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.
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.
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.
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 HalenIII 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)!
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.
It takes a lot to become a successful rock star. Talent, looks, hard work and usually lots of good luck are all good to have. You can have any (or all) those attributes, but that doesn’t guarantee you anything. But if you do happen to make it to the top, you’re only a power chord away from a bad decision – one that can derail everything you’ve worked for. In some cases it’s the matter of a single high-profile appearance gone wrong (Sinead O’Conner, Ashlee Simpson, both on SNL), some it’s a matter of a talking too much (Dixie Chicks) and in other cases it’s a poor decision about a song, image or video.
Today, we have three cautionary tales of classic rockers who made that bad call. All of them paid their dues at the bottom of rock’s pecking order for years before hitting the big time; they all released albums early on that never hit and toured like crazy. They should’ve known better, but once they finally hit the pinnacle of rock stardom, it all came crashing down.
Peter Frampton “I’m In You” From the album I’m In You (#2, 1977) Follow-up studio album: (The prophetically-titled) Where I Should Be (#19, 1979)
After playing professionally for almost a decade (first in The Herd, then in Humble Pie), Frampton went solo in the early 1970s and hit the tour circuit opening for anyone and everyone. Like so many of his road dog contemporaries (KISS, Bob Seger, REO Speedwagon, Foghat, etc.), word on the street was that he was better live than on record. So naturally, a live album was in order.
But Frampton Comes Alive! was no ordinary live album – it set the standard for the “double live album” for the rest of time. It was also ubiquitous – even getting a mention in “Wayne’s World” sixteen years after its release. It sold a gazillion copies during America’s Bicentennial year – bringing Frampton from his usual “special guest” billing to headlining (and filling) stadiums.
But when one hits those rarified heights, there comes that pesky little problem of the follow-up. Frampton found out what those before him had experienced; pressure from management and the label – everybody wants a little more. Tour until you drop. Quickly record a new album, but make it better than the last one. With no time to relax, the period between albums saw Frampton lose his original demos, hire guards to keep overzealous fans away from his recording sessions and tend to his high-maintenance girlfriend, Penny McCall. And finally, he posed shirtless for his Rolling Stone cover shot.
Oops. That picture, along with the “I’m In You” album cover (and wimpy lead single) erased all his past – guitar hero, Humble Pie, all that – and lumped him into Leif Garrett/Shawn Cassidy territory. Then things went really wrong – the car accident, palimony, ill-advised movie roles, the revelation by Sweet Connie Hamzy….
What happened next: Frampton had a terrible streak of bad luck following “I’m In You.” He broke up with his girlfriend, was seriously injured in a car crash in the Bahamas (while trying to locate the aforementioned girlfriend, who was partying with members of the Average White Band), starred in the Robert Stigwood’s film debacle “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band” and was sued for palamony. If that wasn’t enough, a cargo plane crash in Brazil (that killed three people) destroyed all his gear, including his prize Les Paul, the one pictured on Frampton Comes Alive! He has successfully toured on the classic rock circuit for the past couple of decades, despite losing his hair.
Styx “Mr. Roboto” From the album Kilroy Was Here (#3, 1983) Follow-up studio album: Edge Of The Century (#63, 1990)
Styx was the little band that could. Formed as a South side of Chicago neighborhood combo in the pre-Beatlemania days, the guys kept it going long enough to land a contract with rinky-dink Wooden Nickel Records in the early 1970s. A bunch of not-very-successful albums were recorded; a local DJ started playing “Lady” from Styx II and the hit spread nationwide. Endless gigging ensued; a contract was signed with A&M; guitarist John Curulewski quit and was replaced by Tommy Shaw (a good career move for both Shaw and Styx); finally the band went a little more mainstream and less proggy and started an upward trajectory.
In 1977, all that hard work finally paid off; Styx’s seventh album, The Grand Illusion, was released and sales went through the roof. Multiple millions of units moved. The next couple records went the same route; hit singles, arena tours and a rabid fan base, despite universal scorn from the critics. 1979’s Cornerstone brought the band its only #1 hit, “Babe,” written by keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. But it also brought trouble to Styxland, as guitarist Shaw accused the band of heading into “Barry Manilow territory” with the hit ballad. Tension escalated; DeYoung was canned, but cooler minds prevailed and he was reinstated after a few weeks. But that’s when the trouble really began.
Early 1981’s Paradise Theatre was a concept album, using a derelict theatre as a metaphor (or is that a simile? You would think that somebody with an M.S. in journalism would know the difference here!) for the current state of Jimmy Carter’s America. A huge hit (Styx’s only #1 album), it set the stage for another “concept” album about music being outlawed. Not a new concept, as The Who and Rush have both used that theme previously; only difference is that theirs didn’t include any songs about robots.
Whatever. The single “Mr. Roboto” from 1983’s Kilroy Was Here was cheesy, but far worse, was the tour, film and “acting” by the Styx members to open dates on the Kilroy tour. The goodwill Styx had built up over the past decade went bye-bye and fans ran towards the exits, covering their ears. Sick of the entire thing and strung out on coke, Tommy Shaw was a zombie for the tour and quit the band shortly thereafter. After five platinum (or better) albums, he must’ve really wanted out.
What happened next: Styx issued a tepidly-received live album in 1984 and was put on ice, and then members started releasing solo albums. The band regrouped with Edge Of The Century in 1990, but without Shaw, who was off enjoying success with the supergroup Damn Yankees. Although the band scored a major hit single (“Show Me The Way” #3), the album tanked and the band was dumped by its long-time label, A&M. A 1996 reunion tour with Shaw (but without drummer John Ponozzo, who was suffering from advanced liver failure which eventually killed him) was a success, but the band never scored a hit album afterwards. Today, the carcass of Styx still tours, but with only guitarists Shaw and James Young remaining from the glory days.
Billy Squier “Rock Me Tonite” From the album Signs Of Life (#11, 1984) Follow-up studio album: Enough Is Enough (#61, 1986)
Billy Squier was the first AOR superstar of the early 1980s. Throwing a mix of Zeppelin, Clapton, Rolling Stones and more into his music, his sophomore album, Don’t Say No became an instant classic. Mistakenly labeled by some as an “overnight sensation,” that tag couldn’t be farther from the truth, as he spent over a decade trying to make it in the music business. He played in several bands before releasing two albums with the band Piper, whose biggest claim to fame was opening for KISS in 1977. His solo debut, 1980’s The Tale of the Tape was a minor hit; by the time Don’t Say No hit, Billy Squier was over the age of thirty. Better late than never.
1982’s follow-up Emotions in Motion used the same basic framework; again, another top five, multiplatinum album. More radio airplay, more acclaim. A featured track on the “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” soundtrack. By the time the Emotions tour cycle had ended, Squier was headlining arenas with bands like Def Leppard opening.
By early 1984, Squier had parted ways with producer Mack (of Queen fame) and started a new album with “Mutt” Lange (architect of classic AC/DC and Def Leppard albums and the future Mr. Shania Twain). That collaboration was quickly put on ice due when Mutt learned of an alleged tryst between Squier and the first Mrs. Mutt way back in the 1970s. (Wasn’t that what the 70s were all about?)
Mutt said “No way, Guillermo!” and pulled out of the project; Jim Steinman, songwriter best known for penning hits for Meat Loaf, Air Supply and Bonnie Tyler was commissioned. The ensuing album, Signs of Life is surprisingly good and diverse, despite its cover art. Actually, he delivered an album that showed “artistic growth.” Even Rolling Stone magazine is impressed; life is good. By now Squier is a big enough artist to warrant a “World Premiere Video” on MTV. Not Bruce Springsteen big, but an A-list rocker nonetheless. The first single, “Rock Me Tonite” is tagged to have its video debut in July 1984.
What happened next is a matter of who you want to believe. Different parties have blamed others for what happened next; either way, the “Rock Me Tonite” video was not the most “manly” video ever released. Yes, videos by Culture Club and Prince were far more androgynous than his, yet it wasn’t cool because Squier was a macho “rocker.” Truth of the matter is, that his dancing was about on the same level as other unfunky white guys like Mick Jagger doing the chicken dance, but the silk sheets, pastel colors and Flashdance shirts didn’t help his case at all. End of the day – despite the song being the highest charting single in his career, it drove away fans and his career never recovered.
What happened next: Despite the video debacle, Squier renegotiated his recording contract in 1985 to one of the richest in the industry. Unfortunately for his record label (Capitol), like many artists who signed huge contracts at the top (Janet Jackson, R.E.M., ZZ Top, Mariah Carey, Motley Crue), Squier’s best days were behind him. None of his subsequent albums (or singles) managed to crack the top 40 and each release was less and less successful. He ended up quitting the industry in 1993, following the release of his non-charting Tell The Truth album. Shows you what happens when you don’t pay attention to Peter Frampton.
After recording seven Red Rider albums, Tom Cochrane officially became a solo artist in 1991, upon the demise of the band. (He did, however, release a pre-Red Rider LP, so technically he was a solo artist in in 1974.) Actually, that should’ve come as no surprise to anybody, as the first four were released under the name “Red Rider” and albums number five through seven under the “Tom Cochrane & Red Rider” banner. (This followed the long tradition of putting the star’s name in front before eventually disbanding the group – Buddy Holly & The Crickets, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Bob Marley & The Wailers, et al.)
Red Rider had attained cult status in the States thanks to FM radio and MTV favorites – “White Hot” (1979), “Lunatic Fringe” and “Cowboys in Hong Kong” (both 1981), “Light In The Tunnel” and “Power” (both 1983). But up in the Great White North, the band was a big deal. Maybe not Bruce Springsteen big, but perhaps Bob Seger big. Enough that the name “Tom Cochrane” garnered a decent amount of respect.
Entering a new decade is rarely kind to stars of the previous years, and the transition from the 1980s to the 1990s was no exception. Many of the largest rock bands of the 1980s struggled to maintain career status quo in the 1990s. But Cochrane, playing it smart (or just doing what came naturally to him), abandoned the slick rock sound of Red Rider and went with something that was a little more timeless and not sonically rooted in one particular decade.
His 1991 solo release (1992 in The U.S.), Mad Mad World was much more rootsy-John Mellencamp/Bruce Springsteen type of music than anything Red Rider recorded. Gone was the 1980s guitar sounds and big rock production; instead, there was more acoustic guitar and crisp percussion. And in the tradition of timeless road songs (“On The Road Again,” “Ventura Highway” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads”), the album’s enduring single, “Life Is A Highway” was a hit on both the radio and video airwaves.
So, the album and single were enough to get Tom Cochrane on the map as a solo artist; unfortunately (similar to Roger McGuinn and Back From Rio), that traction and name recognition didn’t carry over to his next release, 1995’s Ragged Ass Road. (At least not here in the States.) Today, Cochrane tours as both a solo artist and as part of a reformed Red Rider.
Artist: Tom Cochrane
Album: Mad Mad World
Producer:Tom Cochrane, Joe Hardy
Released: September 1991 (Canada); February 1992 (America)
First comes the band. Four albums in four years. All huge, all platinum. Then a three-year gap, which could easily be the end of the band. Come 1984, The Cars, with new producer “Mutt” Lange, release their biggest album yet, Heartbeat City. Hit singles, award-winning MTV videos, huge tour, Live Aid, all that mid-1980s stuff. It doesn’t get much better than that. Then it’s time for another break.
The band’s first break (between 1981’s Shake It Up and 1984’s Heartbeat City) saw the release of two of The Cars member’s solo albums (Ric Ocasek’s Beatitude and Greg Hawkes’ Niagara Falls.), The next break however (following Heartbeat City and the obligatory hits album, which featured the single “Tonight She Comes”), saw albums by THREE group members; the star songwriter (Ric Ocasek), the star guitarist (Elliot Easton) and the star vocalist (Benjamin Orr).
After this solo journey, the band reconvened in early 1987 to release what would unfortunately be their final album, Door To Door. Although a solid effort, it didn’t measure up their previous work, both critically or commercially, and after the spottily-attended tour, the band called it quits in February 1988, ending a decade-long reign of one of America’s greatest rock bands.
Ric Ocasek This Side of Paradise 1986
The best (and needless to say, most Cars-like) of the three was Ocasek’s sophomore release. Enlisting keyboardist Hawkes from The Cars, his was the best, both commercially and critically.
One glimpse at the album credits showed something that most punters wouldn’t pick up; many of the other musicians on the album were considered “cutting edge” artists (Roland Orzibel, Steve Stevens, Chris Hughes and Tony Levin – among others), which seemed strange that somebody who was long considered “cutting edge” would want to use the era’s hot new artists to keep his career relevant. But that said, it was 1986, and The Cars had been around for almost a decade.
This Side of Paradise spawned Ocasek’s only hit single, “Emotion In Motion” (no relation to the 1982 Billy Squier hit), which peaked at #15. Ocasek’s production skills on the album were similar to those employed on 1987’s Door To Door.
Trivia: 1986’s This Side Of Paradise contained contribution from all the other Cars’ members except drummer David Robinson.
Elliot Easton Change No Change 1985
Eason’s only solo album, Change No Change, was co-written by Jules Shear (of the critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing new wavers Jules and the Polar Bears) was released in 1985, an “off” year for Easton’s day job band, The Cars. But being “off” in 1985 meant performing at July’s Live Aid concert in Philly; releasing a greatest hits album (The Cars’ Greatest Hits peaked at #12 on Billboard’s Album Chart) and a new single (“Tonight She Comes” – #7 on Billboard Singles Chart) and accompanying video.
Shears, (composer of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Though The Night” and The Bangles’ “If She Knew What She Wants”), also sang backing vocals on the album. Guitars and bass were handled by Easton; drums were performed by Ministry drummer Stephen George. Bassist Brad Hallen and keyboardist Jon Mathias also contributed to the album.
Oddly enough, despite Easton’s reputation in the industry, Change No Change is not a guitar-based album; it’s more songwriter styled disc, reminiscent of an Elvis Costello release. Which, in 1985, couldn’t be considered a strong selling point. Nonetheless, it’s a good, but not great listen that only sometimes gets past second gear. Post-Cars, Easton played with a number of different artists, but Change No Change remains the only album released under his name.
Trivia: Easton grew up in Massapequa, New York, the same town as Brian Setzer, Dee Snider and Jerry Seinfeld.
Benjamin Orr The Lace 1986
Although he was the lead vocalist on many of the band’s most popular songs (“Just What I Needed,” “Candy-O,” “Moving In Stereo” and “Double Trouble”), it was 1984’s hit single “Drive” (and accompanying video) that brought Cars bassist/vocalist a lot of attention.
Unfortunately, Orr was an inexperienced songwriter and due to his unwillingness (or inability) to kick out the jams (but to be fair, The Cars were never that kind of band), there wasn’t a lot of punch in most of the synth-heavy, mid-tempo tracks on the album. The best song, the lone hit single (“Stay The Night,” #24) showcased his voice, but fell squarely into the “adult contemporary” category.
The Lace was Orr’s only album; after The Cars disbanded, he spent the rest of his career performing with a number of bands, including his own (Orr) and “supergroups” of similarly washed up rockers. Unfortunately, Orr lost his battle to pancreatic cancer in 2000.
Trivia: Benjamin Orr’s real last name was “Orzechowski.”
All good things must come to an end, including the recording careers of once-mighty rock bands. But while some classic artists ended their careers on a high note, including The Police – Synchronicity, Jimi Hendrix – Electric Ladyland and The Beatles – Abbey Road (on a technicality), others surrendered without a fight with a disappointing (commercially and/or critically) album that is rarely mentioned in the same sentence along with the rest of their catalog.
In this blog, as far as final release go, I’ve excluded albums of artists who died shortly after releasing what would turn out to be their final work (The Doors – L.A. Woman, John Lennon – Double Fantasy, Nirvana – In Utero). That’s because rock loves the dead guy, which means that hipster blogs attempt to revise history and have desperately tried to paint these albums as the crowning achievement in these artists’ catalog. (File under “Fake News”).
Finally, some acts fall into “haven’t been relevant for years” category when the final album drops. This group includes R.E.M., Queen and Grand Funk Railroad, so I’ve disallowed albums by artists like them. And obviously, any posthumous albums (Pink Floyd – The Endless River, John Lennon – Milk and Honey and any post-9/18/1970 Jimi Hendrix releases, no matter how brilliant) have been similarly barred from consideration here.
The Clash Cut The Crap 1985
In rock history, no punk band stayed to their principles from inception to arena status, except for The Clash. Up until 1982, that is. After releasing four albums that (cliché alert – yuck!) pushed the envelope of what was acceptable in the framework of punk rock, the band managed the impossible balancing act (a feat up there with pulling off “friends with benefits”) with the release of Combat Rock: Being a commercially successful punk rock band that stayed true to its original ideals.
Then all sorts of chaos entered the equation. A revolving door of drummers coming and going (and going and coming) didn’t help matters, nor did drug abuse among band members along with the long-simmering discord between guitarist Mick Jones and vocalist Joe Strummer. Long story short – Jones got the boot, auditions for a guitarist was held, and the rest of the band, unable to decide between the two finalists, hired them both. (History repeats itself: See The Guess Who.)
Needless to say, these two scabs didn’t share the same “history” as the others (not to mention the same vision) – so, in the big picture they were no different than Jimmy Crespo, Vinnie Vincent or Paul Chapman – replacement guitarists that were hitching a ride on a band with a platinum past. And to think that 1985’s double LP Cut The Crap meant anything to anybody, well, let’s just say the album wasn’t even mentioned on The Clash’s The Clash On Broadway box set or on its website.
To add insult to injury, the band didn’t film any videos to promote the album. So by 1985, The Clash had passed its sell-by date. When the charts are full of Phil Collins, Tears For Fears and Whitney Houston, a band like The Clash has nowhere to go. Except to quietly fade away…
Trivia: 1990s one trick pony band Jackyl also release an album titled Cut The Crap.
Twisted Sister Love is For Suckers 1987
No band pushed itself harder for success than Long Island’s Twisted Sister. Working every New York/New Jersey/Connecticut club and dump five nights a week, the band punched the clock for more than 2000 gigs before even signing a record deal. (Reference point: Led Zeppelin performed less than 700 times in its twelve-year career!) It took seven long years of steady gigging from vocalist Dee Snider’s debut in 1976 until the band’s first stateside release, 1983’s You Can’t Stop Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Crashing through the door opened by gateway pop/metal band Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister hit the big time the next year; Stay Hungry, the band’s biggest (and best) album, which contained the anthem “We’re Not Gonna Take It” went platinum, and the band spent the next year touring the world.
Eager to strike while the band was hot, Twisted Sister attempted to unite the entire music audience under one album, Come Out and Play. The pop songs would be poppier, the metal songs would harder and the anthems would be even more timeless. Everybody within earshot would walk away happy. What could possibly go wrong with that plan?
Everything, it turned out. Featuring the ill-advised lead single, a cover of The Shangri-La’s “Leader of the Pack” (in the band’s defense, they had performed it – to positive response – in their club days), the album, which was supposed to appeal to everybody, ended up pleasing nobody. Especially the band’s core metal audience. The ensuing tour was plagued by empty seats and overall apathy and was quickly scrapped, with the standard PR response mentioning throat problems for Snider’s.
After hiding out for a year, the band (minus drummer AJ Pero, who quit in disgust in the meantime), released less-than-metal Love is For Suckers, helmed by the hot producer de jour, Beau Hill (Ratt, Fiona). While Suckers pales in comparison to Hungry (and Play, for that matter), its overall desperate-for-a-hit tone sounded like a band whose sell-by date had past. (I never bought into that “it was supposed to be a solo album, but the label pressured us into releasing under the group banner” party line.) Twisted Sister broke up two months after the album’s release.
Trivia: The band reunited 14 years later and toured the world until officially retiring in 2016.
Dire Straits On Every Street 1991
Dire Straits hit it big from the word go – its 1978 eponymous debut album and single “Sultans of Swing” were able to somehow fit in an era filled with punk, stadium rock and disco, all while sounding nothing like any of those genres. But its sophomore album suffered from the “Pretenders II conundrum” – not as commercially successful as the debut, and fans were divided whether it was a masterpiece or dog. Same with its third album; by then, Dire Straits had become a cult act, no hit singles and suffering from declining sales.
Love Over Gold, the fourth album was a fan favorite, but its commercial potential was somewhat limited by the fact it only contained five very long songs. (The shortest song, “Industrial Disease” was 5:55; the longest track “Telegraph Road” clocked in at over fourteen minutes.) The band, at a crossroads, released a live album and plotted its next move.
The ensuing LP, Brothers In Arms was an enormous hit in every area; sales, critical acclaim, airplay (both radio and especially MTV, due to its unique video), but most vitally, the band hit a cultural nerve, something that few acts have the potential to achieve. (Even the cover art became iconic.) And for a few seconds, between Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen, headbands on guitarists was a cool look. The band, of course, embarked on a wildly successful tour that circled the globe the next few years.
By the time they came back with new product, it was late 1991. Not the best time for bands from the 1980s to release an album due to the rise of grunge and alternative bands. (Or maybe it was the headbands that doomed them.) On Every Street sold respectably (one million in America compared to Brothers’ nine million), and charted considerably lower (#12 peak, compared to Brothers’ nine weeks at #1). Of course, there was enough carryover demand from the Brothers era for a successful world tour.
The band quietly called it quits after the tour, and leader Mark Knopfler has steadfastly refused all offers for a reformation. The album wasn’t a “failure” like The Clash or Twisted Sister, but in the big scheme of things, Dire Straits isn’t going to be remembered for the singles “Heavy Fuel” and “Calling Elvis.”
Trivia: Like John and Tom Fogerty in CCR, Dire Straits featured brothers (Mark and David Knopfler) in its initial lineup; also like CCR, the one who didn’t sing, write songs or play lead guitar exited the band for a non-existent solo career.
I remember the days when twelve-inch vinyl records were commonly referred to as an album. That association became so ingrained with records that some people laughed when CDs were referred to as “albums.” These people missed the big picture: According to the dictionary (the one found on Macintosh computers anyway), an album is defined as “a collection of recordings issued as a single item on CD, record, or another medium.”
Good enough answer, I suppose. The 33 1/3 LP record was invented in 1948; for the first 18 years (or so), that’s all records were; a collection of recordings. As far as pop (and rock) music was concerned, the 45 was king. The album was an afterthought; the songs on an album that weren’t the hits were treated in the same regard as the flip sides to singles.
Then somewhere around 1966 (or so), rock music began to get serious; artists like The Beatles, The Kinks, The Beach Boys and The Who (among others) realized that an entire artistic statement wasn’t limited to the confines of a 7″ 45 RPM record, but to an entire 33 1/3 RPM album. These artists began making records that weren’t simply a couple of hits and a bunch of other songs that weren’t hits, but were a unified collection of songs, each of which was important to the entire statement.
“A Day In The Life” The Beatles From Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)
Released on June 1, 1967, Sgt. Pepper (and especially its epic closer, “A Day In The Life”) sounded like nothing else that came before it. The song was John Lennon’s trippy take of stories in a newspaper, including a fatal car crash (the consensus is that the victim was Tara Browne, heir to the Guinness fortune), black holes and a film. (Lennon had recently finished filming Richard Lester’s “How I Won The War”.)
The band’s decision to stop touring and put all of their creative efforts to work in the studio paid immediate dividends. The first post-Candlestick Park gig single, “Strawberry Fields Forever” b/w “Penny Lane” provided the world with one of the greatest singles ever. The band hunkered down in Abbey Road studios and immersed themselves in sonic experimentation. George Martin’s use of echo, the manic drums of Ringo Starr and the wildly innovate use of a symphony orchestra building to climax before Paul McCartney’s “Woke Up” middle eight. Then the songs goes back into the original format, and ends with the obligatory drug reference (“I’d love to turn you on”). And the song concludes with the world’s most famous crashing piano chord – one that seems to go on forever.
Trivia: The final chord in “A Day In The Life” is E major.
“We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me” The Who From Tommy (1969)
With the possible exception of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Tommy is most celebrated double LP concept album. Tommy, the two-LP album was the brain child of Pete Townsend, The Who’s manic lead guitarist. It told the story of the deaf, dumb and blind kid who played pinball. There were other famous characters; The Acid Queen, Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin, among others. Even with a libretto, the story is so dense and complex that the average listener is unable to follow it, much less explain it to others.
No matter. Despite the walls-of-Fort Knox-density of the storyline, the masses have eaten up the album, movie, movie soundtrack, Broadway play, Who tour…It’s no wonder that The Who have milked the hell out of the concept. The greatest moment of the album lies in the second half of the final song; the “See Me Feel Me” section.
While rock fans were crowing over the goosebumps from listening to Crosby, Still and Nash (whose debut was released the same year), they certainly overlooked the equally stunning vocal gymnastics of The Who. And listen to Keith Moon’s chaotic yet restrained drumming!
Trivia: The Who played “See Me Feel Me” at sunrise while appearing at Woodstock on August 17, 1969.
“Brain Damage/Eclipse” Pink Floyd From Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
Britain’s Pink Floyd started life in the mid-1960s as a standard blues band; within a couple of years, led by acid casualty Syd Barrett, it became one of the front runners of the late 1960s psychedelic rock scene. While early Floyd material misses more times than it hits, the band took a great leap forward when it gave its catatonic and marginally-functional leader Barrett the Spanish archer; his replacement David Gilmour was a far better (if not entirely dependable) replacement. Although the money was on keyboardist Richard Wright to assume leadership of the unit, it was bassist Roger Waters that took over, eventually assuming the title of control freak.
Still, it took a few more years (and a few more painful albums) before Floyd made its great statement with Dark Side Of The Moon. The album, whose songs were all based on the passage and time and mental instability, not a common topic in popular music. (There would be plenty more of songs based on those things later on down the line.) Technically, “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” are two separate songs; but in the grand rock radio tradition, they’re almost always played together.
The band only could manage to release three more albums (including the double LP The Wall) in the following decade; the ensuing split was one of the most bitter divorces in rock. Gilmour, Wright and drummer Nick Mason eventually regrouped as Pink Floyd, while Waters forged ahead with his solo career, releasing music as prickly as himself. None of the subsequent Floyd albums (Wish You Were Here, Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut) had anything close to an epic ending. (In fact, The Wall contains perhaps the lamest ending of any rock album ever. And that includes albums by Warrant and Poison.)
Trivia: The supposed connection between “The Wizard of Oz” and Dark Side of the Moon is false. Stay in school, kids, and keep away from drugs!
“Rocket Queen” Guns n’ Roses From Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Unlike Sgt. Pepper, Tommy and Dark Side, Appetite For Destruction isn’t a concept album; it’s a collection of songs with no intertwining storyline. And unlike The Beatles, The Who and Pink Floyd, who all took several albums to get to this point, Guns n’ Roses did it with their debut album. Unfortunately for the Guns, they blew their load early and none of their subsequent releases could come anywhere near the level of Appetite.
Appetite contained songs about arriving to seedy underbelly of Hollywood (“Welcome To The Jungle”), smack addiction (“Mr. Brownstone”), no holes barred sex (“Anything Goes”) and the breakfast of champions (“Nighttrain”). While the world remembers the album for its hit singles: “Jungle,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” the real centerpiece of the album is the closer, “Rocket Queen.”
Featuring the (reportedly real) moans and groans of Axl Rose and a “friend” having sex, “Rocket Queen” is as dark as sackcloth, yet after Saul Hudson’s (a.k.a. Slash) manic guitar solo, the song goes into perhaps the poppiest portion of the album (excluding “Child”) and ends with an unexpected (if not entirely uncharacteristic) statement of love and concern. A real change from the dark music and lyrics that came before it. It is extremely powerful stuff. If the book of Revelation had a soundtrack, “Rocket Queen” would be it.
Trivia: Appetite For Destruction took thirteen months after its release to top the Billboard charts. (The first of three stays at the top in 1988 – 1989.)
Artists have twenty years to write their first album, and six months to write the second one, Elvis Costello once declared. But then again, David Lee Roth argued that rock critics like Elvis Costello because most rock critics look like Elvis Costello.
Those two statements really have nothing to do with each other, but they do provide a slick intro into this post, namely about trying (and failing) to follow up a hugely successful first album. I would imagine getting to the top of the mountain once is hard enough; doing it twice would be damn near impossible.
All of the three subjects here (all come from the first half of the 1980s) have a lot in common: Like The Knack in 1979, all three of these groups started out with a #1 album; their success somehow annoyed the prevailing rock hierarchy; the less successful follow-up came out far too closely on the heels of the first; they all broke up after releasing a third album that was less successful than the second; and finally, they all eventually regrouped in their classic incarnations to varying degrees of success.
The Go-Go’s Vacation #8 (1982)
Coming out of the Los Angeles’ valley, the all-girl band The Go-Go’s took their debut, Beauty and the Beat to #1 in early 1982. Their infectious, pop/punk, surf-y, hook-filled tunes, paired with the party-girl attitude brought fame and acclaim, as well as scorn from the punk rock quarter, accusing them of selling out. Playing the arena circuit, opening for The Police along with their perky videos did nothing but help their quick rise to the top.
Released a mere four months after Beauty topped the charts, Vacation suffered from the classic follow-up disappointment syndrome; it stuck with a tried-and-true formula; only one or two tunes matched the level of material found on the previous album. The one hit, the title track, was the only enduring song from the album.
What happened next: The band wisely waited until 1984 before following up Vacation. While Talk Show featured stronger material (and a new producer), the album was even less successful than the previous two. Founder Jane Wiedlen quit after the tour; before anything else happened, the group called it quits the next year. Vocalist Belinda Carlisle went on to a spectacularly successful solo career; the other members had varying degrees of success in other projects. Their fourth album was released in 2001; they have continued to tour fairly regularly since then.
NOTE: The “official” video for the song “Vacation” is not available on YouTube at time of publication. We apologize for this inconvenience. If the video comes back online, we will insert into this post. Thanks for understanding!
Asia Alpha #6 (1983)
Asia, a super group that consisted of former members of Yes, ELP, King Crimson and The Buggles proved that there are second acts in rock by releasing the largest selling album of 1982. Critics loathed Asia as much as the punters gobbled up their debut album, released in March 1982. Videos for “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell” were spun with great enthusiasm on MTV, then a fledgling music channel.
Bowing to the pressure of “let’s do it again,” the band was rushed into the studio in early 1983, while the debut was still hot. Their label, Geffen Records, also insisted that bassist/vocalist John Wetton and keyboardist Geoff Downes (the writing partnership behind the most popular tracks on the debut) do all the composing.
Guitarist Steve Howe, feeling naturally alienated by this provision, hardly makes his presence felt on the album, whose songs all sound like leftovers from the Asia sessions. There were two top 40 singles released; “Don’t Cry” and the fan favorite, “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.”
What happened next: The ensuing tour was plagued by audience apathy; singer Wetton was given the boot and the MTV-sponsored “Asia in Asia” broadcast in December 1983 featured Greg Lake as bassist/vocalist. Wetton returned the following year, but Howe bowed out. 1985’s Astra was a vast improvement, but it was a case of too little too late, as it peaked at #67, after which they quietly called it a day. The original lineup reunited in 2006 for a series of decently-regarded albums and tours. Bassist/vocalist John Wetton died of cancer in January 2017.
Quiet Riot Condition Critical #15 (1984)
Few bands were as universally scorned from the word go as was Quiet Riot, which is a shame, because they put years of blood, sweat and tears into it before they hit paydirt. In the second half of the 1970s, Quiet Riot paid their dues; they were regularly gigging alongside Van Halen on the Sunset Strip scene, but aside from two Japan-only releases, Quiet Riot had nothing to show for all their hard work. To add insult to injury, in 1979, Ozzy Osbourne poached guitarist Randy Rhodes for his solo band, effectively ending Quiet Riot’s career.
After Rhode’s untimely death in 1982, vocalist Kevin DuBrow exhumed the Quiet Riot name and along with guitarist Carlos Cavazo, bassist Rudy Sarzo (also an Osbourne alum) and drummer Frankie Banali, got a deal with Pasha Records, but the label had one demand; that they record a cover of Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” on their North American debut, Metal Health. Agreeing to that (and to a lopsided contract that netted the performers very little for their recorded output) the band duly did what the label requested.
“Noize” became an unexpected top five smash; naturally, the label rushed them back into the studio, following the same blueprint. Like The Go-Go’s, seven months after being #1, a follow-up album was in the stores. This time was almost a clone to the letter; once again, the lead single was a Slade cover. But all the songs, including the singe, weren’t as good as any of the material found on Health.
Kevin DuBrow, after years of obscurity, used his time in the spotlight to mouth off about everything and everybody, alienated both fans and peers. Suddenly the band everybody wanted to hate delivered a real reason to hate them, and Condition Critical, although a moderate success, quickly slid off the charts. In the big picture, it had no staying power (except perhaps as a cautionary tale for new artists), and none of the songs had any lasting impact.
What happened next: Bassist Sarzo bailed, and the band attempted a more “contemporary” sound with their 1986 release, QR III. More turbulence ensued, DuBrow was booted before the band imploded. In the mid-1990s, the classic reunited (both onstage and on album), but old habits die hard and once again, the band was plagued with turmoil and lineup changes. Vocalist Kevin DuBrow died of a drug overdose in 2007; today, the band carries on with drummer Banali as the only “classic” member left.
February is the month of love, or at least the month of Valentine’s Day. That’s the “holiday” when people spend way too much money on roses, candy, strawberries dipped in chocolate, lingerie, et al. Fun, eh? But for every happy relationship, there’s the flip side; a heartbreaking split.
As long as people have made music, there have been songs about love and happiness. And then came the songs about relationships that have crashed and burned. There are bouncy, feel-good pop songs that tell the entire story in the title (“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”), emotive 1970s schlock (“All By Myself”), 1980s power pop nuggets (“The Breakup Song”), no-lifeguard-on-duty tirades (“In The Air Tonight”) and bitter anthems that are actually quite funny (“Love Stinks.”)
So in honor of St. Valentine, I have found the three most depressing breakup songs in my music library.
Don Henley – “You’re Not Drinking Enough” From Building The Perfect Beast (1984)
Serving as both drummer and (quite often) lead vocalist for the Eagles, Don Henley was already a known quantity when he released his first post-Eagles album in 1982. Although I Can’t Stand Still was moderately successful, it was 1984’s Building The Perfect Beast (and its lead single and video “The Boys Of Summer”) that made him a solo superstar.
Track 4, the country-tinged “You’re Not Drinking Enough,” was penned solely by guitarist (and co-producer of Beast) Danny Kortchmar. It addresses an obviously heartbroken man, who, not able to forget his latest relationship (who, admittedly, was not anything special), needs to be reminded, if he’s not over her, that the problem is that he’s simply not drinking enough. (Hopefully, he’s not driving home.)
(Sorry, that crabby-ass old Don Henley removed his video from YouTube – so here is Earl Thomas Conley’s version.)
Though never released as a single (and overshadowed by Beast’s hits “The Boys Of Summer,” “Not Enough Love In The World,” “All She Wants To Do Is Dance” and “Sunset Grill”), the song later became a modern day country classic when covered by Canadian artist Matt Minglewood.
Trivia: Sam Moore (the Sam of the legendary Sam and Dave) sings harmony vocals on “You’re Not Drinking Enough”
Garbage – “Cup of Coffee” From Beautiful Garbage (2001)
Garbage was the result of three Midwest studio geeks paired with Shirley Manson, a fiery Scottish vocalist. Paying their dues with the commercially unsuccessful bands Spooner, Goodbye Mr. MacKenzie, Fire Town and Angelfish, Manson (yup, that’s her real last name) and company hit the big time with the release of their debut, 1995’s Garbage.
Alterna-babe Manson attracted attention not only due to her unique looks, but also to her somewhat disturbed lyrics. Who else could only be happy when it rains? No matter how much of a downer the lyrics (and sometimes the music) were, the band has sold more than 17 million albums and has scored countless hit singles worldwide.
“Cup Of Coffee” is a first-person account of an obsessed ex-girlfriend, bordering on stalking. (We’ve all had one of those, right?) But rather than risk a confrontation, she’s content wallowing alone in her misery. Like Don Henley, Garbage’s most depressing song was never issued as a single.
Trivia: Unlucky? Three of the band’s six albums have peaked at #13 in America.
(Self Serving) Trivia: I was at the concert where this video was filmed.
Divinyls – “I’m Jealous” From Underworld (1996)
The Divinyls – a band from Australia – were regulars on college radio and MTV’s 120 Minutes for their first three albums (1983’s Desperate, 1985’s What A Life! and 1988’s Temperamental), but were not able to break through to the mainstream. (Maybe they were a little too edgy for middle America, but that’s just my guess.) Whatever the reason, they spent most of the 1980s trapped in cult status.
All of that changed in 1991, when the band (now reduced to the duo of vocalist Christina “Chrissy” Amphlett and guitarist Mark McEntee) finally hit the top ten in America with the not-so-subtle female self-love and self-satisfaction anthem, “I Touch Myself.” Suddenly, the band were stars, all over radio and MTV; most listeners were blissfully unaware of the song’s true nature. (File next to Idol, Billy: “Dancing With Myself” and Lauper, Cyndi; “She Bop.”)
Unfortunately, after that belated success, the band had only one more album left in them, 1996’s Underworld. While the five-year gap between releases probably didn’t help, Underworld didn’t exactly burn up the charts (and never was released in the States and some other territories), it did contain the heartbreaking, straight-to-the-point “I’m Jealous.” The song features the protagonist asking her former flame “What’s she got that I don’t? What she do that I won’t?” Wow…
Like Fleetwood Mac and ABBA, the key members of the Divinyls were a couple during a large portion of their time in the band; similar to those bands, it didn’t work out and ultimately had a negative overall impact on their career. The band split shortly thereafter and the two didn’t speak to each other for over a decade. Sadly, Chrissy Amphlett passed away in 2013, after suffering from MS and breast cancer.
Trivia: The Divinyls regrouped in 2007 for one final single.
Props to Steve Jobs. Even though he (personally) didn’t invent iTunes, he certainly oversaw the project. (And had plenty to say about it.) Say what you want about the digital music age, but one good thing is that you can make playlists (what people called “mixed tapes” in 1985) in seconds rather than real time.
For some reason, I started thinking about songs with the word “game” in the title. (Don’t ask.) I did a search and realized that the first half of the 1980s had an inordinate number of them. This was several years after Eric Berne’s 1964 book “Games People Play” and Joe South’s hippie anthem of the same name from 1968. (Which has been covered countless times in the ensuing years, including, but not limited to The Georgia Satellites, Tesla and Inner Circle.) Not to mention the Alan Parsons Project’s song of the same name.
“Play The Game”
From The Game (1980)
Mid-1980 was a good time to be Queen. The band had just released its biggest hit to date, the Elvis-influenced “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in advance of its eighth studio (and ninth overall) album The Game. The second single, “Play The Game” was released concurrently with the album; although the previous single (and eventually the album) both would be #1 hits, “Play The Game” only manage to peak at #42.
Despite the moderate success of the second single, there still was some life left in The Game; the third single, the monster funk/rock track “Another One Bites The Dust” also peaked at #1 and became Queen’s biggest hit single, at least on this side of the pond.
Unfortunately, that was the apex of Queen’s career; no future albums or singles (save for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” reissued after vocalist Freddy Mercury’s death in 1991) ever ventured so high on the charts. In fact, after 1982’s Hot Space fiasco, Queen never toured the United States again.
Trivia: One of Queen’s three September 1980 concerts at Madison Square Garden was my first concert experience.
“Games Without Frontiers”
From Peter Gabriel (1980)
Peter Gabriel has the dubious distinction of having his first three albums self-titled. Whether that was on purpose or he just couldn’t think of appropriate names for them remains an enigma; they are nicknamed Car, Scratch and Melt due to their artwork.
While Peter Gabriel had achieved a solid reputation in the rock world due to his tenure in Genesis, he was hardly a household name. Apart from his debut single “Solsbury Hill,” no track of his was played on the radio. That changed in 1980 when “Games Without Frontiers,” the first single from Melt hit the airwaves.
The unusual song, paired with an equally unusual video, was a large hit in the U.K. (#4), but stalled at #48 in the States, exactly twenty positions higher than “Solsbury Hill.” It would take Gabriel another two years to hit the American Top 40; “Shock The Monkey” peaked at #29 in late 1982.
Trivia: Peter Gabriel reunited with Genesis for exactly one concert in October 1982; the concert was held to pay back Gabriel’s debt for his financially-doomed WOMAD Festival.
“Stop This Game”
From All Shook Up (1980)
After years of playing every bar in middle America, Cheap Trick finally began to make some noise nationally following their third album, Heaven Tonight in 1978. An unexpected hit with a live album (At Budokan), a hit follow-up (Dream Police), associated singles and tons of touring in support of all these records finally earned Cheap Trick an A-list band crown.
In 1980, the band hired George Martin to produce the important follow-up to Dream Police. While the resulting album (All Shook Up) has its fans (and just as many detractors), upon release, it fared worse than the two previous albums, despite the potential of the band paired with Martin. Far more disturbing, bassist Tom Petersson exited the band after the album was completed, but before it was released.
“Stop This Game,” the first (and only charting) single from the album, opened with the final chord of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” peaked at #48, ending the band’s winning streak of hit singles. It would take eight years, which included the return of Petersson and singles written by outsiders before Cheap Trick made a return to the top of the charts.
Trivia: Cheap Trick at Radio City Music Hall, was the second concert I attended. (February 27, 1981)
“Play The Game Tonight”
From Vinyl Confessions (1982)
Kansas, the huge 1970s band from, well, Kansas, found itself in a bit of trouble by the early 1980s. Its brand of prog rock played by hairy guys in overalls, was no longer considered fashionable. (Particularly in the early days of MTV.) To make matters worse, vocalist Steve Walsh elected to go solo after 1980s Audio Visions album and tour.
So in 1982, Kansas’ future was far from certain. With their most recent hit several years in the rearview mirror, the band had to come up with some “A” material. But first there was the pesky task of hiring a new vocalist to replace Walsh. After extensive auditions, the band hired John Elefante and recorded Vinyl Confessions.
Despite the change in members, the band came up with their third biggest hit (after “Dust in the Wind” and “Carry On Wayward Son”) that hit #17, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief. However, none of the reversal of fortune carried over to subsequent singles or the next album, after which the band called it quits. (For three years, anyway.)
Trivia: Rumor has is that Sammy Hagar and future King’s X bassist Doug Pinnick auditioned for the front man role in Kansas.
“Caught In The Game”
From Caught In The Game (1983)
Survivor was founded in the late 1970s by a bunch of veteran rockers, led by ex-Ides of March front man, Jim Peterik. After a couple of moderately successful albums (and one top 40 single, “Poor Man’s Son”), the band hit pay dirt with “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky 3. “Tiger” was the biggest hit of 1982; it has since become synonymous with training and working out, which is probably why it’s the second biggest catalog song in the digital era. (Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” holds the #1 spot in that category.)
After the successful Eye Of The Tiger album and tour, the band returned to the studio to record its victory lap album, Caught In The Game. While Tiger (the album) peaked at #2 (kept out of the top spot by Fleetwood Mac), Game only managed an anemic #82 and the single only dong slightly better, peaking at #77.
Right when the album was released, vocalist Dave Bickler underwent vocal cord surgery and was replaced by Jimi Jameson. The band went through a second successful act, placing several more singles in the top 40 and producing one of the melodic rock genre’s all-time classic albums, 1984’s Vital Signs.
Trivia: Vocalist Dave Bickler was the voice behind Bud Light’s “Real Men of Genius” ad campaign in the 2000s.