First New ABBA Album in 40 Years – Reviewed!

Yesterday, when we were young…

ABBA is back!

I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but in any case, it’s been 40 years since the last album (The Visitors, November 1981). And except for a couple of new tracks for a 2-LP (remember those??!?) career retrospective the following year, there has been no new music released in nearly four decades.

And even though ABBA is a name-band in America, the really big sales numbers are overseas. Although the group enjoyed big hit singles over here, a B-List band like Survivor has had more success on the American singles chart than ABBA ever did. Post-breakup, the members had fleeting success; Frida had some success with the Phil Collins-helmed Something’s Going On (read my blog about that album here) and the boys in the band had some success writing scores, most notably for Chess.

The last new ABBA music was released in the middle of Ronald Reagan’s first term.

But, whatever. The fact that these four Swedes are still alive and well is certainly good news, and probably gives credence to the Scandinavian Diet. Coming back after 40 years with a new album? Hmm….

OK, there has been talk about a tour – not a real tour, but more of a hologram thing. Then why not throw in a couple of new tracks to keep the punters happy and have something to sell? That was all the rage for awhile. Then a couple years of silence and suddenly a new album appears. One that is being reviewed right here at Albums That Time Forgot!

Full disclosure: I’ve never bought an ABBA album (unless you count getting The Visitors from Columbia House because I forgot to send my right of refusal card back to them in time). But I bought The Singles back in the day and today I own the standard two albums: ABBA Gold and More ABBA Gold. And I’ve visited Sweden on a couple occasions. (I’ve even been inside the Ikea in Stockholm!)

Sweden in December. Photo by your truly.
The new album.

First thing to note; the new album, Voyage, is like an old-school album – ten tracks, 37 minutes. None of these 15 tracks, 71-minute affairs like some of these cosmic veteran rockers release late in the day. So, the group gets a gold star for that decision. And also understand, like all of the previous albums, the performance and vocals are all first-rate, so it’s all a matter of the material.

The album gets off to a slow start; two of the first three tracks “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Little Things,” both of which are mid-tempo, OK-but-not-standout songs. After that, it’s hit-and-miss with the songs; some have great hooks and really make an impression, while others are… just there. Just like the the other albums of their era, I would imagine. The best on Voyage is track 5 – “Just A Notion,” the 2021 descendant of “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do.” Second best is “Keep An Eye On Dan,” but that song gets a demerit for its daft lyrics.

ABBA 2021 – older and wiser.

And in the end, none of these tracks are going to make anybody forget the ABBA bookend singles, “Waterloo” and “The Winner Takes It All” – the first and last of ABBA’s great hits. But the album is a pleasant enough listen – and about a third of the tracks on Voyage could fit comfortably on either Gold collection. Which is a good thing, I suppose.

Rating: 7 Out Of 10, using Michael Butler’s patented, scientific Rock and Roll Geek scoring system.

Huey Lewis Albums Ranked!

In 1984, these were the coolest guys EVER!

Huey Lewis and The News were one of the most successful artists of the 1980s, on both the singles and albums charts as well as the concert circuit. Not to mention huge in popular culture as well. Although tagged as an overnight sensation by the casual observer, nothing could further from the truth. The band – made up of three members of Soundhole (drummer Bill Gibson, bassist Mario Cippolina and guitarist/saxophonist Johnny Colla), a local Marin County band, two members of Clover (keyboardist Sean Hopper and vocalist Huey), an outfit whose commercial failure was dwarfed only by their longevity along with a young, hotshot guitarist (Chris Hayes).

The members of the band had encounters, both live and on record with rock royalty (Thin Lizzy, Rockpile, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello, among others), but when the 1970s were fading fast, they formed a new group that would hopefully go places. A self-titled debut was released in mid-1980; it did little to spread the word. Early 1982’s Picture This and the singles “Do You Believe in Love?” And “Workin’ For a Living” got them noticed on the radio and MTV, and shortly after Sports was released in 1983, they were right up there with the big boys (and girls), Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Prince, Tina Turner, and the rest of the decade was theirs.

The original sextet released six studio albums and one album of covers between 1980 and 1994; here they are, ranked worst to first!

Four Chords & Several Years Ago
Released 1994
Highest Chart Peak: 55
7/7

The end of the beginning. Or the end of the end.

When you’re a platinum-selling band, with hit singles and albums galore behind you, releasing a covers album is a cry for help; it’s telling the world that there is nowhere else to go. (See Guns n’ Roses – The Spaghetti Incident.) Truth of the matter is that by the time the Hard At Play tour concluded in 1992, it was all over. Musical tastes had changed, and the previous two albums had revealed that there was plenty some apathy among the fans, and the band, who were used to headlining arenas for years, suddenly found themselves booked in small to medium-sized theaters. So, at the time, maybe a covers album made sense.

But then again, no. The songs were not the standard “golden oldies” – but more obscure R&B material that the band liked. Probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but in their defense, all were competently performed. But it certainly wasn’t what the fans of Sports and “The Power of Love” wanted to hear. Oh, the times, they are a changin’!

What happened next: The band did a short tour for the album, and by 1995, bassist Cippolina either quit or was fired, depending on who you ask. A hits album was released in 1998, after which guitarist Chris Hayes bailed. The next album of original material, Plan B, was released seven years after Four Chords.

Small World
Released 1988
Highest Chart Peak: 11
6/7

So where is the News?

Small World is the album that the band was so proud of. Unfortunately, not everybody held the same high standard to it. Like the critics for example. And the fans. And FM radio, where the singles were ignored while rockers like Tracy Chapman and Melissa Etheredge got plenty of airtime that summer and fall. Worst of all was Rolling Stone magazine, where Small World was named “Worst Album of The Year” in 1988, the year of The Escape Club’s Wild Wild West album. Ouch.

Although some of the tracks, particularly the lone top ten single “Perfect World,” retained the sound the sound that the fans wanted, the rest of the album was… kind of blah. Trying to shoehorn jazz sensibilities into the band might’ve pleased the musicians, but to the general public, not so much. It should be noted that this album followed closely on the heels of the string of hit sings from 1986’s Fore! (more on that in the Fore! section below), so there was the burn out and the oversaturation factor that might’ve contributed to the sales slump.

What happened next: The band wisely took a break (maybe a case of a day late and a dollar short) and actually jumped record labels. The result? See below.

Hard At Play
Released 1991
Highest Chart Peak: 27
5/7

A comeback, of sorts. At least sound wise. The band wisely waited three years after Small World to release of Hard At Play, giving the fans (and public) a break for the first time in a decade. Whether this helped things or if it was too late in the day to make a difference will never be known.

And while Play DID get things back on track (somewhat), the songs didn’t have the staying power of the previous hits.  The lone hit single “Couple Days Off” was “Working For a Living’s” bastard cousin and the rest of the album made REO Speedwagon’s Good Trouble sound like an original work. But of course, look at the music scene from 1991, and you’ll quickly notice that Huey Lewis is a likable relic of a bygone era, and besides a record that made a little noise on the charts, they didn’t into the music world of the 1990s. A decent album, but pales to the band’s earlier work.

What happened next: Four Chords and there’s where the story ended.

Fore!
Released 1986
Highest Chart Peak: 1
4/7

Can they top Sports?

Similar to my ranking of Billy Squier’s Emotion in Motion (read all about it here), I’m sure purists will scoff at the relatively low ranking of this monster album. But trust me, there are good reasons!

For starters, it’s doubly hard for any artist to top (or even equal) an era-defining album.  Hi Infidelity, Asia, Thriller, Beauty and the Beat, Metal Health, etc. all suffered from the “follow-up curse, some more so than others. The biggest problem here – the hit singles dragged on far too long. Now, that sounds counterintuitive, trust me that’s a problem that many of Huey’s peers suffered from.

Look at it this way; take an artist who had a huge breakthrough album, and then the follow up is seemingly on steroids pumps out the hit singles. Bon Jovi – New Jersey. Phil Collins – …But Seriously. And now Huey Lewis and The News – Fore! Now think of those fourth or fifth singles; “Living in Sin,” “ I’ll Be There For You,” “Do You Remember?,” “ Something Happened on the Way to Heaven”… None of those were the stuff that made these artists great. And actually, all pretty forgettable. “I Know What I Like” and “Doing It All For My Baby” fall into the same category. Not what the band’s legacy is based on. Songs like “I Want A New Drug” were far more edgy than, say, “Whole Lotta Lovin’.”

Now, let’s going into case of “what if”: If Fore! had hits only with its first three singles (“Stuck With You,” “Hip To Be Square” and “Jacob’s Ladder,” and then things calmed down after that, it might’ve lessened album sales, but it also might’ve helped his career last longer. Trust me, nobody likes album cycles that drag on too long.

What happened next: After fans were worn down by the final two singles in the long, dull summer of 1987 (a time when Richard Marx and Whitney Houston were the only artists aired on MTV), the signs were there that it was time to take a break. But no, instead we got Small World, a mere year after the Fore! tour concluded.

Huey Lewis and the News
Released 1980
Highest Chart Peak:  Did not chart
3/7

Where were YOU in 1980?

Yes, the “forgotten” album in Huey’s catalog deserves a lot more love than it’s gotten. Here were a bunch of guys that were footnotes in the late 1970s rock scene, trying to make it on their own. It’s the sound of a new band making music in a new decade. The songs aren’t all there yet and the band is still trying to find its sound, but there is a lack of pretention and a sense of fun that would be revealed in the next couple of albums.

Oddly enough, once the band hit the big time, there was never any “push” to go back or even to rerelease the debut. The band DID get some milage out of the live version of “Trouble In Paradise” from 1985’s USA For Africa’s We Are The World charity album, but otherwise than that, Huey Lewis and the News (the album, NOT the band!) has languished in obscurity since the day it was released in 1980.

What happened next: Nothing but good stuff for the next several years. Fasten your seatbelts, gang!

Sports
Released 1983
Highest Chart Peak:  1
2/7

If this is it, please let me know!

Sorry Sports fans, but the band’s greatest commercial achievement isn’t its best album. This isn’t to diminish the attributes of it, only that there was a better one, which just happened to precede it. In the end, Sports spawned four top ten singles, one more top twenty, all with hit videos. And a rare non-single video (“Bad Is Bad”) got major airplay.

The power and the glory of Sports – and all the hit singles – has been documented ad nauseum here, there and everywhere. It was Huey’s time – heavy rotation videos on MTV, a cameo (and #1 theme song) in 1985’s Back To The Future, USA For Africa… A great time to be Huey Lewis and the News. All the pieces came together with Sports.

What happened next: More of the same, just not as memorable.

Picture This
Released 1982
Highest Chart Peak:  13
1/7

Again, you may question why Picture This (and not Sports) holds the top position here. It’s really a matter of a bunch of factors: The jump in quality from the debut; the band’s decision to produce itself; and lastly, for the ability to come up with the goods in the ninth inning, two men out, two men on and down by a run.

The song quality – from start to finish – is perfect. But then again, so is Sports, but here, they didn’t have a cushion going in to record. This record is full of great music, every track has a personality all its own and it has the sound of a bunch of veteran rockers who finally found their groove.

What happened next: Sports and reaching the top of the mountain.

Bonus video! The Power Of Love” – not on any Huey Lewis and The News Album! (But found of international versions of Fore!)

Billy Squier Albums Ranked!

Billy Squier – a mainstay of AOR radio in the first half of the 1980s. A stellar guitarist in his own right, and more heavyweight than contemporaries like Rick Springfield, Squier was able to balance rock cred, stylish looks and great music seemingly effortlessly. Although he was over thirty when he hit the big time, he had a five-year winning streak that netted platinum albums, sold-out arenas and soundtrack contributions to some of the most iconic 1980s movies.

An ill-conceived video, changing musical tastes and, let’s face it, plain bad luck marred his golden era, but he still managed to pump out quality albums on regular basis. His eight albums on Capitol Records range from good to classic, not a clunker in there. Naturally, some are better than others, and as is the case with every other “worst to first” list, those albums near the bottom aren’t necessarily bad, it’s just that the artist has released some better ones. I’ve left his post-Capitol release Happy Blue, the King Biscuit live CD and any anthology collections off of this ranking.

So here we go – Billy Squier albums ranked! Enjoy!

Not his worst cover, but the lowest ranked of all his albums.

CREATURES OF HABIT

Produced By: Godfrey Diamond and Billy Squier

Release Date: April 9, 1991

Highest Chart Position: 117

Ranked: 8/8

Standout Track: Hands Of Seduction

Why is this ranked in bottom place? Because this is the most “pop” of Squier’s albums. Considering what was happening in the music world in 1991, this record didn’t fit in anywhere. Production-wise, it’s strong sounding (he used the same team as his previous album), but the songs just don’t hold up. “She Goes Down,” really? Plus, the cartoonish cover art is out of step with the times. An artist ten years past his greatest achievement.

The cover shot was probably the only part of the album that went quickly.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH

Produced By: Peter Collins

Release Date: September 27, 1986

Highest Chart Position: 61

Ranked: 7/8

Standout Track: Love Is The Hero

The production for the follow-up to the “Rock Me Tonight” album fell to Peter Collins of Rush and Queensryche fame. Although Enough’s predecessor, 1984’s Signs of Life sounds dated today with its synths and other 1980s flourishes, at the time it was Squier’s most cutting edge sounding album. The follow-up? Not so much. The sterile production here is below average for the era (not to mention for a Billy Squier record), and to be frank, the songs weren’t up to the quality of his earlier work. Considering his previous three releases, it’s no surprise that this one came and went rather quickly and the tour plans for Enough were scuttled.

The 1970s were history, but you wouldn’t know it here.

TALE OF THE TAPE

Produced By: Billy Squier and Eddy Offord

Release Date: May 1980

Highest Chart Position: 169

Ranked: 6/8

Standout Track: Calley Oh

Not a bad record by any stretch, but it sounds like an artist trying to find his way. (Which it is.) Eddy Offord, a producer/engineer whose resume included Yes, Rory Gallagher and Emerson, Lake and Palmer seemed a rather odd choice to helm the board, and the results, although decent, aren’t anything to write home about. Plus, the “band” wasn’t in place, something that was to become an important part of Squier’s sound moving forward.

Like’ Sticky Fingers, the cover was designed by Andy Warhol.

EMOTIONS IN MOTIONS

Produced By: Mack and Billy Squier

Release Date: July 23, 1982

Highest Chart Position: 5

Ranked:5/8

Standout Track: Learn How To Live

Purists might scream about this low ranking, but for the follow-up to his breakthrough album, it’s justified. Again, a very good/borderline great album, but it’s only in the fifth spot because there are others that are better. Stacked up against Don’t Say No, it’s a step down. The production (and songs as well) seem bit “flat” when compared to Don’t Say No, and worst of all, it suffers a little too much from a problem that haunts most Billy Squier albums: It’s too “top heavy” – with the popular (read; better) songs stacked toward the first half of the album.

This time we get the “tough Billy” on the cover.

HEAR & NOW

Produced By: Godfrey Diamond, Billy Squier, Jason Corsaro

Release Date: June 14, 1989

Highest Chart Position: 64

Ranked: 4/8

Standout Track: Mine Tonight

A much more focused (not to mention better-sounding) album than its predecessor, Enough Is Enough, Hear & Now sounds like a lot more effort was put into it. We hope that’s true, because it came three years after Enough, a long time, especially considering he didn’t tour for the previous disc. It garnered some airplay for him, a good thing, because it was the first time in five years the world heard old Billy over the air. But five years out of the radio and concert circuit is a long time in any era, not to mention that tastes changed (most of his contemporaries in the “Class of 1981” – REO, Styx, Journey, Foreigner, Loverboy, etc.- had either peaked or broken up by this late date, and hair metal – and Guns n’ Roses – were the big news of the day) and sadly, commercially he was too far downhill by this point to ever make it back to the top.

Billy Squier’s only album not to feature him on the cover.

TELL THE TRUTH

Produced By: Mike Chapman

Release Date: April 27, 1993

Highest Chart Position: Did Not Chart

Ranked: 3/8

Standout Track: Break Down

Squier’s last Capitol album was an overlooked gem. For a 1980s AOR artist, the Spring of 1993 was a lousy time to release a new album. This time around the songs (not to mention the cover art) were all first-rate, and Squier took some chances too: He mixed and matched musicians (his core band members along with others) for different songs, giving many of the songs a fresh sound. Sublime production by Mike Chapman certainly didn’t hurt, but Capitol Record’s refusal to promote the album led to Squier’s retirement from the music business (for the most part). Students of psychology will note that the lyrics quite often reference psychotherapy.

The album is much better than the cover indicates.

SIGNS OF LIFE

Produced By: Jim Steinman and Billy Squier

Release Date: July 1984

Highest Chart Position: 11

Ranked: 2/8

Standout Track: (Another) 1984

Squier’s 1984 album was the last of his big hits. The “Rock Me Tonight” video debacle aside, Signs of Life was his most “contemporary-sounding” record, and probably should’ve been his biggest seller overall. Originally-slated producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange (riding high due to his work with Def Leppard and The Cars) pulled out for reasons that were more personal than professional, and Steinman, notable mostly for writing hits for Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and Air Supply, ended up being the pinch producer. No worries, this album is one of the few Squier albums to maintain consistency throughout the entire disc, most likely due to Steinman’s “pushing” Squier’s songwriting to new places. Still a great listen today. More than any of his other records, Signs of Life accurately captures the sound of the era.

The album where years of hard work all came together gloriously

DON’T SAY NO

Produced By: Mack and Billy

Release Date: April 13, 1981

Highest Chart Position: 5

Ranked: 1/8

Standout Track: My Kinda Lover

What can you say here? This is the breakthrough album that made Billy a household name. Miles better and more focused than his debut, Squier released an instant classic album that, along with Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Rush and Foreigner, ruled AOR stations for 1981 and continues to be played all these years later on classic rock radio. There is no way that this could be ranked anywhere else but in first place. Killer from start to finish.

Billy Squier also released some non-album tracks on popular soundtracks. Plus, a 1981 Christmas single.

Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

Metropolis (1984)

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

And of course, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

That Last Top 40 Hit

Rock and pop acts usually have some sort of shelf life – a period of time when things are good and their records climb the chart. (Good things happen to musicians when their records chart.) Then, of course, stuff happens. Certain styles of music go out of favor, bands lose members or break up, or simply didn’t get the lucky breaks anymore.  But once in a while, a group that had a number of hits gets lucky and gets that “one last hit” – a record that charts years after their previous hit single.

Kansas – All I Wanted (1986)

Kansas, a kinda-prog band from middle America (well, Kansas, actually) was one of those mid-1970s road warrior bands that released an album, toured like hell, etc. Like many of their contemporaries on the middle America tour circuit (Rush, REO, Nugent, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith, among many others), rock fans and radio started noticing, bringing the band to larger venues and more spins on the air. Things went well the second half of the 1970s, with the band scoring both AOR and Top 40 hits, platinum albums and packed concert halls.

Farm hands or rock stars?

But by 1980, the writing was on the wall that bands full of old-looking hairy guys (ZZ Top excepted, of course) were no longer welcome, and Steve Walsh left (wisely?) for solo fame and fortune.  The rest of the guys auditioned a number of singers (Sammy Hagar and future Kings X vocalist Doug Pinnick among them) before settling on the mighty afro of John Elefante.

Replacing a legendary (if not entirely short) vocalist like Walsh could prove to be a daunting task; however, against all odds, the band’s 1982 album, Vinyl Confessions, contained their biggest hit since “Dust” – “Play the Game Tonight,” which peaked at #17 and even received some airplay on a fairly new cable channel, MTV. (Maybe by being a “faceless” band helped; casual fans probably weren’t aware of the change.)

But that’s where the good times ended; 1983’s Drastic Measures spawned no hit singles and barely made a chart impact, so by 1984, the band had splintered, with members forming Christian rock bands or just doing nothing of note. A hits package was then released and sold modestly, and Kansas was a 1970s dinosaur, whose songs were still played on FM radio alongside Led Zeppelin and Foghat. So, by 1985, Kansas was generally thought of as a relic of a bygone era, mainly remembered for two songs; “Dust in the Wind” (which produced one of the scariest videos ever – those guys weren’t even 30 yet and yet seemed so OLD!) and “Carry On Wayward Son.”

There’s not much difference between THIS…
…and this.

Right about that same time, Walsh’s band, Streets (formed after his wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Toto), had also called it quits after three albums failed to find success. Long story short, he spent that summer on the road playing keys as a sideman to Cheap Trick on their Standing On The Edge tour, who were crossing the states opening for REO Speedwagon. By the fall, he exited that role and went about the task of reforming Kansas.

By the time the album Power was released in 1986, there was a new look to the band. Only drummer Phil Erhart and guitarist Rich Williams were holdovers from the old lineup (violinist Robbie Steinhardt left before Drastic Measures, bassist Dave Hope and guitarist Kerry Livgren didn’t return), and Walsh added bassist Billy Greer from the failed Streets, and former Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse Joined the band.

Although Power was only a modest hit (#35 on the Billboard Top 200 chart,) the single “All I Wanted” was a top twenty hit (peaking at #19). The accompanying video showed very little of the band, mostly focusing on attractive women and couples, and actually only Walsh and Morse were featured. But chartwise, it was the band’s first top 40 hit in four years – their seventh and what proved to be their final top 40 hit. And though the band has carried on (wayward son) since then, surviving lineup changes and barely released albums, “All I Wanted” was that last gasp of singles chart success.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Kansas
  • Single: All I Wanted
  • Album: Power
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 4
  • Label: MCA Records
  • Producer: Andrew Powell, Phil Ehart
  • Released: October 1986
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #19

Trivia: Kansas is still alive and touring today, though with only two original members, yet all former members remain alive, if not entirely healthy.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Runner (1984)

Remember Manfred Mann? (Spoiler alert – NOT his real name!) That tall, glasses-wearing dork who was the namesake behind the C-list band who had the WORST British Invasion hit song “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” which was quite possibly in the top ten of worst #1 songs of the 1960s. A few minor hits followed, and before the group imploded in 1969, they had a hit with a Dylan cover, “The Mighty Quinn.”

The original Mann men. Spot the dork!

After that, one would assume the Manns would follow the path of Herman’s Hermits, The Zombies (another dorky looking band) and The Troggs – a relic of an exciting era that they were on the fringes of, but in the big picture, didn’t have a huge lasting role in. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, fellahs. Another band followed, Manfred Mann’s Chapter Three, which was about as successful as it sounds. And after two albums that tanked, it came time for the “real” chapter three – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, which was formed in 1971.

Ah, yes. Who can forget MMEB’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded By The Light?” After the horror of “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” Mann pulled a repeater and did it again – having the honor of having one of the worst #1 hits in two consecutive decades. I mean really, who didn’t he was saying “douche,” not “deuce?” More Springsteen covers and other failed singles followed, and by the dawn of the Reagan era, it looked like Mann was finally put out to pasture.

Not so fast there, cowboy! On the band’s 1983 Somewhere in Afrika album was the single “Runner,” which was loosely connected with Terry Fox’s cross-Canada run, which also had ties with John Parr’s “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” 1985 hit, speaking of annoying #1 singles. It probably didn’t hurt that “Runner” was released shortly before the 1984 Summer Olympics – and clips of Olympic runners were featured prominently in the clip. That Olympic connection probably tapped into the mania that surrounded that summer’s Olympics in Los Angeles, because “Runner” peaked at a respectable #22.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
  • Single: Runner
  • Album: Somewhere In Afrika
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 7
  • Label: Arista
  • Producer: Manfred Mann
  • Released: May 1984
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #22

Trivia: Future Firm and AC/DC drummer Chris Slade was a member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band for most of the 1970s.

(Wish you didn’t know this) Trivia: There is an extended version of “Blinded By The Light.” Ugh.

The Carpenters Touch Me When We’re Dancing (1981)

We all know the story of The Carpenters: From their humble beginnings in New Haven, CT to the big time. Their first single of the 1970s (“Close To You”) peaked at #1, and for the next few years, went on one of the hottest streaks of hit singles since CCR – eleven top ten hits in the first half of the 1970s, three of them reaching the top spot.

The Carpenters, in happier days.

But by 1975, the bloom was off the rose and the hits just weren’t as large anymore. After “Only Yesterday” peaked at #4, their top ten days were behind them. They hit the top 40 five more times – lower and lower chart positions – until their last top 40 hit (of the 1970s, anyway), a bewildering cover of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)” which peaked at a lowly #32.

Then the serious stuff happened: Karen’s well-document health issues and Richard’s detox from prescription meds occupied the rest of the decade. An aborted Karen solo album and an ill-advised marriage took place; between all of these distractions, the band took off four years from releasing a new album or performing. (Though a couple of television appearances did happen during that time.)

So, in 1981, in the middle of the REO/Journey/Foreigner/Styx era, a Carpenters comeback was seemingly impossible. But don’t count them out; they not only released a new album, Made in America, but also had a hit single (the #16 “Touch Me When We’re Dancing”), surprising anybody who was paying attention. The sound, though updated, was recognizably Carpenters. Unfortunately, that was the last hit; although a few more singles followed (and charted), and it all came crashing down upon Karen’s death on February 4, 1983.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: The Carpenters
  • Single: Touch Me When We’re Dancing
  • Album: Made In America
  • Years Since Previous Top 40 Hit: 4
  • Label: A&M Records
  • Producer: Richard Carpenter
  • Released: June 1981
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #16

Trivia: Karen Carpenter released an unsuccessful single, “Looking For Love” in 1966, four years before “(They Long To Be) Close To You.”

The Bottom of the Top

Billboard Top 40: The toppermost of the poppermost.

Back in the day when singles ruled the world, there was something called “Top 40 Radio” – a place where the most popular songs in the nation were played. But not ALL the songs – only the most popular forty (both past and present).  Why forty was the number that the powers that be settled on as the number is beyond the scope of most normal people. And out of my paygrade as well. (Though I’m sure the mighty Wikipedia has the answer.)

One old rumor is that jukeboxes could only hold 40 singles – so that’s a reasonable answer. Or maybe the mobsters who controlled the jukebox market couldn’t count past 40. Whatever the reason, it’s about a radio format – what singles (those are 45s, which are the 7″ records that play at 45 RPM and had one song on each side) – anybody who remembers Casey Kasem knows what Top 40 means.

So, really, a song that is in the Top 40 is a “hit single,” and that’s a big deal apparently. But there is this barrier, a line drawn in the sand, if you will, that divides the Top 40 from the bottom 60. Now, to be fair, the “Bottom 60” contains songs that have dropped out of the Top 40 and songs that are climbing up to the Top 40 (along with plenty of others that never hit the Top 40).

But once you’re in the club, you’re in, even if you only hit the bottom rung of the charts. Don’t worry, there are plenty of classic tunes that have peaked at #40 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. These include:

  • Breakdown – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
  • I’d Love to Change the World – Ten Years After
  • All I Really Want To Do – The Byrds
  • Burnin’ For You – Blue Öyster Cult
  • Strung Out – Steve Perry
  • Video Killed The Radio Star – The Buggles
  • Don’t Tell Me You Love Me – Night Ranger

* Among many others.

But back in the summer of 1982, three AOR (Album Oriented Rock) bands released singles that peaked at #40. Of course, airplay on FM stations allowed these songs to chart higher on other charts, such as the Mainstream Rock chart, so they got more airplay then their lowly chart position indicated. Anyhoo, here are three singles that peaked at the bottom of the hit charts in 1982!

J. Geils Band – Angel In Blue

These guys were popular on MTV??!?

The J. Geils Band was a strange beast in the world of rock. Starting out as a blues purist’s wet dream, they released a couple of smoking albums early on, popped a few hit singles on the charts and toured like crazy. They certainly had their ups and downs, but by the time the late 1970s came around, it looked like their time was up.

But never count a hard-working band from Boston out. The band shifted to a more contemporary sound (no doubt annoying their old time fans) which brought them a wide fanbase and yes, hit singles. The albums Sanctuary (1978) and Love Stinks (1980) were respectable, if not entirely decent successes, but nobody could predict what the band would release in late 1981. Freeze Frame (a #1 album in its own right) contained the band’s biggest hit, the #1 single “Centerfold” (one of the defining hits of the 1980s) and its follow up, the #4 title track.

The third single released, “Angel In Blue,” tells the story of a “tabletop dancer” who is used and abused by all the men who pass through her life. A sleeper hit and a seldom-seen video, it barely charted in the Top 40, yet was a hit on AOR radio. But oddly enough, it was The J. Geils Band’s last studio Top 40 hit – later in the year, the band released their third live album (and final album overall with vocalist Peter Wolf) with their final hit single, “I Do.”

Despite the success of Freeze Frame, the band fractured – vocalist Peter Wolf wanted to continue the style of music the band the made since the late 1960s, while keyboardist Seth Justman (acting as a proxy for the other four members) wanted to carry on more as a slickly-produced pop band. Sadly, the band broke up the following year and the Wolf-less Geils band issued one more barely-released album, while Peter Wolf started a well-received, if not commercially overwhelming received solo career.

Rainbow – Stone Cold

The one constant in an ever changing world.

Rainbow, along with Whitesnake, was one of the successful spinoff groups from the juggernaut Deep Purple. Formed by crabby-ass guitarist RItchie Blackmore, the band’s 1975 album Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow became an instant hit with fans of the guitarist. Blackmore commandeered the band Elf, kicked its guitarist to the curb and used the rest of band for the album, “used” being the operative word here. Once it was recorded, he jettisoned the other players, with the exception of vocalist Ronnie James Dio and stocked the band with a combination of veteran players and unknown hotshots.

Unfortunately, Blackmore’s forte wasn’t harmony among band members, and throughout the course of Rainbow’s original seven album run, the band went through three vocalists, five bassists, five keyboard players and four drummers. And one guitarist. You tell me who was calling the shots there…

Talk to any of the purists, and they’ll tell you that the vocalists got duller as time went on, and that Ronnie James Dio was the only “real” vocalist of Rainbow. But “melodic rock” fans will side with number three, Joe Lynn Turner. (Wow, both these guys have THREE names!) Maybe that’s why Graham Bonnet only lasted for one album in the band. Or maybe because he looked more like Joe Jackson’s drummer than the lead vocalist in a serious hard rock slash heavy metal band.

Whatever. By the time album number six, Straight Between The Eyes dropped n 1982, Joe Lynn Turner was firmly ensconced as the voice of the band. Blackmore had his eye on the radio, and with the single “Stone Cold,” he got his wish. Somebody has to be #40, and 40 turned out to be Rainbow’s lucky number, as it became the band’s biggest hit, peaking at #40. (But “Stone Cold” did top the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.) But time wasn’t on the band’s side – one more moderate hit album followed, and in 1984, Deep Purple Mark II reunited, and that was it for Rainbow. (Yes, Blackmore resurrected the band after he quit Purple in the 1990s, but with a bunch of new scabs and no former members.

Genesis – Man On The Corner

Cut them a break – it WAS the 1980s after all…

Everybody knows the story of Genesis – the public schoolboy founding, the prog years, the exodus of original front man Peter Gabriel and the anointing of wallflower drummer Phil Collins as new vocalist, the defection of guitarist wunderkind Steve Hackett and all that. Once all those small nuisances were settled, the band hit the big time and went on a hot streak that lasted for a decade and a half.

One small issue hit the band in late 1978 – Phil’s wife Andrea (women named Andrea tend to be trouble!) called B.S. on his touring schedule. It was either her or the band, and despite the old college try on his part (though I haven’t heard her side of the story), it ended badly and our boy wrote a batch of songs about the situation. One of these (“Misunderstanding”) became a hit from Genesis’ 1980 Duke album; the rest became the bulk of Phil’s hit debut LP, Face Value.

But there was one more for the world to hear. Single number four from Genesis’ 1981 album, ABACAB was the sparse “Man On The Corner.” Similar in to Phil’s “In The Air Tonight” (but without the classic drum fill), “Man” was the tale of a lonely man waiting for something that never came. But unlike J. Geils Band and Rainbow, there were hits in the future for Genesis. Plenty of them, as a matter of fact. The next four albums (three studio and one live) netted the band hit singles galore, including FIVE top five hits from 1986’s Invisible Touch, and one them hit #1, the title track. We can’t dance, indeed!

Frida – Something’s Going On

It’s been quite a while since I’ve done a “normal” post, so here we go, back to basics.

Say what you want about ABBA –  their worthiness of inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their lack of street cred and all of that, but to be fair, they were the real deal. Listen to their music – for 1970s Europop fare, it’s pretty sophisticated stuff, which made their contemporaries sound like low-end lounge acts.

But what most people around here don’t realize, that they were FAR huger internationally than they were in America. In the States, they had about about as many charting hits as a mid-level rock band with a similar-length career, say, Survivor (20 Billboard singles each), but everywhere but here, their albums were practically in Michael Jackson Thriller territory.

ABBA consisted of two males and two females (two couples at one point, but neither relationship outlasted the life of the group), and had a winning formula down pat; the guys would write the songs, the women would sing them. Among male watchers of the band, there was a Ginger vs. Mary Ann thing between the two vocalists; blonde Agnetha Fältskog and redheaded Anni-Frid Lyngstad (a.k.a. Frida).

The year; 1982. As the powerhouse Swedish pop group is winding down its winning streak career, members are busy checking their parachutes. After a couple of new tracks are cut for a career retrospective, no further work is produced by the group. The two guys have no plans to quit working together; their next move was to create the music for the successful musical “Chess.”

Thank you for the music. NOT for the outfits!

The women of ABBA weren’t so sure of their futures; they were on their own, professionally (not to mention domestically), for the first time since the group was founded. And although they were both seasoned professionals, they hadn’t worked without the guidance of the ABBA machine for many, many years.

First to strike was Frida. She glommed on one of the hot “new” stars of the decade, Phil Collins (of Genesis and recent solo artist fame) to produce her debut English language solo album. (Her two previous solo releases were both in Swedish.) Phil, originally the drummer of Genesis, had graduated to singer upon the (amicable) departure of original Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel in 1975. Six years later, after Collins’ Face Value becomes an unexpected hit (sales eclipsed Genesis), he was a star in his own right. Phil’s downer album certainly caught Frida’s ear; she was going through her own domestic hell and wanted a kindred soul to work on her album with her. Find out his side of the story in his autobiography, Not Dead Yet.

So, for eight weeks in early 1982, Phil (and his solo band) worked with Frida at ABBA’s Polar Studios in Stockholm. (Besides ABBA, other classic rock albums recorded at Polar include Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door and Genesis’ Duke.) Phil produced and played drums, not to mention duetting on the album’s closer, “Here We’ll Stay.” The sound: Bigger and definitely more rocking than any of ABBA’s output. Partially due to Phil’s pedigree and partially due to the huge drum sound he was able to squeeze out of the studio, which insiders say was state-of-the-art.

Phil and Frida, hard at work. He has a beard; she does not.

The songs that ended up on the album came from here, there and everywhere; they included a Phil Collins cover (“You Know What I Mean” from Face Value), Bryan Ferry;  Steven Bishop (another degree of Phil Collins separation), a pre-Roxette Per Gessle (which featured a Dorothy Parker poem as a lyric) and a Rod Argent song later covered by Colin Blunstone.

But the centerpiece of the album (and the worldwide hit single) was the title track, “I Know There’s Something Going On.” That song, written by Russ Ballard (formerly of Argent and author of classics including Ace Frehley’s “New York Groove,” Santana’s “Winning,” Rainbow’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” and KISS’ “God Gave Rock and Roll To You.” Among others.

“Something” featured the Phil Collins “gated reverb” drum sound that was now becoming famous (due to Collins, Peter Gabriel and Genesis songs that were now becoming hits) and Daryl Stuermer’s treated guitar solo. The same guitar effect was also employed on contemporary radio hits by Genesis (“ABACAB”), Saga (“Wind Him Up”), and Rush (“Subdivisions”). The song, which was an international hit, peaked at a respectable #13 on the charts over here.

While the album was only a moderate success in America (#41), it was a huge success internationally. Reviews weren’t always kind: In early 1983, People Magazine mocked the title (something to the effect of “If Frida thinks ‘something’s going on’ with her solo career, she’s sadly mistaken!”). But lousy reviews aside, whatever success or goodwill the album gave to Frida’s career, none of it translated to her next project; the follow-up, 1984s Phil Collins-free, new-wavey Shine wasn’t even released in America. And so it goes.

All of that was transpiring while Phil Collins was advancing his solo career – “Against All Odds” was his first #1 hit in America – and a duet (“Easy Lover”) with Earth Wind & Fire vocalist Phillip Bailey peaked at #2 later that year. (Not to mention his juggernaut No Jacket Required album and associated singles that dominated the airwaves and MTV for all of 1985 and well into 1986.) And after Shine, Frida never recorded an English language album again. All she can do today is hope for the long-awaited ABBA reunion that will most definitely pad her retirement account.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Frida
  • Album: Something’s Going On
  • Label: Atlantic
  • Producer: Phil Collins
  • Released: September 1982
  • Billboard Peak Chart Position: #41

B-Side Myself

Remember these things?

Rock n’ roll, which has been around a hell of a lot longer than I have, was based on the 7” 45 RPM single. Yup, in those days, you put a record on (don’t forget to switch the record player from 33 1/3 RPM to 45 RPM), something that only had one song per side on it, and just like the time you lost your virginity, in less than three minutes, it was all over.

The prime real estate was the “A-side” of the single. That’s where the hit lived, and anything else was the low rent district. Nobody cared what was on the other side of the record, it was all about the hit single. Unless you’re talking the Elvis Presley “Don’t Be Cruel”/”Hound Dog” single, who the hell turned over the record and played the other side?

By the mid 1960s, all that changed. (Good.) It started being all about the album, with The Beatles, Kinks and Pretty Things releasing albums that stood on their own. Even though rock music had become more sophisticated, plenty of classic singles were released throughout the ensuing years. And those singles still had a “B-side” that contained another song. Now, most of those songs ended up on the accompanying album, but sometimes they didn’t.

There are plenty of all-time classic singles that never were part of a proper album (“Hey Jude,” “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Black Night*,” etc.), but that is what it is. We’re not talking about the single, but the song on the OTHER side of the record, the place where angels fear to tread. 

Sometimes the B-side becomes more popular than anything else from the album (Led Zeppelin – “Hey Hey What Can I Do”), sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle (The Beatles – “Old Brown Shoe”) and sometimes it’s a result of record company greed, putting the B-side on the cassette version only to force the kids to buy the cassette, not the record, because records use petroleum to produce and therefore cost more per unit (See The Police – “Murder By Numbers”).

*That’s a DEEP PURPLE song!

Deep Purple in its prime. Why? Because I could.

The Beatles

“I’m Down” (B-side to “Help”) 1965

The Beatles’ 1965 single “Help!” was not only another #1 hit for The Beatles on both sides of the pond, but it was the title track for their 1965 movie. It also appeared on the album of the same name (different albums, depending on where you lived), which, was the last of their “beat group” records. From that point onward (Rubber Soul, et al), it was about making the album a stand-alone statement. So there.

But the B-side to the single, “I’m Down,” was a rewrite (of sorts) of the Little Richard standard “Long Tall Sally,” which the band had been playing pretty much since day one and had recorded at one point with Paul McCartney on vocals. Touring for the quartet had become a drag by 1965; new material had to be added.

On the band’s 1965 tour, they replaced their standard closer, “Long Tall Sally” with “I’m Down” (again, with McCartney on lead vocals) most notably playing it at the iconic Shea Stadium concert that August (as well as at all other dates on the tour). Oddly enough, for 1966’s final run as a live band, they ditched “Down” in favor for “Sally.” (They didn’t play “Help!” on the final tour either.) Why? Ask Bob Spitz.

Fun fact: “I’m Down” was recorded in the same session as “Yesterday.”

Another fun fact: After the recording, McCartney opined “Plastic Soul” – a criticism that was often aimed at The Rolling Stones. That comment – reworked – provided the title for the band’s next LP.

“You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)” (B-side to “Let It Be”) 1970

By the time The Beatles’ final album, Let It Be (and title single) was released, there was less “care” about a public image. So, it was OK to put a “novelty” song on the B-side of a single. “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number” was something that had been brewing for quite a while; it was started in 1967. So old, that in fact, The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones played saxophone on the song in 1967, which came out almost a year after he died in his swimming pool in mid-1969.

Fun fact: There are two versions of “Let It Be” – the album and single versions were different recordings altogether. Listen to the guitar solo!

Cheap Trick

“All I Really Want To Do” (B-side to “She’s Tight”) 1982

Sometimes the best songs are the hardest to find….

By the time One On One, Cheap Trick’s sixth studio album (and seventh overall) album was released in May, 1982, the band was on the downslide of its initial fame. Original bassist Tom Petersson had bailed two years earlier, and after touring with an ill-fitting replacement, the band added Jon Brant on bass, who proved to be a competent, if not entirely generic replacement.

The Rockford, Illinois quartet’s first Petersson-free album, One On One, produced by Roy Thomas Baker was either a return to form or a noisy mess, depending on who you ask. Thirty-seven years later, it hasn’t aged as well as some of the band’s other discs but did contain two pop nuggets – the singles “If You Want My Love” and “She’s Tight.”  It was the second single that contained this classic B-side, which would’ve been one of the highlights of the album, had it been included.

Fun fact: Videos for One On One’s two singles were shot in the same day.

“Thought The Night” (B-side to “The Flame”) 1988

Fast forward six years, and suddenly Cheap Trick has a second wind. After a slight career boost (the Standing On The Edge album) and a fail (The Doctor album), Cheap Trick reunited with wayward bassist Tom Petersson and was met with renewed interest from Epic Records, which resulted in the hit album Lap Of Luxury and the #1 hit single “The Flame.”

Cheap Trick’s first (and only) #1 hit single.

All good, right? Not really. Sure, record sales, airplay and concert attendees are all a good thing, but these things came as a result of force-feeding the band songs from outside writers, a slap in the face of Rick Nielsen, who wrote virtually all the songs in the band’s career.

But – in true major label record company style, a classic tune emerged NOT on the album, but was hidden in the wilderness of a hit single’s B-side. Sure, a #1 for two weeks Billboard Magazine Hot 100 bona fide hit single, but was sadly relegated to the flip side. Give it a listen – it sure as hell is better than most of the track on Lap Of Luxury!

 Fun fact: “Through The Night” finally had a CD release on Cheap Trick’s 1996 box set, Sex America Cheap Trick.

The 1970s are dead. The 1980s are all about the money!

Asia

“Ride Easy” (B-side to “Heat Of The Moment” AND “Only Time Will Tell”) 1982

Asia – an early 1980s supergroup, made up of former members of Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Buggles, King Crimson and more – had the biggest selling album of 1982. No less than six of its nine tracks were radio hits, something that hadn’t been seen in a debut album since The Cars in 1978.

But one of the best songs ended up never ended up on the album. For whatever reason, song number ten missed out on the 12” vinyl album. It’s a shame, because it’s better than the three songs that didn’t get any radio play.

Fun fact: Upon the band’s reformation in 2005, the band performed the entire debut album. AND “Ride Easy.”

 “Daylight” (B-side to “Don’t Cry”) 1983

If some is good, more is better. The record company wanted more of that 1982 Asia magic, so it hooked its wagon to the Downes/Wetton writing team that penned “Heat Of The Moment” and the other radio hits. Needless to say, lightning rarely strikes twice, and, of course, the second album was a bit of a damp squib. (Whatever that means.)

Whatever. Alpha, the 1983 follow-up album didn’t come close to the quality or commercial benchmark set by the debut 18 months earlier. Even the B-side of the lead-off single, “Don’t Cry,” was less not up to the quality of the other songs on the album, unlike “Ride Easy.” It DID make some noise on the FM dial in 1983, but quickly was forgotten.

Fun fact: “Daylight” also was part of the record company scam to goad consumers into buying the cassette and not the vinyl record.

“Lying To Yourself” (B-side to “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes”) 1983

A # 34 hit in late 1983.

By the time “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was released as Alpha’s second single, Asia’s ship had sailed. Vocalist/bassist John Wetton was sacked, the much-hyped “Asia in Asia” contest on MTV was a generic, paint-by-the-numbers concert (with Greg Lake handling bass and vocals in place of Wetton) and, by that late date (less than two years after the debut album hit, the band had run its course.

But, on the flip side of the final single of the classic era, a John Wetton/Steve Howe track emerged as clue to what could’ve been had the suits not elbowed Steve Howe out of the creative process. Oh well, it only took 23 years to get the original lineup back together again. Time wounds all heels.

Fun fact: “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” was Asia’s fourth (and final) Top 40 hit single.

Three Emotional Concerts I Have Attended

It goes something like this – you like a band, you buy their albums, and when they hit your city, you buy tickets to the big rock show. They come out and play their songs, the fans go crazy, the band gets paid, everybody goes home happy. That’s how it works 99.9% of the time. Once in a while, there is a concert that is somehow emotional. That’s because something happens with the band, there’s something that happens that reminds us rock stars are only human, and they’re all susceptible to the same problems all of us face. So, it’s nice to see when they overcome their problems.

Cheap Trick
July 29, 1988
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

$20 is all it took to see this concert

Background: Nobody worked harder to get to the top than Cheap Trick. Between 1974 and 1978, the band scratched out a cult following, playing every dive and special guest slot nationwide. Finally, it all came together following a fluke of a live album, and then it was time to put the bow on in. Headlining arena shows by 1980, the band headed into the studio with the holy grail of rock producers, George Martin. Time to become all-time legends.

But things weren’t all rosy in the inner sanctum. Bassist Tom Petersson was burning out, being pulled one way by his wife and losing interest in being one of the cogs in the Cheap Trick machine. So, in August 1980, he dropped out, right on the eve of the release of the Martin-produced All Shook Up.

Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander and Pete Comita, a.k.a. the faux Tom Petersson

Although he was quickly replaced on tour by doppelgänger Pete Comita, the damage was done. Like KISS (and unlike Supertramp), Cheap Trick was a “personality” band – meaning the loss of one member was a body blow that would be hard to recover from. See, fans are funny about stuff like this; they feel if the members of the band don’t care, why should they? So, All Shook Up didn’t live up to its predecessors both artistically or commercially, and the next four albums did little to heal that wound. By the time late 1986’s The Doctor was released, did anybody care anymore? Cheap Trick was a relic of the pre-MTV era of rock.

By 1988, any bad feelings between Petersson and the other members of Cheap Trick had dissipated – and suddenly the original quartet was back together. For better or worse, record company politics force fed the band a boatload of material, relegating chief songwriter Rick Nielsen to the minority position. But out of the wind and fury, the band did manage to start having hits again, most notably “The Flame,” a somewhat generic ballad that hit #1 on the singles chart the same month as the concert, which saw the band opening for Robert Plant, who suddenly remembered he used to be in a band called Led Zeppelin. 

The #1 hit single that changed everything

Why it was emotional: Because everybody loves an against all odds comeback, to paraphrase Phil Collins. The band delivered a tight 11-song set, mixing classics with three of the new songs. Starting the set with 1980’s “Just Got Back” was a great way to start things off. And things only got better after that.

Cheap Trick opened for Robert Plant in the summer of 1988

Setlist:

  • Just Got Back
  • On Top of the World
  • Let Go
  • Dream Police
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • She’s Tight
  • I Know What I Want
  • California Man
  • The Flame
  • I Want You to Want Me
  • Surrender

Rush
June 28, 2002
Meadows Music Theatre
Hartford, CT

Background: Rush had been an arena-filling band since 1981’s Moving Pictures hit the stores in 1981, and the band worked pretty steadily since then, doing the album/tour treadmill thing. Finally, after the 1996-1997 Test For Echo tour campaign ended, tragedy struck drummer Neil Peart. First, his daughter was killed in a car accident, and less than a year later, his wife died of cancer. Following these tragedies, he announced “consider me retired” to his bandmates.

It took five years before the world saw another Rush album. 2002’s Vapor Trails was a departure sonically, a dense soundscape that featured neither keyboards or guitar solos. In addition, its “loud” (aka over compressed) sound angered fans, similar to Metallica’s 2003 release, St. Anger.

In 2013, a remixed version of Vapor Trails was released.

Why it was emotional: For years, it looked like the end of the road for Rush. There was no movement inside the tent, only a solo release from each of the other two members and a live album, that par for the course of the sequence of the band’s usual practice of four studio/one live album. In addition, The Who’s bassist John Entwistle had died earlier in the week. And since it was first night of tour, everybody in attendance (both on and off the stage) knew what a big this show was.

Setlist:

Set 1:

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Distant Early Warning
  • New World Man
  • Roll the Bones
  • Earthshine
  • YYZ
  • The Pass
  • Bravado
  • The Big Money
  • Between Sun and Moon
  • Vital Signs
  • Natural Science

Set 2:

  • One Little Victory
  • Driven
  • Ceiling Unlimited
  • Secret Touch
  • Dreamline
  • Red Sector A
  • Leave That Thing Alone
  • Drum Solo
  • Resist
  • 2112 Part I: Overture
  • 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
  • Limelight
  • La Villa Strangiato
  • The Spirit of Radio

Encore:

  • By-Tor & The Snow Dog
  • Cygnus X-1 (Prologue)
  • Working Man

The Rolling Stones
August 1, 2019
MetLife Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ

The Rolling Stones are back!

Background: The Rolling Stones have been around since 1962 – and spent the rest of the 20th century releasing albums and touring. But by 2002, things slowed down. Longer gaps between albums and tours. After 1997, only one more album of original is issued (2005’s A Bigger Bang) and a blues cover album (2016’s Blue & Lonesome.) Three career-spanning greatest hits albums are released, not to mention a handful of live albums, both current and “from the vaults.”

After ignoring the northeast (for the most part) since 2006, The Stones finally scheduled two shows at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. (It had been so long since the last appearance in New Jersey, that the old venue – Giants Stadium – had been razed and the new stadium built.) Suddenly, there was a health crisis in the band.

That’s right – let’s all blame Keith Richards!

Of course, everybody pointed their fingers at guitarist Keith Richards, as he was voted “most likely to croak” in the band. But amazingly, it was lean and fit Mick Jagger that was the one who needed medical help. Turns out he had a defective heart valve, and replacement surgery was able to correct things.

My blind date for the concert…

Why it was emotional: For years, we’ve all thought that any minute it could all be over for The Rolling Stones. While their best years are obviously behind them, they put on a smoking, two-hour show at MetLife, with the band as energetic as they were in 1981, the first time I saw them.

In addition, I suddenly found myself single at the date of the concert. Solution: Invite a woman I met on eHarmony to the concert. I never met her until we walked in the gates of the stadium together. A splendid time was had by all! Hear all about about my date here!

Setlist:

  • Street Fighting Man
  • Let’s Spend the Night Together
  • Tumbling Dice
  • She’s a Rainbow
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  • Sweet Virginia
  • Dead Flowers
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • Honky Tonk Women
  • Slipping Away
  • Before They Make Me Run
  • Miss You
  • Paint It Black
  • Midnight Rambler
  • Start Me Up
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  • Brown Sugar

Encore:

  • Gimme Shelter
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

If Some is Good, Than More is Better!

One thing that most people tend to forget – that the second word in the phrase “music business” is BUSINESS. Artists are often accused of being “too commercial,” like being successful is a bad thing.

Sure, there’s always heaps of pressure to deliver a hit –  whether it’s from yourself (remember Michael Jackson and his note to self on the mirror after Thriller?), or the record company that pumped a lot of $$$ into you, your A&R man (not a lot of women in that position – so I call it like I see it) also has to answer to a suit, your booking agent is rooting for you because the more success you have at retail and radio (two ancient terms that once meant something), the more tickets you’ll sell at your local concert hall. And concert attendees buy drinks, T-shirts and pay for parking. A lot of responsibility in that trickle-down chain, right?

When China Kantner became a VJ, it was all over.

Some artists (say, Nirvana) have a hit album and then wish they didn’t, judging by the follow-up, some (Oasis) try too hard and fall flat, and yet others (read on!), go all out for the hit singles. Oddly enough, despite the commercial heights these songs reached, none of the singles are considered among the best that the artist released. Also note that all these releases came after MTV officially jumped the shark, which was around the end of 1985. And sharp-eyed and eared readers will notice by the time the fourth video came along, things pretty much were in the toilet as far as good tunes go. But then again, all of these albums topped the charts.

Huey Lewis & The News – Fore! (1986)

Top ten singles: Five

  • Stuck With You (#1)
  • Hip To Be Square (#3)
  • Jacob’s Ladder (#1)
  • I Know What I Like (#9)
  • Doin’ It All For My Baby (#6)

Huey Lewis & The News were a likable bunch of all-American guys. They had all been around the block a few times – Huey was actually 30 when the band’s debut dropped in 1980. A second, moderately successful album (Picture This) followed in 1982, and the mega-hit Sports hit the airwaves in late 1983.

Sports wasn’t just a hit album – it was a monster,  keeping pace with that year’s big boys, Bruce Springsteen and Prince. Hit single after hit single came and went, and just when things couldn’t get any better, a #1 soundtrack song, “The Power of Love” from Back To The Future, became the summer hit of 1985.

Then, of course, comes the dreaded moment when a follow-up album is required. No pressure. So Huey and the boys recorded Fore!, a hit-filled juggernaut that went straight to the top of the charts. (As did two of its singles.) The verdict? A Picture This/Sports light – plenty of hits and hooks, but lacking some of the bite of earlier work. There were no dark moments like the ones the band had previously recorded (such as “The Only One” or “Walking on a Thin Line”).  It didn’t seem like the band was going for hits – it was just the way things worked out. A bunch of high-profile videos didn’t hurt the project either. Problem is, that the last couple of singles were so lame, that even Richard Marx would’ve laughed at them.

What happened next:

The band’s fifth album, the overly-ambitious Small World, was released in 1988, and contained only one top ten hit, “Perfect World.” The band’s winning streak ended there and then. One more album of new material by the original lineup followed, 1991’s Hard At Play) before the band descended into the abyss of recording oldies albums, lineup changes and playing dumpier and dumpier dives.

Fun fact: Huey Lewis played harmonica on Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous album.

Self-serving fact: I attended the May 1, 1987 Huey Lewis & The News concert in Hartford, CT.

Bon Jovi – New Jersey (1988)

Top ten singles: Five

  • Bad Medicine (#1)
  • Born To Be My Baby (#3)
  • I’ll Be There For You (#1)
  • Lay Your Hands On Me (#7)
  • Living in Sin (#9)

Bon Jovi gained a following from the word go. Its 1984 debut single “Runaway” became a moderate radio and MTV favorite, and the band’s first two albums Bon Jovi and 7800º Fahrenheit – (I didn’t even know these clowns could spell Fahrenheit) were kind of cult favorites for the “metal light” crowd.   

But all that changed in 1986: Slippery When Wet was released and the singles and videos launched “chick metal” into the world. (Yes, Def Leppard treaded that path a few years earlier, but at they kept their street cred and it wasn’t wrong for a guy to like them.) Now BJ was all over the place – they had a profound effect on radio, video and culture at large. Not many can claim that.

But of all the acts listed here, Bon Jovi went for “if it worked last time, it’ll work this time!) – see how “Bad Medicine” was “You Give Love A Bad Name” junior. Same with “Born To Be My Baby” & “Livin’ On A Prayer.” They also went for “if some is good, more is better!” (hence the blog title) as far as singles go – there were three last time, let’s go for more this time!

And so it worked. But we’ve all seen the Behind the Music where the band got burned out after a long tour.

What happened next:

The band scattered, solo records were released and who the hell knew what the future held. But they did get back together, in height of the grunge era, and recorded a darker (and far better) album, Keep The Faith. The singles weren’t as plentiful, but, by that late date, the era of the hit album/single/video/tour was over and the band tours more on its legacy status than due to any new material. A couple of members have jumped ship, but the band is still out there, cranking out the hits live.

Fun fact: “Runaway” was originally recorded in 1982.

Self-serving fact: I attended the Bon Jovi/Billy Squier/Skid Row concert at Giant’s Stadium on June 11, 1989.

Phil Collins – …But Seriously (1989)

Top ten singles: Four

  • Another Day in Paradise (#1)
  • I Wish it Would Rain Down (#3)
  • Something Happened On The Way To Heaven (#4)
  • Do You Remember? (#4)

Plus:

  • Hang in Long Enough (#23) – FLOP!

Phil Collins – the largest selling male pop artist of the 1980s, right? Yup. Due to his work as drummer slash vocalist of Genesis, his solo career, his production efforts (Eric Clapton, Frida, Phillip Bailey, etc.,) together, and it was no wonder this guy could afford three very expensive divorces.

Actually, I could’ve used Genesis in this list, as the Invisible Touch album boasted five hit singles, and the band’s next album (We Can’t Dance) was definitely darker and less commercial. But poor old Phil suffered sort of a nervous breakdown at that point, cheated on wife #2 and left the old boys in the band to their own devices.

But back to Phil! Like Huey and Bon, Phil caught fire with his third album (No Jacket Required) and the singles and videos were all over the place, not to mention his album sitting at the top of the charts in the era of Madonna, Prince and Bruce. Like Huey, Phil comes across as a nice guy. (Word on the street is that Jon Bon Jovi is an asshole.) There is something likable with him, and so you root for them to succeed.

So unlike the other two, Phil had the little task of writing, recording and touring a Genesis album before getting back to his solo career. That album, Invisible Touch, was the top of the mountain for Genesis, racking up multiple hit singles and sold-out stadium shows. Then, after that tour was over with, he acted in a movie. Oh yeah, lobbed another two quick hits to #1 from the aforementioned flick.

But Phil, perhaps wanting to shed his “nice Mr. Everyguy” image, wrote about homelessness for his first single off of …But Seriously. (Hence the clever title.) It was the post Live Aid/Band Aid/U.S.A. For Africa era, so making a social statement seemed like the thing to do. And, like the other two acts listed here, the singles seemed on the “light” side – none of the edginess of his earlier work.

What happened next:

Our boy first released a live CD in late 1990. Then he went back to Genesis to record and tour the We Can’t Dance (1991) album. He became overwhelmed at the entire machine of it all, had an affair, wrecked his marriage. Recorded studio album #5 (Both Sides of the Story) and ended up quitting Genesis in 1996. Read his autobiography Not Dead Yet to learn the “other side of the story.”

Fun fact: …But Seriously was the only rock album chart topper in a long drought for rock albums in 1989-1991. Thanks, Milli Vanilli!

Self-serving fact: I had tickets for a Phil Collins concert in New Jersey on this tour – and it was one of the few shows postponed shows.

Send in the Clones!

Can you match the moustache with the band?

Let’s go back to the mid/late 1970s: Rock and roll bands are big business. Arenas are filled with “youts” seeing their favorite bands for $7.50 a pop. An umbrella of marijuana haze hangs over the room.  Firecrackers are thrown, kids are puking up the Southern Comfort they smuggled in. Life is good.

The golden age of arena rock!

But who is playing on the big stage? Bands of that era are full of guys with long dark hair and moustaches. While parents are complaining that all these bands sound alike (wrong), they always fail to bring up the argument (and win!) that they all DO look alike. Would an audience notice if Boston’s Barry Goudreau subed on stage for BOC’s Buck Dharma? (Or vice versa?) What if Jefferson Starship’s Mickey Thomas crooned “Africa” fronting Toto while Bobby Kimball was in Betty Ford? Would the arena erupt in violence? Doubtful. Highly doubtful.

So here you go – four dudes, four bands. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to match the moustache with the band. Good luck.

Band: Blue Öyster Cult
Signature Hit: (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
Member: Buck Dharma
Fun Fact: Buck’s real name is Donald Bruce Roeser
What He Doesn’t Want You To Know: Dharma tops out at a petite 5’ 2”

The jolly boys of Blue Öyster Cult, back in the glory days.

Long considered “the thinking man’s rock band,” Blue Öyster Cult (or simply BOC) had a long and storied past before their debut album dropped in 1972. After which, the band slugged it out on the early/mid 1970s hard rock circuit until, like many others (KISS, Cheap Trick, Bob Seger, Frampton, Rush, REO Speedwagon, et al.) a live album (1975’s On Your Feet or On Your Knees) brought them to mainstream prominence.

Of course, when it came time for the studio follow-up, a classic was required, just as BOC’s contemporaries were doing: KISS had Destroyer, Seger had Night Moves and Rush released A Farewell To Kings. BOC came through with its most-beloved LP, Agents Of Fortune. The album contained the Dharma-penned and sung “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”. It became BOC’s highest-charting hit (#12) and a rock radio staple that is still played like it’s 1976 all over again. And finally, it gave Saturday Night Live its last relevant cultural moment with the “More Cowbell” skit.  

Downside: Dharma and fellow BOC co-founder Eric Bloom still tour with a version of the band today.

Band: Jefferson Starship
Signature Hit: Jane
Member: Mickey Thomas
Fun Fact: Thomas was lead vocalist on Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”
What He Doesn’t Want You To Know: He got his ass kicked by his Starship bandmate, drummer Donnie Baldwin, in a post-gig barroom fight in 1989

Jefferson Starship: Isn’t anybody having fun here?

Jefferson Starship was the 1970s successor to Jefferson Airplane, one of the most revered bands of the late 1960s counterculture. While the Airplane had everything that hippies wanted in a band (San Francisco! Woodstock and Altamont! Songs about drugs!), the Jefferson Starship (not to be confused with its follow-up band Starship), played it safe, churning out rather pedestrian AOR music.

While members came and went (and went and came), there was a point when the only Airplane member was the crabby old hippie, Paul Kantner, as Grace Slick was tied up in rehab and Marty Balin handed in his notice. With no relations (bar Kantner) tying them to the past, the band morphed more and more into a “corporate rock” act, until Kantner left the party, taking “Jefferson” with him and the rest of the guys (and girl) became Starship, which is a story for another time…

Downside: “Jane’s” descendants include Aldo Nova’s “Fantasy” and Bon Jovi’s “Runaway.”

Band: Toto
Signature Hit: Africa
Member: Bobby Kimball
Fun Fact: Pre-Toto, he sang for the unsuccessful Three Dog Night spinoff group, S.S. Fools
What He Doesn’t Want You To Know: It’s either Toto’s “Rosanna” or “Africa” video – we report, you decide

Toto: The uncoolest-looking band in rock history!

Wow, Toto. What can you say about Toto? A group of Foreigner or Journey wannabes? (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) That they were the most dorky (not to mention pretentious) looking band ever? (Lose the glasses, dudes!) That’s bad enough – but far worse, these guys played on Steely Dan albums. Or even more egregiously, they released a single titled “Georgy Porgy.” (OK, I’ll stop here…)

Although the band hit right out of the land of Oz with “Hold The Line” in 1978, they meandered through the next two albums, and then with Toto IV (Chicago’s lawyers – call your office for copyright infringement), hit their stride with the mega-singles “Rosanna” and “Africa.” After which, these clowns couldn’t hold it together for another album – Kimball was booted for drug use, members started leaving and the band couldn’t get another big hit to save its life. Fake Bobby Kimballs have come and gone, members have croaked and yet the band plays on.

Downside: Toto: Coming to a mid-sized theatre near you!

Band: Boston
Signature Hit: More Than A Feeling
Member: Barry Goudreau
Fun Fact: He was the first band member jettisoned by buzzkill Boston leader, Tom Scholz, following the successful
Don’t Look Back album and tour
What He Doesn’t Want You To Know: The band never played a note of music before an audience until after their debut album was released

Boston: Four men and an afro.

Ah, 1976. That’s when the best feel-good “stoner dude whose catatonic state doesn’t allow him to notice that his chick has left him in his reverie” song became an all-time rock classic, right? Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” and eponymous debut album became instant hits, and the band went from opening for Black Sabbath to headlining arenas rather quickly.

Unlike the others in this blog post, Barry Goudreau was NOT the vocalist with Boston. (Brad Delp was.) However, Goudreau played lead and rhythm guitar for the band. But one dirty little secret about Boston (the album AND the band): It was mastermind Tom Scholz who played the entire album (except for drums and vocals) and the rest of the band were late-to-the-party hired guns.

Although they all played on Boston’s sophomore album, Don’t Look Back, relationships between Scholz and all members not named Brad Delp soured (for various reasons) soon afterwards, and Goudreau got the boot, mostly because CBS promoted his 1980 solo album as “Almost Boston!” Oops. By the time Boston’s Third Stage album was released in September 1986, Goudreau was a mere footnote in the band’s legacy, along with former bandmates, drummer Sib Hashian (R.I.P.) and bassist Fran Sheehan. Don’t mess with Tom Scholz, he’ll sue anybody.

Downside: Boston’s 1976 debut has sold more than 17 million copies; its latest effort, 2013’s Life, Love & Hope, less than 25,000.