May 21 – Hot Space Got Cold Shoulder From Fans

Being a successful musician seems to mean being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Being super-successful seems to involve that and being something of a magician or mystic at the same time, managing to steer the sound successfully. The problem is, once you have a following, if you keep sounding the same, people will typically get bored with you (AC/DC fans excepted) …but if you change sound, you risk alienating many of your fans who’ll long for your “traditional” sound. Few can navigate frequent change well and keep their fans. Even Queen struggled with it, as we found out four decades back – Hot Space came out this day in 1982.

It was their tenth studio album, coming about a year and change after their experimental soundtrack to Flash Gordon, and two years after their smash The Game which had elevated them to unmitigated superstar status worldwide with hits like “Another One Bites The Dust”. They were getting a bit restless perhaps, and well aware that the prevailing hit sounds were quite different than they were five or six years earlier when they were making their mark with songs like “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions.” Bassist John Deacon and their star singer Freddie Mercury in particular seemed to want to shift gears with the band.

Drummer Roger Taylor says Deacon particularly was tired of their anthemic rock sound. “John’s always been R&B orientated,” he’d say a year or two after the album release, “I think we went too far and did too much.” Neither he nor guitarist Brian May liked Freddie’s personal manager, Paul Prenter one bit. Prenter apparently disliked rock and May says “he wanted our music to sound like you’d just walked into a gay bar, and I didn’t.” He further aggravated them by keeping Mercury away from reporters and rudely alienating quite a few American radio people in the process, never helpful when you want them to play your new record. For another change, they recorded it – slowly due to heavy partying – in Germany and Switzerland, no doubt taking in the latest Euro-pop sounds along the way.

The result was an interesting, but oddly varied album using far more synthesizers than they had before and fewer Brian May guitar bits. For the first time they brought in drum machines. The one real standout on the album was a song everyone already knew – “Under Pressure”, the duet with David Bowie which had been pre-released months earlier.

There were some other highlights, though opinions varied as to what they were. Brian May got to show off his guitar a little with his bluntly anti-gun “Put out the Fire”; the band did a tribute to John Lennon (with them recording the record at the time Lennon was killed) called “Life is Real,” and “Calling All Girls” was a likeable little pop song that would have sounded at home as one of the lesser tracks on The Game. Still, diehard fans found little to really cheer on and the new wave, younger crowd they were seemingly working to musically seduce weren’t interested.

Reviews weren’t terrible…unless you put it in context of them being for one of the most successful and loved acts of the decade preceding it. Smash Hits rated it 5 out of 10; The Guardian gave it just 2-stars noting “by the time (it) came out, disco had mutated into weird, skeletal dubby electronic sounds…which didn’t really suit Queen.” Rolling Stone was a bit more generous, rating it 3-stars. They opined “Queen offers a bit more than bluster” with their “funky songs”, singling out “Back Chat” as “a hot rock funk tune with guitar tracks as slick as any icy dancefloor,” but warning that “Body Language” is “a piece of funk that isn’t fun.” Later, allmusic rated it just 2.5-stars, the lowest of anything they did while Mercury was alive. They called it an “unabashed pop/dance album…devoting the entire first side to robotic, new wave dance pop driven by drum machines” before “finally getting synth-drum new wave right” with “Calling All Girls.” They summed it up by suggesting “Under Pressure” would be the only track on it fans would remember. Interestingly, to the record’s credit (well, debate among yourselves if it is that) it did have a big fan in Michael Jackson who loved it and said it was a big influence on Thriller.

While “Under Pressure” was one of their biggest hits, the other singles released didn’t exactly re-write the Queen song book or necessitate a lot of added cabinet space for awards. “Body Language,” with its oft-banned video peaked at #25 at home for them, doing a bit better here, hitting #11 in the U.S. and #3 in Canada. “Calling All Girls” hit #33 in Canada, but flopped in the States, the only other market it was put out in as a single; back in the UK “La Pelagras De Amor (The words of Love)” was released instead, and hit #17 and #10 in Ireland. “Put out the Fire” did well on North American rock radio, but wasn’t put out as an official single. When all was said and done, the album did top the Austrian charts and got to #4 in the UK, #5 in Germany and #6 in Canada. It stalled at #22 in the U.S., but still got them a gold record. Worldwide sales topped three million, decent but far down from their big hits of the late-’70s and 1980. The Game, for instance sold more than double that. The band’s manager, not to be confused with Mercury’s own, called it “a disaster.”

Sadly for American fans, the album’s limited appeal might have kept them from going to see Queen when they toured for it. As it turned out, it would be the last time Mercury would play shows on this continent, with their next one (and the last before he began to get ill from AIDS) being limited to Europe.

May 16 – Forgotten Gems : Jane Siberry

Well, the Texas heatwave is supposed to spread right the way to the Atlantic this week baking places from Lubbock to Long Island, nature’s impromptu way of saying “summer’s here!”. And with high schools getting out around this time, we can bet that a lot of people will be heading to whatever beach they can find, which brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem : “Mimi On the Beach.” The odd song was the masses introduction to the equally unusual Jane Siberry back in 1984.

With changeable hair styles and colors that seemed to originate from a base of Annie-style red, an eclectic style of dress that was the antithesis of the likes of Madonna and an obvious sense of humor, at the time some made an obvious comparison to another newcomer and called her “the Canadian Cyndi Lauper.” Soon though, it would become obvious that if comparisons were to be made, experimental femmes like Kate Bush or Laurie Anderson were more appropriate, although really Siberry was her own unique artist. As the Smith Center billed her, Jane is nothing if not “quirky, mysterious, spiritually inquisitive and fashionably avante garde.”

She grew up in the Toronto area, learning to play piano, then guitar by ear as a child. When she got to university, she says “I started out in music, but switched to science when I realized how much more interesting it was to study.” She got a degree in micro-biology, but sang her own brand of quirky folk music in cafes around the area on the side.

A 1981 indie release got her noticed, barely, in Canada and had her sign to the smallish but nationally-distributed Duke St. Records and the prestigious Wyndham Hill in the States. Her first release with them was No Borders Here, from which Mimi surfed in. Generally upbeat pop-new wave tunes, with Jane playing guitar and keyboards and a host of Toronto session musicians backing her (including her then boyfriend John Switzer who co-produced it with her on bass) , the tunes were catchy but what really made them stand out was her lyrics (as well as her multi-octave voice delivering them). Instead of “I love you so much” or “You went away, I’m sad” sorts of thoughts, she mused about things like self-important Yuppies (“Extra Executives”), or the lot of an actress-cum-waitress (“and I’d probably be famous now if I wasn’t such a good waitress!”) . She says “creativity is just inspiration, and I’m inspired everywhere I walk.”

Presumably she took a stroll down along her city’s lakeshore for this one, seeing the tanned jocks and bikini gals showing off for each other. “(It was) the first song where I had more to say than I could actually put in a song,” she told an interviewer recently, “so I put in two monologues, like bursts of color.”

The song runs over seven and a half minutes, so it’s doubtful she could have put in too much more; the label shortened it to about half that for the single and video. The latter became one of Much Music’s first homegrown Canadian hit videos as soon as it took to the cable listings, the single only hit #68 in her homeland but did get massive airplay on some alt rock or college stations. It also made her known enough for her next album, The Speckless Sky to be instantly popular and generate a legitimate hit single for her in “One More Colour.

Although that perhaps opened the door for her to international stardom, Siberry’s always marched to the beat of her own drums (one of the few instruments she hasn’t tackled on her records) and despite a reasonably popular duet with k.d. lang (“Calling All Angels”) in the ’90s, has seemingly steadfastly eschewed star status, so much so that in 2006 she changed her name to Issa, sold off most of her belongings and traveled.Of late, she’s back to Jane and puts out indie records periodically.

May 14 – International Success The One Thing For INXS

A gamble paid off well for Australian band INXS this day in 1983. That’s when their single “The One Thing” became their first to make the top 40 charts (or any really) in the U.S. Which is doubtless what they hoped to accomplish and were so confident of, they paid to make it themselves.

By that time INXS were quite well-established in their homeland, having a small record deal, and two albums out that each went gold there and garnered them a trio of charting singles. But they felt they were destined for bigger and better, and weren’t sure their small label, Deluxe, was designed to accommodate that. So they rented a studio and recorded this song themselves. They liked the result so they kept the producer, Mark Opitz, around to do three more. These they used as a demo to shop themselves around to international companies, soon getting signed by Warner Bros. for much of the globe, and Polygram for Europe.

They kept “The One Thing” for their international debut album, Shabooh Shoobah – a title allmusic note is “one of the most annoying…ever” and supposedly derived from the sound of the rhythm of one of the songs on it. Thankfully, most agreed the music was better than the name of the record. Allmusic called it “a talented bunch of performers still finding their identity” but loved this song, “a strutting number that gives (Michael) Hutchence a real chance to shine as a singer” with “synth/guitar/sax hooks” that made it “instantly memorable.”

Hutchence wrote the lyrics about the guy obsessed with a girl who has lots of suitors (and provided his girlfriend as one of the many models for the video) , and though it was short of words, Andrew Farriss thought that a plus. Andrew, one of three Farriss brothers in the group, wrote the music and said of Hutchence “when he felt he had nothing more to say, he wouldn’t say anything more…he wouldn’t try to justify his lyric, and I think there’s a strength to that.”

Seems he said enough, the song became a hit…helped along by their extensive touring of North America that spring and summer. At various times they opened for the Go Gos, Kinks and Hall & Oates and they were on the big stage at the US Festival. It all helped push Shabooh Shoobah to gold status in the States, and “The One Thing” all the way to #2 on the then-new Mainstream Rock chart. Overall, it got to #30, first of nine top 30 hits they’d eventually have Stateside, and #31 in Canada. At home, it helped their career along too, hitting #14, their high mark to that point, although one they’d eclipse many times in the following eight or nine years, particularly with the multi-platinum Kick. So, seemingly having confidence might be “the one thing”. At least it was for INXS.

May 13 – Curnin’s Band Would Soon Be A Fixx-ture On American Radio

Yesterday we mentioned that there seem to be quite a few British acts that enjoyed more success on this side of the Atlantic than at home. Today we look at the debut of one of those acts, The Fixx. Their Shuttered Room album made its first appearance this day 40 years back at home; in North America it arrived later in 1982.

The Fixx had formed in London as The Portaits three years earlier and had put out a couple of indie singles as such. By the beginning of ’82, they’d signed to MCA and changed names (originally to The Fix, but then to the double-x after the company worried the name could be too druggy-sounding) and got their first album ready, with help of well-known producer Rupert Hine. Singer Cy Curnin was the primary writer, but most versions of the release credit the other four members as well.

The Fixx had a then-contemporary “new romantic” look and a somewhat typical sound of London in the early-’80s… synthesizer pop with bits of edgy guitar, in their case by Jamie West Oram, added in. Allmusic described the album as “generic new wave,” though they credit Hine for turning it into “engaging synth pop.” Cryptic Rock compared the album in places to Duran Duran, Alphaville and Japan and sum it up as “elements of a typical post-punk, new wave (album) – upbeat tempo, angular rhythm guitar, ubiquitous synthesizer melodies, driving basslines and frenetic lead vocals.”

The album had 10 songs on it, though the European version was different than the American one. Both had the same eight songs but the original one had the added songs “Sinking Island” and “Time in a Glass” whereas they were absent on the later American release, replaced by “I Found You” and “the Strain,” a previous single b-side. Completists can take comfort, several CD versions include all of them.

The album didn’t exactly take the music world by storm, hitting #52 in Canada and #54 in their own UK. Curiously, that would end up being their best showing at home, but over here they’d score big the following year with Reach the Beach, platinum in both the U.S. and Canada. This one introduced them to North American new wave and rock fans though. “Red Skies” did OK on rock and college stations and “Stand or Fall” kicked off a run of seven-straight top 20 Mainstream Rock hits for them in the U.S. and made it into the overall Canadian top 40. both singles were , “singled” out as the most noteworthy on the album by allmusic. Cryptic Rock added in “Cameras in Paris” as a highlight but agreed with the common perception that while the bulk of the remainder of the album was quite decent, most of it wasn’t overly memorable.

The Fixx split for some time but have been mostly an ongoing effort since, with their 11th studio album, Every Five Seconds, expected out next month. The quintet consists of four of the original members; only bass has been a bit of a changeable position, with them utilizing a number of different players through the years including Chris Tait of Canada’s Chalk Circle in the ’90s.

May 10 – Canadians Ate Up The Spoons

On the same day in 1982 that Duran Duran put out their ground-breaking Rio, a band many north of the border thought could be North America’s own Duran Duran put out a key record. Canada’s The Spoons released their signature song “Nova Heart” as a single 40 years ago.

The Spoons formed in the outer suburbs of Toronto around the beginning of 1980, consisting of high school sweethearts Gordon Deppe and Sandy Horne and various other members. Deppe took the majority of vocals and played guitar, Horne added backing vocals and played bass (prompting a few comparisons to Talking Heads). Other members came and went on keyboards and percussion, but the core pair were, and remain to this day, the “face” of The Spoons.

After growing a solid fanbase in Ontario and putting out an indie album in 1981, they brought in John Punter, who’d worked with Roxy Music, to produce their second album, Arias and Symphonies which was still an indie release, but this time with a label that had better distribution in Canada at least. The album went gold at home and was a massive success in their home city. CFNY-FM in Toronto, then run by David Marsden, had it as their #4 album of the year (Rio was #2 on the same list) and their U-Know Awards picked them as Band of the Year the next year. “Nova Heart” became the first of five top 40 hits they had in the Great White North and was still voted among the 200 best songs of all-time the following decade by Toronto radio listeners. The album also got them an opening spot on Culture Club shows, which in turn caught the attention of Niles Rodgers who was impressed enough to ask to produce their third album, Talkback, which would also go gold in Canada.

The band seemed to have the right sound for the time, a synthy new wave with a good dance beat, and the photogenic good looks of many MTV bands (worth noting though that Much Music hadn’t begun in Canada yet so there was no 24-hour music station to play their videos at the time) and contacts with solid producers. But somehow that failed to turn heads – or ears – outside of their homeland and they never had any noteworthy success outside of Canada. They broke up for awhile but have been back at it on and off for the last decade,  putting a new single “Beautiful Trap” on their website a couple of years ago and releasing a compilation album on both vinyl and CD in 2020. Deppe, meanwhile, has recently also been playing guitars for another flashback to ’82 – A Flock of Seagulls.

May 4 – Record Company Rained Praise On Bunnymen

It was an exciting day in 1984, because Warner Bros. promised we’d hear “the greatest album ever made.” Which probably didn’t help Echo & The Bunnymen very much…it’s pretty difficult to get over a bar set that high! Not many would go on to think Ocean Rain was the greatest album ever, but for all the hype it was the high point of the Liverpool band’s career and one of the better alt rock works of the decade.

It was the fourth album for the quartet led by Ian McCulloch and they wanted to expand their sound which had been conventional post-punk, if there is such a thing. Lead guitarist Will Sergeant says “we wanted to make something conceptual, with lush orchestration. Not Mantovani, something with a twist…pretty dark.” They brought in a 35-piece orchestra for much of the album and succeeded at that. They had time to work it out too, recording it over a good chunk of the previous year in various studios in Paris, Bath and London, with up-and-coming Gil Norton helping them produce. Gil had at the time not produced much (one China Crisis album being the only really notable credit) but would later go on to great commercial and critical success working with the likes of the Pixies, Counting Crows, Patti Smith and the Foo Fighters. The title track was one they’d actually performed live on John Peel’s BBC radio show (and had released as a “Peel Session”) close to a year prior to the album’s entrance.

The nine songs were moody, and densely atmospheric. Critic Simon Reynolds offered that they were “lush” and “overtly erotic.” Clearly the band had put the “post” far ahead of the “punk” in their sound. However, it might have gone fairly unnoticed if not for one song – “The Killing Moon.”

Few involved with, or outside of the band disagree that it was their finest hour, the pinnacle of their work. Ian McCulloch said some of the lyrics, like “fate up against your will” came to him in a dream and he quickly put together the framework for the song on an acoustic guitar. Then bassist Les Pattinson added what Time‘s Theunis Bates called “the ominous opening bars” and Sergeant “applied layers of chiming, vibrato-heavy guitar.” As McCulloch would say, “Will took it to another level.”

Most agreed with that, but opinions were varied as to the rest of the LP (which arrived on CD late in the year, which may not have helped sales much). Reviews were quite variable, except for near-universal praise for “The Killing Moon.” Coming out just as Bruce Springsteen was starting his rapid ascent from stardom to mega-stardom, and as Michael Jackson’s Thriller was only beginning to finish dominating radio, it certainly sounded clearly British and out of step with what was mostly happening in the U.S. Perhaps that was why Rolling Stone graded it a lowly 2-stars, calling it a “monochromatic dirge of banal existential imagery”

British reviews were largely more positive, although the NME offered that it was full of “tired juxtapositions of mysterious buzzwords” and too full of a “wash of strings.” The Guardian however, rated it 4-stars and London’s Times liked how “this time vocalist Ian McCulloch has tempered his metaphysical songs with a romantic sweetness…the band’s melodies are more to the fore.”

In the years since, reactions have been more favorable. The NME would eventually put it among their list of the 300 greatest albums of all-time and even Rolling Stone would upgrade their rating to 3.5-stars. Allmusic give it a perfect 5-stars, calling it “this group’s unrivaled pinnacle.”

For all the Warner boasting, the album hardly set any records for popularity. The singles “Seven Seas” and “Silver” both hit the top 30 at home and top 20 in Ireland, and “The Killing Moon,” not surprisingly became their biggest-selling single in the UK and reached #9 there, at the time their fourth-straight top 20 hit. Over here however, it didn’t generate a lot of attention, although the few alternative rock stations in existence tended to love it, with both KROQ in L.A. and CFNY in Toronto having it in the year-end top 10 (the Toronto station later had “The Killing Moon” picked as the 64th greatest song ever.) The album barely made a ripple in the States and got to just #41 in Canada. It was a top 10 in New Zealand though and hit #4 in their homeland, where it went gold.

And as for the “greatest ever” ad? Ian McCulloch later laughed that it came about as the result of a joke. “That wasn’t my idea,” he said, or at least “I was on the phone to (Warner Bros.) just joshing around and I said ‘oh, it’s the greatest record ever made’. And they used it on the posters!” Will Sergeant however, didn’t back down. “Doesn’t every band think that way when they’ve got a new record out?”

Perhaps so, and even if it seems a ridiculous claim, if people are still talking about it almost 40 years later, they must not have missed the mark by that much.

April 30 – OMD Pop Dazzled Mid-’80s Set

It was a big day for the band with one of the longest names in the business in 1984. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (or “OMD” for short) put out their fifth album, Junk Culture. It was the second for them on Virgin Records, after the rather forgettable and commercially-panned Dazzle Ships.

OMD have always consisted primarily of the duo of writers, lead singers and keyboardists, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys. At this point in their career though, they were a quartet with drummer Malcolm Holmes and sax & synth player Martin Cooper in as well.

With Dazzle Ships being rather experimental, cold and almost industrial in design – and not well-received – they decided to make an album that was more accessible and pop-py, and succeeded. To change things up a little, they bought some new Fairlight synthesizers to add to their already substantial array of electronics, and recorded outside of England, in sunny Monserrat as well as Belgium and the Netherlands. And they got David Bowie’s favorite producer, Tony Visconti, to assist producer Brian Tench in the studio some. The result was 10 songs designed for easy musical digestion and maybe a little dancing thrown in.

Critics were of mixed feelings about it. The general gist though was that those in Britain (where electropop and new wave were already very well-established) were more indifferent to their homeland boys than were ones overseas, where the record seemed to get very good reviews…if it got noticed. In the UK, the NME thought it sounded “never fresh…all too predictable” and Smash Hits gave it a decent 7 out of 10 but noted while it was “more accessible than Dazzle Ships…but moments that turn excellence into brilliance are fewer and further between.” Elsewhere, Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald liked it and figured “nearly every song has ‘single’ stamped on it” while in Canada, the Ottawa Citizen offered that “of the countless bands that make up the synth-pop invasion, OMD have shown a greater ability to progress than most.” Down the highway from there, Toronto’s CFNY-FM listed it as the 20th best album of the year…although that was behind Echo & the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain, which was ranked as fifth-best. That’s worth noting because the two bands both hale from Liverpool and released albums the same week, with an implied rivalry between them.

The public liked the record well-enough too. The lead single, “Locomotion” (not the Giffen and King song of Little Eva fame) got to #5 at home, making it their fifth top 10 hit of the decade in Britain. It rose to #4 across the strait in Ireland. “Tesla Girls” (which seemed to get the most play on this side of the ocean) and “Taking Loud and Clear” were both chart hits for them in the UK as well, helping push the album to #9 there and selling to gold status. At that point, all of their albums had gone gold or platinum at home. In North America, the album didn’t sell in any major quantities but it did help build their name some more, preparing the public for the reasonable success they’d have with their next album, Crush and its single “So In Love” and then the major hit they’d score from Pretty in Pink, “If You Leave.”

The band not only has one of the longest names in the pop business, it’s also getting to have one of the longest careers. They’re still active, over 40 years after their beginnings, with McCluskey and Humphreys, as well as Cooper still and a new drummer. Their last album, 2017’s The Punishment of Luxury, was the first to get as high as #4 in the UK since 1991, and they promise a new album this summer. In the meantime, a major British tour earned them Classic Pop‘s designation of “Group of the Year” in 2019. 

April 24 – Debbie Stopped Making Plans For Nigel

Blondie were perhaps the ultimate New York band of the late-’70s, but their sound seemed to draw as much from the happening London scene of the time – Elvis Costello, early Joe Jackson etc. – as it did from the American East Coast sounds. Perhaps the reason for that is Nigel Harrison, the only British member of the band. We wish him a happy 71st birthday today.

Harrison grew up near Manchester and like many young men at the time, was drawn to rock because he loved the Beatles. Or else, loved the way they were swarmed by cute girls! He joined a local band, playing bass because none of his friends had one, so it was an instant invitation to join. To this day, he still can’t read music. But it hasn’t stopped him from becoming a highly-talented and respected four-stringer For Bass Players Only laud for “nimbly intuitive playing” incorporating “elements of funk, country, disco, metal and reggae” (which sounds somewhat like a description of Blondie at the height of their popularity.) He learned to play by ear, copying greats like Jack Bruce, Carol Kaye and “early Motown” – presumably James Jamerson.

His first big break came in 1971, when just out of his teens, he joined a British band called Silverhead. Deep Purple signed them to their label and got them to open a number of shows, but their record never took off. Nonetheless, there he made a bit of a reputation for himself, and met singer Michael Des Barres, whom he’s worked with off and on again to the present day. After Silverhead came an anonymous run with The Runaways. He played bass on their first album when the rest of the band decided that their “real” bassist, Jackie Fox, couldn’t play well enough.

From there came a low-profile band called Nite City. They didn’t do much…except catch the ear of Blondie, who in 1978 were looking for a new bassist after their first two albums. They recruited Harrison just in time for the work on their massive hit Parallel Lines to begin. Harrison played bass and co-wrote the album’s second hit, “One Way or Another”. He’d later co-write “Union City Blue” and a few other songs of theirs. However, the band were at each other’s throats in the studio and Harrison in particular didn’t like producer Mike Chapman, even though he now credits Chapman with producing well. Harrison played more or less ad lib, and Chapman wanted structure, asking for re-takes which Harrison seemingly refused to play the same way twice.

He stayed with them through their brief but very hot career peak, working on Eat to The Beat and Autoamerican (with hits like “Dreaming” and “Rapture”) and continuing on into 1982, with The Hunter. However, that album didn’t come close to matching the success of the past three and their tour ended up playing in venues far too big for the low demand for tickets. That coupled with Harry getting sick, and unspecified drug problems within the group, caused them to quit by year’s end.

Harrison and drummer Clem Burke teamed up with a couple of other musicians including ex-Sex Pistol Steve Jones and Des Barres again to form Chequered Past. They put out one album allmusic gave a “meh” to, calling it “flawed fun”. “’A World Gone Wild’ rocks out nicely”, it said, but soon the songs all came to “sound a bit the same-ish.”

Harrison kept somewhat busy after that short-lived band, doing some record producing and getting into the business end of music. He’s worked as an A&R man for Capitol Records, then Interscope where he rose to the executive level.

As for Blondie… well, they got together again in 1997. They called Nigel who played on some demos for a comeback album, but they quickly fired him. This started a round of lawsuits, which continued for some time. When the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted them in 2006, they listed Nigel Harrison as one of the members, logically enough and he and guitarist Frank Infante “were definitely ready to go” but Debbie Harry wouldn’t allow them to join them on stage “and it just got ugly really quickly.” The pair sued the rest of the band again, unsuccessfully. Harrison calls it “kind of sad” and adds “”the strange thing is we’re all in business together. We still have a corporation together.”

Complicated history with that band, but simple way of making his sound. Harrison says he goes for “a Fender bass and Marshall amp. That’s it. That’s the sound of the ’70s. It’s the sound of Motown.” And as it turned out, it was the sound of the once ground-breaking Blondie.

April 20 – New Decade, New Attitude For Linda

Yesterday we looked at one female artist who was having a great week 42 years ago – Debbie Harry of Blondie. Today, we look at another. Linda Ronstadt hit the top 40 this week in 1980 with “Hurt So Bad.” It was her 14th foray into the Billboard 40 – 15th if we include “Different Drum” with her early band, Stone Poneys. The song ended up getting to #8, making it her 10th and final entirely solo top 10, though she’d score three more in the decade as duets with James Ingram and Aaron Neville.

The song was written in the early-’60s by the team of Randazzo, Weinstein and Hart and was first made a hit in ’65 by Little Anthony & the Imperials, who took it to #10. The Lettermen had a hit with it later in the ’60s and after Linda, Nancy Wilson and Alicia Keys were among the singers who took a go at it. Ronstadt’s however, was the most successful version and quickly fit in with her growing collection of cover songs she was able to make her own. Her version, by the way featured Danny Kortchmar on guitar.

It was from Mad Love, which perhaps was a bit of an attempt to step into the new decade with a bit of a “new wave” edge… it included three different Elvis Costello songs, including “Girls Talk” which had been made into a British hit only a few months earlier by Dave Edmunds. While we don’t know if Linda loved the song as much as her fans did, it’s worth noting that her only real mention of the album in her autobiography, Simple Dreams, is mentioning that she had a really short, punkish haircut with pink streaks for the album photo shoot, which she considered a bit of a mistake and a challenge when she was auditioning for the stage show of Pirates of Penzance which she starred in soon afterwards.

Sadly, one would guess this one was her last top 10 hit.  Ronstadt has a disease called Supernuclear palsy, something akin to Parkinsons, which has left her unable to sing in recent years. She last recorded a new album in 2004.

April 12 – Forgotten Gems : B-Movie

People are still talking about the Academy Awards from earlier this spring it seems…the best actor was a hit or something? Anyway, the film which won the Best Movie was Coda…critically acclaimed obviously, but not a blockbuster commercially. Looking at it that way, one might be inclined to call it a “B-movie”…which brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem – 1980‘s “Nowhere Girl” by B-movie.

B-movie were a little bit like Coda – critically well-received but not a box office smash. They formed as a quartet in Nottingham, England in 1979. Steve Hovington was their leader, the main songwriter, singer and bassist. While they did have conventional guitars and drums, their sound was often built around the synthesizers and other keyboards work of Rick Holliday who co-wrote the near hit and they looked largely to Ultravox and New Order for inspiration.

A plea to a lonely, self-isolated girl from a prospective suitor, “Nowhere Girl” offered lyrics like “all functional and neat, Nowhere Girl, in self-imposed exile, Nowhere Girl, a martyr-like denial” which, coupled with clean, sterile synth rhythms, as allmusic put it “became an enduring tale of teen alienation” years before Kurt Cobain caught a whiff of the idea. They put it out as a 12” single on the tiny indie Dead Good Records label, and then re-released it in 1982 when they signed to the slightly larger Deram company off-shot Some Bizzarre. That time around it rose to a modest #67 in their homeland and did make the top 20 in Sweden. It had modest success on some college stations in the U.S., and was especially popular at Toronto’s alt rock station, CFNY. There it finished up ’82 as the 44th top record of the year…and was said to be the most difficult record for the station to keep. Apparently DJs and other staff liked it so much and found it so difficult to locate in local record stores, it kept being “borrowed” from the station library, much to the chagrin of on-air staff who wanted to play it.

Sire Records signed them in 1985, and they put out a full album, Forever Running, for which they re-recorded the song in a slightly more upbeat fashion (which allmusic contend “needless to say is far inferior to the original”) as well as their other minor hit, “Remembrance Day”, but it went…nowhere. Sire dropped them and they disbanded, deciding that maybe they were a “nowhere band.” However, a funny thing happened along the way to obscurity – “Nowhere Girl” suddenly began being remembered by people who seemingly liked it but didn’t buy it first time around. It got issued on more and more ’80s compilation albums and now is “and ’80s classic.”

They kept busy, but didn’t get their names up in bright lights. For instance, guitarist Paul Statham went on to work with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Peter Murphy at times; Hovington’s put out a few solo albums (the most recent only a couple of months back, Audience with Myself) and has become an expert sommelier, not only having his own brand of wine but teaching classes in wine appreciation. He now describes himself as “wine maker, author and erstwhile pop star.” But B-movie, like some of those great ’50s 3D films, never quite goes away. They reformed at times in the last decade to tour, and recorded a new album in 2016… which, in case you’re wondering does indeed have yet another version of “Nowhere Girl.” For a “nowhere” girl, she sure does pop up in a lot of places!