ’72, I decided to ultimately buck the trend and be a bit of a disrupter here and go for… Continue reading “November 8 – Modern Music’s Best Year?”

April 26 – Taylor Tailored Drumming After Thompson & Thompson

What’s more coincidental than being a famous drummer with the same name as another famous drummer? Maybe having the same last name as two of your bandmates but not being related to either of them. Both apply to Duran Duran’s “quiet one”, Roger Taylor, whom we wish a happy 62nd birthday to today.

Roger was born near Birmingham, and like many other British lads of the ’60s, growing up he had two big loves -”football” (which is soccer to us North Americans) and rock music. His early ambition was to be a professional footballer for his favorite club, Aston Villa, but when that became increasingly unlikely, he turned his attention to music. He saved up his allowance for months to buy himself a drum kit at age 13, and then taught himself to play, practicing relentlessly, copying the drums on records he loved. “I had very good neighbors,” he joked in a recent interview. “I used to come home from school every day at 4:00 and practice until 6:00.”

One could imagine that with his name, he’d have been a big fan of the other Roger Taylor, Queen’s drummer. But he gives no indication of that being the case. Instead he said the main influences on him were Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, Paul Thompson, Roxy Music’s main drummer in the ’70s, and Tony Thompson of Chic. He also liked one more drummer. “Ringo was doing exactly what was required for the Beatles. I’ve always gone towards more song-oriented players.”

He joined a local punk band called Scents Organs in the late-’70s, but they didn’t last long. But it was long enough to get invited to join Duran Duran (along with unrelated Andy Taylor and John Taylor.) His influences worked out well since Duran Duran drew heavily on both Roxy Music and Chic for inspiration. Soon after beginning their career, they went to New York and met Thompson, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic. “They were like gods to us…they taught us so much about playing and production.”

As we know, Duran Duran took off quickly, becoming bigger than Roxy Music or Chic for several years in the early-’80s. Which Taylor enjoyed…for awhile. But soon, “we had people camping outside our front doors…it was very difficult to live a normal life.” So, after playing in front of hundreds of thousands of fans at Live Aid, on the same day their single “A View To A Kill” hit #1 in the U.S., he quit the band and “retired” to a 150 acre farm. But not before helping out a little on side-projects. Even the others were seeing “the fame and celebrity of Duran Duran kind of overtook the music,” he recalls, and they decided to take a break. He joined Nick Rhodes and Simon Le Bon of the group on the new band Arcadia, and also played drums on one song for the other spin-off band – Power Station with the two other Taylors. In so doing he was the only person to work with both.

After that, it was to the farm. The UK’s Sun dubbed him a “hermit” but he says “I needed to get some space. It sounds like a cliché, but I needed to get to know myself.” After a few years he did so, it seems, married and got back into music in a small way, joining a band called Freebase which had a European dance hit with their take on Sweet’s “Love is Like Oxygen.” He did a couple of tracks for Duran Duran and one TV appearance with them in ’94 and finally rejoined them again in 2001, staying with them since and no doubt enjoying their more relaxed work schedule.

As well as new technology. Surprisingly perhaps for a “new wave” band, Roger was pretty conventional when it came to his instruments. Back in the day he used a normal drum kit and they used to record his drumming in real time. “We even used to record our 12” dance mixes live…it the track was ten minutes long, you had to play the whole thing (in one take).” Now he mixes old with new, saying he uses a conventional Tama acoustic drum kit with a V-drum TD20 drum machine to his left, and adds in a sampler. Duran Duran put out their 15th studio album, Future Past, late last year.

April 23 – Chart Topper One For Four Tops

The Four Tops were heading to the top on this day in 1965 with the release of one of Motown’s biggest, and best singles – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.)” It would go on to be their first #1 single and one of the defining ones of the whole Motown sound of the ’60s.

The quartet had “paid their dues” as they say, having been around for over a decade at that point, and having put out their first single way back in 1956 on Chess Records. They signed to Motown in ’63 and had decent success with “Baby I Need Your Loving” on their first album, with it getting to #11 in the U.S. and making their name known among the growing roster of stars on the Detroit-based label.

Like most of that company’s hits in the first half of the decade, “I Can’t Help Myself” was written by the great trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, with Lamont Dozier seemingly the chief creator of this one. He admitted the melody was similar to the one in the Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go?”, and when someone had pointed it out to him when tooling around with the new song, he answered “I can’t help myself” – from writing the same tune over again basically. He liked the way the phrase sounded and worked it in, as well as the parenthethetical one, “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.” That one dates back to his childhood.

I stayed with my grandmother when I was a kid. She owned a home beauty shop, and when the women would come up the walkway to get their hair done, my grandfather…was a bit of a flirt (and he) would say ‘How you doin’, sugar pie?’ ‘Good morning, honey bunch’…just flirting with a big smile.”

They recorded it with the Funk Brothers – an unfortunately rather anonymous set of Detroit studio musicians including great bassist James Jamerson – playing the music and Levi Stubbs of the group singing lead…against his wishes. He apparently hated the song, thinking it too lightweight and “sugar”y.

He was in the minority though. At the time Billboard called it a “spirited, fast-paced wailer performed in their unique style”; years later allmusic would simply classify it as “magnificent.” The public agreed, with it spending two weeks on top of the charts that summer and nine weeks at #1 on the R&B one. It also became their first top 40 in the UK, where it eventually was certified gold. And like it or not, 20 years later it was a highlight of their set at Live Aid. At that time, Stubbs seemingly couldn’t help himself from enjoying the moment.

March 8 – Forgotten Gems : Alison Moyet

In honor of International Womens’ Day today, we look at a Forgotten Gem from one of the many, many wonderful female musicians that shaped our world. Ironically, it’s one the singer apparently wishes would stay forgotten… or “Invisible”, which happens be the name of the fine Alison Moyet single which happened to push into the Canadian top 30 on this week in 1985.

Moyet has one of the great bluesy contralto voices in the field and it was one people were familiar with before “Invisible”, and Alf, her first album from which it came. Even though she was barely 23 at the time, she’d already become a popular voice in her Britain. That from being the voice of the short-lived but very popular band Yazoo (known as “Yaz” in some locations), a new wave duo she’d formed with Vince Clarke, who’d just left Depeche Mode. Even though they lasted less than three years and put out a mere two albums, they’d been immensely popular in the UK , with four Indie chart #1 songs, and had broken through to some degree in North America. When Clarke decided to dissolve the band (quickly forming Erasure), Moyet decided to go solo and found herself a hot commodity. Several labels offered her contracts, and she finally signed on with Columbia for a reported one million pounds (something close to $5 million these days). They set her up with producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, a duo who’d met while working on the Muppet Show (!) and had just produced hits for Spandau Ballet and Bananarama. They were also talented musicians, which was handy because while Moyet could play piano to some extent (and had even worked as a professional piano tuner after dropping out of school as a teenager), she wasn’t abundantly skilled. Swain and Jolley handled the keyboards and guitars, brought in a studio drummer and that let Moyet “get on with what I do best, which is writing lyrics and singing.” She did both of those well, and they came up with the songs for Alf in two weeks “around the piano” at Moyet’s house.

Or at least they came up eight out of the nine songs on it, including “Love Resurrection”, the first single. “Invisible”, however, was from Lamont Dozier, a third of Motown’s great Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team responsible for ’60s greats like “Baby Love” and “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.”

The album drew mostly good reviews, with most suggesting her voice and delivery was great but the production was a little overdone. Rolling Stone compared her to Sade, another female singer whose star was on the rise at the time, saying Moyet “clearly possesses the better voice. It’s as emotionally immediate as Dusty Springfield’s and as big as the great outdoors.” And they, like many other critics, picked “Invisible” as the standout song. Cashbox noted likewise she had “a more powerful delivery than Sade” and “Invisible”, “the current torch single should make a prime candidate for crossover success,” the crossover they’re referring to apparently being from the UK to U.S. … which it did. Later, allmusic, while panning the album’s production did call this song “among the great R&B pop singles of the ’80s.”

That it was. Although in her homeland, it was only a middling hit, reaching #21 – she’d manage to six top 10 singles there in the ’80s – it was her international breakthrough, reaching the top 20 in Canada and #4 in New Zealand (where her next single, “That Ole Devil Called Love” would be a #1 hit) and #31 Stateside, her only thing close to a hit single there. It helped push Alf to 4X platinum status in the UK, with it ending among the 20 best-sellers in both 1984 and ’85. By the summer of ’85, she was playing Live Aid with Paul Young. In Canada, the album hit the top 20, like the song, and in the U.S., it got to #45. Though she’s retained some popularity in her homeland and Oceania ever since, none of her eight subsequent albums have matched Alf‘s success.

So, the song that rather made her famous and got her gold records from North America – she must love it, right? Well, wrong actually! Soon after it came out she “fell out of love” with it and by 2017 she told a New Zealand newspaper she’d retired the song from her live sets permanently. “People get upset because they think you’re dissing their choices,” she admits about fans who want to hear it. “But I’m not a nostalgia act,” although she admits she still likes playing the even older Yazoo hits. The real problem with “Invisible” to her is the lyrics, which portray a weak woman who can’t leave a worthless guy who treats her like she’s, well, “invisible.” “There were things about me at 21 (her approximate age when she began to plan Alf) that I could no longer relate to, and its slightly odd singing the lyrics of a 21 year-old as you age.”

One thing she can still relate to though is her use of electronics in her music, unlike many of her Brit female soul contemporaries. “There’s something about my voice that’s quite wooden. It’s quite fibrous. When you put it together with a lot of wood instruments, you lose a lot…you get all the shapes” with electronics.

A great bluesy single from a woman who’s succeeded in the music business for 40 years and has grown emotionally to where she’s strong enough to ignore arguably her best-loved song. If that’s not appropriate for Women’s day, I don’t know what would be!

February 23 – Jones Not As Transient As He Thought

Alternative” may be an overused word in rock but today’s birthday boy probably does live up to that adjective. An international star who’s played in front of crowds of 100 000 who got his start backing a mime and could fall back on his love of fresh produce if the musical career faltered.  One who was the epitome of “cool” but hates thinking in terms of what’s cool, who quotes Buddhist philosophies… that’s alternative! That’s Howard Jones. Happy 67th birthday to the man allmusic call the “King of ’80s British synth-pop.”

Jones’ dad was among other things, a computer programmer and a college lecturer who worked at a number of different schools. Which helps explain Howard’s love of electronics and why he’s Welsh, was born in England and spent many of his developmental years in Canada before returning to England to study music at college in Manchester. There he joined his first band, Warrior, a prog rock band much influenced by some of Howard’s early faves like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. This was a good few years after a young Howard made his first public performance, on a Canadian kids’ talent show, singing in Welsh.

Somewhere in that time period, he met a couple of important people in his life. One was a girl called Jan. She became his girlfriend, and one day when they were selling fruit at a stand, she got hit by a truck. Thankfully, she wasn’t too seriously injured but she did get an insurance cheque. She used some of that to buy Howard a synthesizer. He liked that. He liked her. they’ve been married 44 years now. He soon put the synth to good use as well.

He also met a Buddhist teacher at college, and he’s been a devoted Buddhist since. He says it has “a profoundly positive effect on my life,” and “I feel empowered to work toward changing the things in my life that are bothering me… this begins with a change in my inner life and attitude.” The outlook is reflected in many of the lyrics in his songs like “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame.” He says of that, “My songs are not about drug-taking or debauchery…they’re about positive thinking and challenging people’s ideas.”

Sometime around then he also befriended Jed Hoile… a mime. Jed needed some music to, err, mime to, so Howard joined him on his stage shows playing a synthesizer. Soon he’d got some songs together, so they rented a club in London and asked the major record labels to come and see them. Some did, and Warner signed him on (alas, it would seem the mime wasn’t a part of the deal.) His debut album, Human’s Lib, came out early in ’84 and quickly got to #1 in the UK. His next two albums also hit gold or better and made the top 10 in Britain, all the while his popularity was growing in North America as well. Through the ’80s, he scored nine-straight top 20 singles in his homeland, and although he never had a #1 song, he got close several times, most notably with “What is Love?”, a #2 hit. In the States, he had nine top 40’s. Strangely, his popularity waned in the UK after appearing at Live Aid, whereas he remained a very popular artist over here throughout the ’80s, scoring his biggest Canadian hit, “Everlasting Love” in 1989 off his Dream into Action. In the ’90s, he was dropped by Warner Bros. so he set up his own label, Dtox, and has released a few albums he produced for others as well as five of his more recent albums there, the most recent being 2019’s Transform. And for a change of pace, he once opened a high-end vegetarian restaurant in New York in the late-’90s, which apparently burned down unfortunately.

Howard says he isn’t bothered by what’s “cool”, as “what’s cool is often very shallow and transient.” But I’d have to say, Howard is pretty cool, and after nearly 40 years of recording, that’s not so transient.

July 13 – Duran Duran Took 007 To No. 001

What a way to celebrate! This day was huge in music history of course, with the staging of Live Aid in 1985. On stage in Philadelphia as a part of that were Duran Duran. There they got to play the song that just hit #1 on Billboard on this day in 1985, “A View To A Kill.”

They followed Crosby, Stills,Nash & Young to the stage and opened their four-song set with it. “A View To a Kill” was the theme to the 14th James Bond movie and came about apparently when John Taylor of the band let it be known he was a huge fan of 007 but didn’t like most of the music used in the movies. John Barry, who’d composed music for 11 Bond movies, worked with Duran Duran (Simon Le Bon recalls him “virtually a sixth member of the group” and having “a great way of working brilliant chord arrangements”) to create this striking theme. The pairing worked well – although “Goldfinger” and “Live And Let Die” had gotten to #2 in the U.S., “A View to a Kill” was the only James Bond song to ever hit #1. It was the band’s second and last chart-topper in the U.S., hitting #1 in Canada and Ireland as well.

Over 30 years later, both the James Bond franchise and Duran Duran are still rolling. No Time to Die, the 26th Bond movie,with a theme song by Billie Eilish, is supposed to come out this fall. Meanwhile, Duran Duran just released the single “Invisible”, the lead song off their 15th album (due this fall as well), Future Past.

July 2 – Geldof’s Benevolent Encore

Bob Geldof never stopped trying to help Africa and draw attention to global problems… or keep his name in the headlines, depending upon your point of view. Either way he was once again the star of the day 16 years back as the Live 8 Concerts took place.

The 2005 event came almost 20 years to the day after the more famous Live Aid, and would seem like it was a natural sequel to it. However, even though he organized it with help from Midge Ure – just as they had done with Live Aid – Geldof disputed the comparison. “This is not Live Aid 2,” he said, “these concerts are the start point for the long walk to justice, the one way we can all make our voices heard.” Be it is it may, the day-long Saturday event did have a lot in common with the ’80s Super Concert besides just the name. Once again it was a showcase of worldwide musical talent in concert trying to raise funds for charity, primarily ones helping alleviate poverty in Africa. The timing was set to nearly coincide with the global G8 Conference in Scotland that month and in fact, the final bit of the event took place July 6, in Edinburgh, the day the world leaders met there.

Similar to Live Aid, but more ambitious. Instead of just London and Philadelphia, they decided to stage events in the other G8 nations as well, plus South Africa. Therefore shows took place in Moscow’s Red Square, Berlin, near Tokyo, suburbs of Toronto, Paris, Rome, Johannesburg and a hastily organized set in Cornwall, England. That one had all-African musicians, to deflect criticism that there were too few African artists involved (Youssou N’Dour being the only notable shown on the largest stages.) Geldof answered that one honestly noting their aim “was for the biggest global stars to ensure media attention and a large TV audience.” No matter how politically incorrect it seemed, there were few African musicians who were well-known enough to capture American or British imaginations and have them tune in en masse. Which they did, with the shows televised live on MTV and VH1, the BBC and over 100 other networks around the world. ABC broadcast a two hour primetime highlights show that night.

There was plenty to take in from around the world. Billie Joe Armstrong infuriated some in Berlin by singing “American Idiot” with its lyrics including “Seig heil!”. They along with Audioslave, Roxy Music and a set by Brian Wilson in which he jammed eight Beach Boys songs into 20 minutes were international highlights there amongst a roster of German artists. The Pet Shop Boys are popular everywhere as shown by them headlining the Russian show, and doing a full dozen songs… well, 11 actually but they opened and closed with “It’s A Sin.” The Barrie show, north of Toronto, was a who’s who of Canadian musical talent including Bryan Adams, Bruce Cockburn, Celine Dion, Blue Rodeo, Jann Arden, the Tragically Hip and Neil Young closing (along with a few of his friends) with a rousing rendition of “Oh Canada.”

The mayor of Philadelphia said “a million” people turned out for their outdoor event; the crowd was so huge and stretched along the road so far it was anybody’s guess, but certainly numbers were into the hundreds of thousands. In one of the event’s more poignant moments Will Smith led the crowd in synchronized finger-snapping every three seconds to represent how often a child dies in Africa. Musically, Smith went back to his ’90s sitcom rapper persona and the crowd got to cheer the likes of the Black-eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Sarah McLachlan and a fine seven-song finale from Stevie Wonder.

The cornerstone though was at London’s Wembley Stadium, just as it had been 20 years earlier. The 66 000 tickets were distributed via a text-message lottery, with over a million people paying 1.50 pounds to enter. Paul McCartney and Bono opened the show with a take on “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and the likes of Keane, Travis, Elton John, Bob Geldof himself (doing “I Don’t Like Mondays” with a bit of help from Travis), Madonna, Coldplay (joined by The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft for “Bittersweet Symphony”) and Robbie Williams soon followed. An anticipated (by some at least) Spice Girls reunion didn’t occur but better yet, a rare Pink Floyd one did. For the first time in 24 years, Roger Waters and David Gilmour appeared together, doing five songs including “Money.” It would turn out to be the last time the “classic” lineup of the band played together; Waters and Gilmour’s mutual disdain soon overtook chances of more work and Richard Wright died a couple of years later.

After all that, the July 6 Scottish show seemed a bit of an anti-climax. The fans there got to hear speeches on the state of the world from people like George Clooney, Susan Sarandon and of course, Bono, plus sets from The Proclaimers, Wet Wet Wet, Midge Ure, and to finish it off, oddly, James Brown.

The event was similar to Live Aid, but received a lot more negative attention than the first one. Scottish police were mad the concert in Edinburgh was set up without their permission or input. The Baltimore Sun called it a “ravenous orgy of celebrity ego”; some complained that while the artists at the Philly show weren’t paid, they did get expensive gift bags with gifts ranging from custom guitars to Hugo Boss clothing. The London show, while generating a good amount of money, had to pay over a million pounds to another charity, the Prince’s Trust, because they usurped the stadium the latter had booked for a show that day. And some respected charities suggested that while all was fine and well with giving money and food to the poor in Africa, it was meaningless unless something was done about “corrupt regimes” in charge of many of the poorest nations and a peace-keeping force was sent to quell civil wars in countries like the Congo and Uganda.

For all that, it did raise millions of dollars, both on the day, and later through sales of DVDs of the concert. The American release sold over 900 000 copies alone (good for 9X platinum in DVD status). And whether coincidentally or not, the G8 leaders did agree to increase foreign aid and write off debts from some of Africa’s poorest lands during their meetings there. Will there be a Live 9 or Live Aid 40th Anniversary? Well, no one has suggested anything but as long as there are poor people in Africa and Bob Geldof is still around, we wouldn’ t bet against it.