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.

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 “Living 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. 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.

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 other 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.

Cover Me!

There’s always been a  lot of emphasis is on album cover art – and why not? Visuals are often as an important part of the band’s image as the music contained within. Some album covers have become as iconic as the music (Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon), some far more famous than the music (The Velvet Underground & Nico) and some are interesting but make absolutely no sense (Scorpions – Animal Magnetism).

That said, at the risk of sounding like a crabby-ass old hermit, the golden age of classic album art is gone. Sure, album art websites try to convince us to believe that Katy Perry, Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga album covers rank among the greats; trust me, they don’t. It’s all over but the crying, so let’s visit a few album covers that have some connection to something else. Or not.

Pink Floyd and Cinderella

It’s small, but it’s there!

I’m sure plenty of stoner college students had this poster in their dorms.

Actually, the image in question isn’t the cover – it’s found inside the gatefold of the Floyd’s 1975 opus, Wish You Were Here. The front, as we all know, is the man shaking hands with the burning man, taken at a studio lot in California. It was designed by Storm Thorgerson, who along with Aubrey Powell founded Hipgnosis, who created a bunch of covers for quirky British bands – T. Rex, The Nice and UFO – before hitting pay dirt with the aforementioned Pink Floyd, which brought their work into the spotlight. (And then started attracting more mainstream bands – Led Zeppelin, Bad Company and Styx, among others.)

But come back inside to see a small picture of a man diving into a strange-looking body of water without causing ripples. (It was actually a shot of a man performing an underwater handstand.) Though no location was given, the shot took place in California’s Mono Lake, which is inland, quite close to the Nevada border. Mono Lake is in an endorheic basin (that’s for all the geology geeks out there) that produces high levels of salt and alkaline. Its distinctive (and prehistoric-looking) limestone tufa towers are its most iconic feature.

But Floyd’s album isn’t the only time Mono Lake turned up in the rock world; cue 1988, a time when big-hair pop/metal/rock bands roamed the earth. Cinderella’s “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” (#12 on US Hot 100) used Mono Lake as the backdrop for its video of the song; once again, the tufa towers prominent. Not sure how many viewers recognized the location from their crazy uncle’s vinyl collection.

The Beach Boys and The Carpenters

In America, if you were young and bursting with musical talent in the early/mid 1960s, it seemed that California (particularly Los Angeles) was the place to be. Some were fortunate to be born and raised there (The Beach Boys), while others (The Carpenters) migrated from the much more-dreary city of New Haven, CT. (At least they weren’t from Waterbury.) No matter, everybody was out there having fun, in the warm California sun.

Surfin’ Safari: The Beach Boys’ debut was released 10/1/1962.

Although they weren’t the first to combine surfing and rock, The Beach Boys got the nation amped on the idea of riding some tasty waves. (Even though drummer Dennis Wilson was the only member who actually hung ten.) Therefore, it was a natural that their album covers would feature America’s band with surfboards and a woodie. (Take your mind out of the gutter – according to the lord of knowledge – Wikipedia – a woodie is a car body style with rear bodywork constructed of wood framework with infill wood panels.) So, it makes all the sense in the world that cover of The Beach Boys debut album (called LPs in those days), Surfin’ Safari, was taken in a hot surfing spot, Paradise Cove.

Did Karen have any trouble trekking down the steep cliffs in those shoes?

In 1970, when pop duo The Carpenters were recording their sophomore effort, Close to You, a quick cover shot was required. It was so rushed, that in fact, the band had to get back to the recording studio that night to continue recording the album named after its #1 hit title track. Quick fix – they took a jaunt down to Lunada Bay (close to Paradise Cove – though maybe not by L.A. standards) for the cover shot for the duo’s first hit album. Oddly enough, they didn’t look worse for the wear considering they traversed the rugged the trail down to the water.

Lunada Bay was also in the news this decade: Its notorious local “surf gang” claimed exclusive use of its legendary waves, keeping outsiders out by threats and intimidation: Throwing rocks at interlopers, slashing the tires of outsiders and ganging up on those who did manage to get their boards in the water. The battle rages on.

Chicago and Wilco (with a little help from Sly and the Family Stone thrown in for good measure)

The beginning of the end for Chicago. Or the end of the beginning, perhaps.

A Chicago landmark has been used by two bands – Chicago and Wilco. Aside from that fact that both bands were formed in The Windy City, there is little else they have in common. Wilco, the Jeff Tweety-fronted band, formed from the ashes of an early critical darling (but commercially unsuccessful) band, the alt-country (the fact that I’m even typing “alt-country” makes me sound like a douchebag hipster) Uncle Tupelo (which itself was a product of another failure, The Primitives).  That’s all I can say about Wilco.

OK, another thing Chicago and Wilco have in common – someday Wilco will join their horny homeboys in the vaunted Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That’s because Wilco is a critic’s wet dream – especially in light of their Yankee Foxtrot Hotel tale. (Google it, please.) That said, they are the absolute dreariest band ever – they make Radiohead (another critic’s darling) sound like Slayer.

Whatever. Anyway, the cover of the aforementioned YHF album features the towers of Marina City in Chicago. The same set of towers was used (with artistic liberty) on Chicago’s 13, the band’s, well, 13th album. Thirteen was an unlucky number for Chicago, as it sold poorly and spawning no hit singles. Guitarist Donnie Dacus, who has the daunting task of taking over for the late Terry Kath, either quit or was fired after the release of the album. (Chicago’s next album, XIV, was even a bigger flop – so bad that the band got booted off their record label, but that’s a story for another time.)

Bonus fact! The Marina City towers appear in the collage on the back of Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 album There’s A Riot Goin’ On. Where have you gone, Sylvester?

Badlands – No Longer Available…

Tight pants were a requirement for the band.

It’s been a long time since I rock and rolled….

Well, as I was saying, when I was so rudely interrupted, welcome back!

Let’s rewind back to 1986/1987; if you were paying attention to the hard rock and metal scene, a few minor incidents happened with veteran acts, which, on the surface, meant little, but ultimately laid the groundwork for a metal “supergroup.” (To use that term loosely.) It all started with the 1982 plane crash that killed Ozzy Osbourne’s wunderkind guitarist, Randy Rhodes. After running through two temps (Bernie “Don’t Call Me Mel” Torme and Night Ranger’s Brad Gillis), the Oz camp finally settled on Jake E. Lee (narrowly beating out George Lynch, later of Dokken fame) as the permanent replacement.

Lee lasted two albums (Bark at the Moon and The Ultimate Sin) and tours; his overall treatment, lopsided contract and firing is well documented. (Google it if you don’t know that long, drawn-out tale.) Wanting a fresh start, Lee looked to put together his own band.

Concurrently, the 1984 resumption of the Mark II version of Deep Purple also played a major role; it forced Black Sabbath’s one-off 1983 lineup of original members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward and former (and soon-to-be future) Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan to split in March 1984, with Ward and Butler also bailing.

(Left to right): Greg Chaisson, Eric Singer, Ray Gillen, Jake E. Lee

Iommi’s next release, The Seventh Star (1986), featuring vocalist Glenn Hughes, was “forced” into using the Black Sabbath moniker, but there remained the minor task of finding a new band to tour as Sabbath. Unfortunately, Hughes was sacked a few dates into the tour; local joker Ray Gillen was selected as his replacement. Hiring an unknown vocalist to front a legendary band mid-tour probably wasn’t going to work; needless to say, things broke down quickly. An attempt to have the touring outfit record new material was DOA; all the members went their separate ways, once again, leaving Iommi as the last man standing.

But Gillen got noticed, and soon enough, he (along with ex-tour mate, drummer Eric Singer), signed up with Lee. Rounded out by ex-Steeler (a failed band that launched the careers of Yngwie Malmsteen and Ron Keel) bassist Greg Chaisson, the band was quickly signed to Atlantic and released its debut album in 1989. (Around this time, Mr. Big and Blue Murder, both odds and ends collections of semi-famous rockers, debuted.)

The resulting debut, Badlands, was released mid-1989 and was a moderate success, peaking at #57 on the Billboard Top 200. Critical reviews were good – Rolling Stone magazine eventually ranked it #35 on the list of top hair metal albums of all time. The album, a blusey hard rock disc, quickly became a hit for fans of the genre, as well as a cult favorite.

But from the word go, things went wrong. First, Eric Singer bailed for greener pastures; playing with Alice Cooper, Paul Stanley’s solo band, pre-production sessions for The Cult’s Ceremony album and soon after landing the permanent drummer in KISS. Eventually he put on the makeup and became the fake Peter Criss. Then, of course, by 1990, the type of music embraced by Badlands fans had pretty much had run out of steam; 1991’s follow up was a flop.

So why, as a fan favorite and cult status album put out of print? Wouldn’t a label like Rock Candy or Music for Nations be interested? Why are prices on the used market such as Amazon or eBay sky high?

It’s all because of the reprehensible behavior of singer Ray Gillen. Ray, it seems, at one point, got into some heavy-duty drugs, which is not an aberration for a rock star in the 1980s. (Or any other decade, it seems.) But luck wasn’t on his side, and he contracted HIV, most likely from an unclean needle. Again, not altogether uncommon; CCR’s Tom Fogerty contracted HIV via a tainted blood transfusion in the Bay area, mid-1980s, during back surgery.

But – Gillen, knowing he was infected, knowingly slept with multiple woman, passing the virus along and ruining the lives of those women and their families. Although details are sketchy about the number of women involved, the end result was that Atlantic discontinued production of both Badlands albums and locked up the master tapes. Although this was normal practice for a slow-selling catalog album, the band always maintained a solid fanbase and there were always requests for a reissue. Although some indy labels expressed interest, due to lawsuits brought by the infected women have forever prevented the album from being reissued.

Badlands received some renewed interest when Lee finally surfaced with his new band, Red Dragon Cartel, in 2014. The tour featured new material, Ozzy tracks that Lee originally played on, and yes, Badlands favorites. A follow-up album is due out in late 2018.

Worst Replacement Band Members

The only constant is change, and bands change members all the time. It can be different, but just as good (Brian Johnson for Bon Scott; AC/DC); sometimes it’s a wash (Timothy B. Schmidt for Randy Meisner; Eagles); while other times it makes the purists crazy (Mathias Jabs for Uli Roth; Scorpions).

Then there’s the old “there’s nothing wrong with the replacement, we just want our old guy back” situation (Jimmy Crespo for Joe Perry; Aerosmith); the par for the course replacement (anybody not named David Coverdale; Whitesnake); and when it’s so late in the day that it really doesn’t matter (Lawence Gowan for Dennis DeYoung; Styx). But sometimes somebody is so bad (or ill-fitting) of a replacement player that it actually brings everything to a screeching halt.

Who thought B.J. Hunnicutt was a good idea?

Let’s take a look at changes in a different type of entertainment, the television industry; specifically the long-running sitcom, M*A*S*H. Actually, M*A*S*H started life as a novel, was made into a movie and finally a hit TV show. Talk to any of the purists, and they’ll tell you it was the first three seasons are the only ones that matter. Once Henry Blake and Trapper John checked out, the show lost its edginess and got all preachy as its tone mirrored the moral outrage of its stars. There was talk of “character development,” and everybody started getting all politically correct and self-righteous on us. Miles away from the hard drinking, skirt chasing antics of the original characters.

But the worst gaffe was the creation of B.J. Hunnicutt, Trapper John’s replacement. There was nothing edgy or funny about him (not to mention likable); worse, his hair and moustache made him look like a 1970s minor league porn star, not an early-1950s draftee. There is one stretch in the series when B.J. and Hawkeye constantly engage in the worst display of snappy dialog this side of “Gilmour Girls.” But the nadir is a scene where B.J., missing his family, ends the episode sobbing like a six year-old who didn’t pass the audition for the cheerleading squad.

The worst part of all of this was that it was dumped on us suddenly; not gradually, as in Bruce Springsteen’s transformation from everyguy rocker to an unpleasant, bitter little man, scolding anybody who disagrees with him. It’s also important to note that Mike Farrell had two seconds of fame before M*A*S*H (as a waiter in “The Graduate”) and exactly zero seconds of fame after it ended its run. Shows you exactly how much appeal that guy had…

But back to the music! Here are the five of the most ill-fitting replacement replacements (along with one bonus award). In all instances, the new guy was replaced by the very same person HE replaced.

Johnny Edwards – Foreigner
He replaced: Lou Gramm

Why he failed: If Foreigner’s history was any indication, Lou Gramm bailing wouldn’t derail the band; there were some personnel changes that lopped a couple of deadwood members off, and in a case of addition by subtraction, the band became more successful than ever. Besides, guitarist Mick Jones helped produce 5150, the album where David Lee Roth was replaced by Sammy Hagar. That looked easy and worked out well – what could possibly go wrong?

Everything, as it turned out. Despite Foreigner being the poster child for “faceless corporate bands, Gramm was more vital to the sound of the band than insiders thought. And, although Edwards was a capable vocalist, the songwriting and production bordered on dull. very dull. As in Brian Howe-era Bad Company dull. Fortunately, the following year, Jones and Gramm teamed up again, although their second act didn’t produce any memorable material.

Vital Stats:
Albums: One (Unusual Heat, 1991)
Tours: One
Replaced by: Lou Gramm
Embarrassing moment: Edwards is no longer in the music industry – he now punches the clock in a tech industry cube farm.

John Corabi – Motley Crue
He replaced: Vince Neil

Why he failed: Probably more of a case of bad timing than anything else. Vince Neil’s departure came at a strange time. The band had recently released Decade of Decadence, its follow-up to its #1 Dr. Feelgood, as well as signing a huge new contract with Electra. The replacement? Former Scream (who?) frontman John Corabi.

Although a superior vocalist to Neil, nobody could accept Motley’s new, serious material or the new image. The album came out nearly five years after Feelgood, and the music world had changed greatly since then. Needless to say, the album tanked, the tour suffered and record company pressure forced the band to reinstate Neil. Like Foreigner, the reunited band never came anywhere close their former glories. Motley Crue officially disbanded in 2015.

Vital Stats:
Albums: One (Motley Crue, 1994)
Tours: One
Replaced by: Vince Neil
Embarrassing moment: Nikki Sixx called Crue’s one album with Corabi “very unfocused” and that writing for it was “painful.”

Blaze Bayley – Iron Maiden
He replaced: Bruce Dickenson

Why he failed: Along with Judas Priest’s Rob Halford, Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson is one of the rare, top-tier metal vocalists. How do you replace him? You don’t. But unlike Priest, who went with a Halford vocal clone, Maiden took another route altogether; they replaced “the air raid siren” with a singer whose tone was closer to Type O Negative territory than anything that resembled the legacy of Maiden’s golden decade.

Remarkably, there were hundreds of tapes from wannabes to the throne; how Bayley got picked is still a mystery. But unlike the other bands here, Bruce Dickenson has no issue with performing a couple of the Bayley-era songs in concert.

Vital Stats:
Albums: Two (The X Factor, 1995 & Virtual XI, 1998)
Tours: Two
Replaced by: Bruce Dickenson
Embarrassing moment: Bayley’s first outing with Maiden was a club tour.

Ray Wilson – Genesis
He replaced: Phil Collins

Phil Collins was a ubiquitous force in the 1980s. Despite not being the most dynamic vocalist, his voice, drums and production work ruled the decade. Between Genesis, solo work, sideman and his production efforts (Eric Clapton, Frida, Phillip Bailey, et al), he’s sold close to 200 million albums. 200 million. So, it’s no wonder, when he gave his two weeks notice with Genesis, it would be damn near impossible to replace him. Really, it would have to be TWO replacement players, as Phil also served as Genesis’ drummer.

Not that the remaining members of Genesis didn’t try. For the same unknown reasons that Maiden picked Blaze, Genesis went with Ray Wilson. His voice didn’t suit the old material (to be fair, he did better with the Peter Gabriel-era songs than the Collins stuff), and just as bad, the two new guys looked liked the grandchildren of the two Genesis geezers.

Vital Stats:
Albums: One (Calling All Stations, 1997)
Tours: One (Europe only)
Replaced by: Phil Collins (a decade later)
Embarrassing moment: A Chicago venue reportedly only sold 34 tickets.

Gary Cherone – Van Halen
He replaced: Either Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth (I forget which came first.)

Unlike Foreigner, Crue, Maiden and Genesis, Van Halen brought in a replacement that was already famous with his previous band, Extreme. (Worked for VH the first time, right?) Noted for 1991’s atrociously wimpy #1, “More Than Words,” Extreme had a B-list rock band career of its own until it imploded following its failed Waiting For The Punchline album and tour in 1995.

Meanwhile, Van Halen was going through its own set of problems; issues with Hagar and a botched reunion with Roth led the band to seek a new vocalist. While there were rumors that heavyweights David Coverdale and Sebastian Bach had auditioned, the gig eventually went to Cherrone.

As all the other scabs mentioned in this blog found out, walking into a band with such a huge legacy (not to mention two iconic vocalists) was a no-win situation. Cherrone is a talented singer; his ability behind the mic was never the issue. It was all about the weak material on Van Halen III and the impossibility of following up two legendary singers.

Vital Stats:
Albums: One (the misleading-titled Van Halen III)
Tours: One
Embarrassing moment: The closing track on the album was sung by Eddie Van Halen.

Bonus! The late-to-the-party addition guy (A.K.A. The Max Klinger award)!

Who is this guy? And why does nobody want to sit next to him?

Tomes have been written about Guns n’ Roses, so there’s no need to repeat any of that here. But, back in the pre-internet days of 1991, there was a huge street-level buzz about the impending GNR albums. When they finally arrived with great fanfare in September of that year, the lineup on the inside artwork was different.

Sure, we all knew about the new drummer (drug use was tolerated, but apparently Steven Adler snorted that line after crossing it), but when the CDs finally arrived, we eagerly pored through the artwork. Then upon opening it and seeing the picture of the band, we all asked the same thing; who exactly was that sixth guy sitting there?

Turns out it was Dizzy Reed – a keyboard player. Keyboard player? GNR needed a sixth member like Hillary Clinton needs any more scandals. Turns out Reed, a player in a comically large number of failed bands in the 1980s, was Axl’s little lackey, the only member of the band that didn’t quit or get fired post-1993. So Reed gets the “Max Klinger award,” a late addition that nobody liked, didn’t do anything to further the cause, just somebody who had to be dealt with because they were there.