It’s A Mad Mad World!

In the States, a cult figure. In Canada, a national treasure.

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.

The “alternate” album cover.

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.

Vital Stats: 

  • Artist: Tom Cochrane
  • Album: Mad Mad World
  • Label: Capitol
  • Producer:Tom Cochrane, Joe Hardy
  • Released: September 1991 (Canada); February 1992 (America)

Here Come The Solo Albums!

The Cars never released a bad album!

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.”

It’s Better To Burn Out Than To Fade Away

We’re not filling the seats like we used to!

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.)

Somebody is hiding something: The official website of The Clash ends in 1983, not 1985.

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.

The “Sister” at the pinnacle in 1984. Three short years later, it was all over.

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.

Headband: OK in 1985, not so cool in 1991.

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.

The Most Epic Album Closers In Rock

Some people like the end the best.

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 contained 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.)

The Dreaded Sophomore Slump

How do you top a #1 album? Don’t ask these guys!

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: They 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 original valley girls!

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!

The artworks is the best thing here…

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.

Meet the new album, same as the old album!

Quiet Riot
Condition Critical
#15 (1984)

Few bands were as universally scored 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.

Love Stinks!

Love Stinks! Especially when you break up with your sex symbol movie star wife. Faye Dunaway & Peter Wolf, somewhere in the 1970s.

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)

Henley also sang “Victim Of Love,” quite possibly the most venomous of Eagles songs.

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.)

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)

At least Shirley Manson knows my name! Autographed “Bleed Like Me” CD, 2005.

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)

Are you kids OK? Divinyls, in “happier” times.

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.

Games People Play

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.

Queen
“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.

Peter Gabriel
“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.

Cheap Trick
“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)

Kansas
“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.

Survivor
“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.

The Art of Moving On

Generally speaking, rock bands really don’t last very long without members leaving (or dying) mostly due to an inability to play nicely with others. (Although ZZ Top and U2 might tell you otherwise.) Living, working and traveling with a bunch of dudes is like being married to several others at the same time. Needless to say, whenever bands are involved, there are going to be issues that lead to breakups, firings and the like.

Sometimes, the people who quit (or are fired from) a band use that event as the inspiration for a new song. Today, we’re going to visit five of these departures, all of which have inspired a song based on the split.

Jack Bruce
“Theme For An Imaginary Western”
From Songs For a Tailor (1969)

Representative lyric:

“Oh the dancing and the singing
Oh the music when they played
Oh the fires that they started
Oh the girls with no regret”

For a couple of years in the pre-Led Zeppelin late 1960s, no touring blues-based rock band was bigger than Cream. Labeled (perhaps unfairly, to their ultimate detriment) as the first “super group,” the trio of Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were certainly a volatile combination. Actually, Bruce and Baker were the ones who couldn’t get along with each other, an issue that predated the band by several years, when both were unknowns in the thriving London jazz and blues scene.

So in 1969, with the band now defunct, Bruce released his first solo album, Songs For a Tailor, which included his most famous song (outside of Cream), “Theme For An Imaginary Western.” The melancholy track was the fitting tribute for what happened next; the album peaked at #55 on the charts, while Clapton and Baker’s new band, Blind Faith, released an album (the only one, it turned out) that topped the charts for two weeks that September.

Trivia: “Theme” was covered by Mountain at the original Woodstock festival and was featured on their debut album the following year.

Joe Walsh and Barnstorm
“Rocky Mountain Way”
From The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get (1973)

Representative lyric:

“And we don’t need the ladies
Crying ’cause the story’s sad, uh huh
Rocky Mountain Way
Is better than the way we had”

Joe Walsh got his start with Cleveland-based James Gang, a power trio whose first three albums are considered classics by students of the genre. A few tracks, namely “Funk #49” and “Walk Away” are still classic rock radio staples (not to mention at Eagles concerts years later after Walsh replaced Bernie Leadon). Unhappy about having to shoulder the load of being the vocalist as well as sole guitarist (not to mention primary composer), Walsh quit the Gang and ended up in Colorado to ponder his next move.

Starting fresh with a new band named “Barnstorm,” Walsh wrote “Rocky Mountain Way” about the freedom he felt not being constrained by the limitations of his old band. Unfortunately, he eventually felt victim to the strain of being “on his own,” so when the Eagles offered him a place in the band two years later, he happily accepted.

Trivia: “Rocky Mountain Way” was the first hit featuring the “talk box,” a device later made famous by Peter Frampton and Bon Jovi, among others.

Peter Gabriel
“Solsbury Hill”
From Peter Gabriel (1977)

Representative lyric:

“So I went from day to day
Though my life was in a rut
Till I thought of what I’d say
And which connection I should cut”

Genesis, in its original incarnation, was a cult band. A large one. Toe tappers like “The Return of the Giant Hogweed,” “The Battle of Epping Forrest” and the epic 23-minute “Supper’s Ready” all but guaranteed that they weren’t played with any regularity on rock radio; the band made mark on stage. Which meant life in the band was a Groundhog Day of writing, recording, rehearsing and touring. Vocalist Peter Gabriel was the face (and figurehead) of Genesis for the first half of the 1970s, and midway through the decade when he needed to call time for family health purposes, it looked like it was all over for the prog band.

While no ill will occurred between the members during the transition, when Gabriel stepped away from the band, and in true musical chairs fashion drummer Phil Collins stepped up the microphone and the show went on. Both acts – the Collins-fronted Genesis as well as solo Gabriel quickly eclipsed the success of the original band in terms of sales as well as airplay. Peter Gabriel’s first album, released two years after his exit, contained “Solsbury Hill,” featuring (mostly) an unusual 7/4 time signature, was his musical account of walking away from Genesis. No word came from his former bandmates, at least until Phil Collin’s memoir was released in late 2016.

Trivia: Peter Gabriel’s first three albums were all titled “Peter Gabriel.” Fans have differentiated them by nicknames; “Car,” “Scratch” and “Melt” due to the artwork.

Tommy Shaw
“Lonely School”
From Girls With Guns (1984)

Representative lyric:

“I’ve changed so many of my ways
I left the band, steadied my hand, learned a trade”

In the late 1970s, it was hard to find a band larger (or more popular) than Styx. After slugging it out for over a decade, the Chicago-based outfit finally hit the big time with The Grand Illusion in 1977. Illusion and the three albums that followed (Pieces of Eight, Cornerstone and Paradise Theatre) each sold more than three million albums, being the first band to achieve this sales figure consistently. But in 1983, leader Dennis DeYoung’s dramatic concept album conceit, Kilroy Was Here alienated the fans and created resentment from other members, notably guitarist Tommy Shaw.

At one point during the Kilroy tour cycle, Shaw was said to have “hurt his hand on a hotel room window, resulting in the postponement or cancellation of several shows. (Note to any budding publicists reading this: No rock star has EVER hurt his hand on a hotel room window. Just tell the truth – he was increasingly unhappy and drowned his sorrows with copious amounts of booze and blow, and locked himself in his hotel room, only allowing in his pusher, room service and selected groupies to enter.) Anyway – on his second solo single after leaving Styx, Shaw told the musical story of his frame of mind after his departure. Although Girls With Guns with a moderate success, all of Shaw’s subsequent solo releases went nowhere.

Trivia: After the failure of his third solo album, Shaw bounced back with the 1990 super group Damn Yankees, featuring Ted Nugent, Jack Blades and Michael Cartellone.

Steve Perry
“Running Alone”
From Street Talk (1984)

Representative lyric:

“Everyone’s a hero, if you want to be
Everyone’s a prisoner, holding their own key
Every step I take, every move I make
Always one step closer, I don’t mind running alone”

Like Styx, Journey was a hugely popular act in the late 1970s into the mid 1980s, with hit singles, platinum albums and huge concert tours. Despite outward appearances, by the end of 1983’s Frontiers tour, the core of Journey was rotten. How much of that was due to vocalist Steve Perry – a singer with the reputation of being difficult to deal with (to put it mildly) – is unclear, but for all intents and purposes the band had splintered by that time. So Perry, unsure whether to continue on with Journey or go solo, asked his mother, Mary Perry for council. (She’s “Mary” who is referenced in the song.)

So, Perry went ahead and released his hugely successful Street Talk album (remember “Oh Sherrie?”), and mom, not wanting to steer her darling boy wrong, advised him to return to the band that made him famous. Perry did so, but took dictator-like control of the next album, Raised on Radio, and kicked out long-time drummer Steve Smith and founding member, bassist Ross Valory in the process. Radio proved to the swan song for the band; Perry walked away at the end of the tour in early 1987. He released a second solo album in 1994 and even reformed Journey in 1996 for a new album, but in a déjà vu moment, he walked away, leaving the group in limbo once again. Little has been heard from him in subsequent years; he has truly become the Howard Hughes of the classic rock era.

Trivia: Journey’s “Don’t Stop Belivin’” is the largest-selling digital single from the pre-digital music era.

Music From The Great White North!

Eh, hoser, you think you know a thing or three about Canadian rock?

Those neighbors upstairs sure know how to party!

If you’re only familiar with the platinum artists like Rush, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Triumph and Loverboy, then you’re for sure missing out on scores of B-level (and C, D and E- level, all the way down to Zed-level) artists from the Great White North. Canada has been a fertile ground for delivering classic artists since the 1960s. Early pioneers include the critic’s darlings Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson and Gordon Lightfoot, among many others.

One thing about Canadian rock is that there is a great musical variety. (But technically isn’t that the case everywhere?) OK, so the music scene is no better or worse in Canada than anywhere else. (It’s just colder up there and they drink more beer.) That said, the artists that broke through at some level and filtered south were a diverse bunch: There were pop/rock one-hit wonders (Glass Tiger)*, hard rock posers (Aldo Nova), sensitive singer/songwriters (Sarah McLachlan), early MTV synth-pop favorites (Men Without Hats), bands with names that mean nothing except to the most geographically-sophisticated Americans (Chilliwack), singers who never surrender the right to wear their sunglasses at night (Corey Hart) as well as dreadful artists you’re sorry you ever heard of because psycho ex-girlfriends found life-altering meaning in the lyrics and ended up stalking you (Alanis Morissette).

77% of the world’s maple syrup supply is sourced from Canada.

Wow. So today, let’s talk about three songs that made some noise in the lower 48. Unfortunately, these acts weren’t able to deke it out with their American and British counterparts and become household names. Funny thing about radio airplay (at least back then); many stations didn’t play these types of bands during daylight hours, but slotted them in later, after 9 pm or so. I have memories listening to these musical Canuks on my local radio station (WRKI I-95, Brookfield, CT – the home of rock and roll!), late at night with headphones, all while dreading the math test I had to take the next morning, no doubt.

So put on your toque, grab a Tim Horton’s donut and a double/double, put a two-four of Molson in the snow and head’r to the Great White North!

*I don’t want to instigate a kerfuffle, but, I know Glass Tiger had more than one hit. But I defy you to name any of their songs besides “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)!”

Red Rider –“ Lunatic Fringe”
From As Far As Siam

Led by guitarist/vocalist Tom Cochrane, Red Rider achieved considerable fame in Canada, but never made it beyond cult status down here. Between 1979 and 1984, the original band released four albums, each of which spawned at least one tune that had some success south of the border. Red Rider’s enduring song, “Lunatic Fringe” which is included on the 1981 release, As Far As Siam, is a cautionary tale about the rise of anti-Semitism.

After the initial success following its release, “Lunatic Fringe” showed it still had some life left in it, judging from its inclusion in the television series “Miami Vice” as well as the 1985 film “Vision Quest.” “Lunatic Fringe” remains a staple of classic rock radio to this day.

Trivia: Red Rider bassist Jeff Jones was a member of a pre-Geddy Lee version of Rush in 1968, playing alongside guitarist Alex Lifeson and original Rush drummer John Rutsey.

(Self serving) trivia: I saw Red Rider open for The Kinks at Madison Square Garden in the early 1980s.

Prism – “Don’t Let Him Know”
From Small Change

Prism started life as an obscure band in the mid-1970s, and pretty much spent its entire career in that zone, in America, at least. The band had several albums to their credit, but never broke through. They brushed the top 100 on a few occasions, most notably with “Don’t Let Him Know” (co-written by a then-unknown Bryan Adams), which just made it into the Top 40, peaking at #39 in early 1982.

Tragically, lead singer Ron Tabak died in late 1984, putting an end to the band’s career. One of the founding members, Bruce Fairbairn, made a name for himself as the producer for many of the era’s best-selling albums, working with artists including Loverboy (Loverboy, Get Lucky, Keep It Up), Bon Jovi (Slippery When Wet, New Jersey), Aerosmith (Permanent Vacation, Pump, Get A Grip), AC/DC (The Razor’s Edge, AC/DC Live), Scorpions (Face The Heat), Van Halen (Balance) and many, many more. Another Prism alum, Jim Vallance, became Bryan Adam’s songwriting partner, penning most of Adam’s best-known songs. Vallance also co-authored a few later-day Aerosmith classics (isn’t “later-day Aerosmith classic” an oxymoron?), most notably “Rag Doll.”

Trivia: “Don’t Let Him Know” was fellow Canadian Bryan Adam’s first involvement with a record that made the Billboard Top 40 Singles chart.

(Art major) trivia: The artwork for both the Small Change album and the single featured Norman Rockwell’s 1954 painting, Girl at Mirror. Rockwell didn’t live to see this appropriation of his work; he died five years before its release.

April Wine – “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen”
From Nature Of The Beast

April Wine was Canada’s version of Boston, a quintet that delivered hook-filled melodic hard rock music with plenty of guitars and vocal harmonies. Like so many of their fellow Canadians, they were huge in their native land, but only had minimal success in the States. Best known for the power ballad “Just Between You And Me,” the Miles Goodwyn-fronted unit also scored an FM radio hit with “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen,” which, like “Between,” was taken from 1981’s Nature Of The Beast.

The band slugged it out for a few more years before Goodwyn called time and ended up in the Bahamas. After spending a few years sipping tropical drinks on the beach and missing the business, he traded the sun-soaked island for the tundra life once again and now divides his time between performing with a reformed April Wine and his solo career, along with his side hustle of composing film scores.

Trivia: “Sign Of The Gypsy Queen” was one of the few April Wine songs not composed by Goodwyn. It was written by Lorence Hud. (Who?)

(Naming) trivia: The two words that comprise the band’s name don’t have any special meaning; the band simply felt they “sounded good together.”  For sure!

Three Unlikely 1980s #1 Hits That I Really Like

Sure, I’m more of a hard rock and metal guy, but do possess the ability to appreciate a classic pop song when I hear it. It’s all about the hook, melody and performance, and in some cases, the music video. Today, I discuss three hits that contain all of the above elements. And in two cases here (NOT Chicago, however), the videos are state-of-the-art.

So here are three #1 pop hits of the 1980s I’ve always liked. All of them have staying power, as aptly demonstrated by continued airplay on adult contemporary radio and/or successful cover versions.

Roxette – Listen To Your Heart
Look Sharp! (1988)
#1 for one week – 10/29/1989 through 11/4/1989

Roxette – no turntable required!

Sometimes the Swedes can do what others can’t. For one thing, they (like Switzerland) were able to stay the hell out of the way of World War II (for the most part). And if they didn’t invent the affordable-chic Euro assemble-it-yourself furniture superstore that also serves meatballs in gravy, they sure did a fine job of stealing and running with the idea. And finally, they produce the only fish that American children will eat.

But as far as music is concerned, it’s entirely another story. Apart from ABBA and Europe (that’s Europe the band, as in “The Final Countdown”), Swedish music has been avoided like husmanskost by those of us in America. But apparently in the underside of Scandinavia, there has always been a thriving music scene. Problem is, most of what happens in Sweden stays in Sweden. (When was the last time you heard E-Type on the American airwaves? Me neither.) Predictably, Roxette, a male/female duo that consisted of songwriter/guitarist/sometimes vocalist Per Gessle and vocalist Marie Fredriksson (and their great hair) were having trouble getting noticed outside of the polar region.

As the story goes, Look Sharp!, Roxette’s second album was brought home by an expat college student, he gave it to a friend at a Midwest radio station and the rest is history. Four hit singles (two #1s, a #2 and a #14) were issued from a platinum-selling disc that the American division of the record company initially declined to release over here, declaring the material “unsuitable” for consumption in the States. So much for the experts being experts.

The third single, a power ballad called “Listen To Your Heart” was a tour de force in both hooks and by the powerhouse vocal performance by Fredriksson. Equally stunning was the Doug Freel-directed video, shot in Sweden’s Borgholm Castle, featuring a barefooted Fredriksson belting it out in a skintight dress. Fortunately, Roxette was able to capitalize on this success, releasing several more high-charting singles over the next couple of years, including two more North American #1 hitss.

(Slightly) interesting fact: “Listen To Your Heart” was the first Billboard #1 single NOT released on a 7” vinyl record in America. (Remember the “cassette single?”)

(Slightly less) interesting fact: There are three distinct versions of “Listen” – the original album version, the European single and the remixed American single. And that’s not counting live versions released through the years.

Chicago – Hard To Say I’m Sorry
Chicago 16 (1982)
#1 for two weeks – 9/5/1982 through 9/18/1982

Chicago hits #1 in an era of Men At Work and The Human League. Impressive.

Chicago was one of the biggest rock acts of the 1970s. Between 1967-1977, the original septet released eleven albums (nine studio, one live, one hits), all of which reached the top six (top six?) except for the first one. As far as huge albums and singles go, Chicago was right up there with Paul McCartney, Elton John and the Moody Blues, delivering one of the more impressive winning streaks of the era.

Then things went terribly wrong very quickly. In early 1978, guitarist Terry Kath died of an accidental self-inflicted gunshot, and even though the band carried with a replacement (albeit an ill-fitting replacement), sales dried up. By the time Chicago XIV was released in 1980, it peaked at #71, spawned zero hit singles and was their first album that failed to go gold. Adding injury to insult, the record company then dumped the band. (But it issued Chicago XV – a second hits package – shortly thereafter.) The 1970s were history – it was a great run, but life goes on. Maybe it’s still not too late to go back to school.

So in 1982, a Chicago comeback looked as improbable as a Cubs World Series win. Yet, under the tutelage of star maker David Foster, the predictably-titled Chicago 16 (apparently a new decade meant ditching the roman numerals) charted in the top ten and the first single, “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” climbed to the top of the single charts.

For better or worse, the song changed the course of the band. Chicago went on to a successful second act starting with “Sorry;” The next three years saw five more singles peak in the top 20, until bassist/vocalist Peter Cetera bolted for a solo career in 1985. His absence did nothing to slow down the gravy train; the band continued to release hit singles until the end of the decade before becoming a legacy band for once and for all. History does not record whether “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” benefited from placement in the long-forgotten 1982 film “Summer Lovers.”

Bonnie Tyler – Total Eclipse Of The Heart
Faster Than The Speed Of Night (1983)
#1 for four weeks – 9/25/1983 through 10/22/1983

A 6:59 epic filed down to a manageable 4:30

Prior to 1983, Bonnie Tyler, a Welsh singer with a Rod Stewart-style rasp, was considered a one-hit wonder, based on the country-tinged #3 hit “It’s A Heartache” from 1978. Once the single faded from the airwaves, Tyler seemed to be consigned to the club that included contemporaries Nick Gilder, Debbie Boone and Alicia Bridges.

Fast forward to 1982: Tyler, looking to increase her rock cred (or maybe just to try to make a few bucks), hooked up with songwriter Jim Steinman, who was looking for a new voice to replace the no-longer-relevant Meat Loaf. Plotting for her next album, Steinman dictated that several rock covers be included (Blue Oyster Cult, CCR, Ian Hunter) along with some contemporary offerings and two Steinman originals. The most famous one, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” clocked in at a lengthy seven minutes (although an edit was released as a single.)

Despite topping the chart, subsequent efforts to continue the momentum proved fleeting. Tyler was only able to graze the top 40 one more time with 1984’s “Holding Out For A Hero” from the “Footloose” soundtrack. But her legacy will always be “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.” Truth of the matter is that I could do without the “turn around, bright eyes” part, but that’s an integral part of the song. Sure, there are plenty of better singers out there than Bonnie Tyler, but when she gets to “I really need you tonight, forever’s gonna start tonight” at the end of the song, she’s singing like her life depends on it. Something that very few can do. An admirable trait.