Blondie–Eat To The Beat

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Okay. This was released at the tail end of the 1979 but it’s my blog and Autoamerican and The Hunter kinda suck, so we’re going to let the decade drift backwards a couple months. “People” (our human collective, not the grocery store checkout line magazine) pretty much all agree that 1978’s Parallel Lines is the perfect pop album. It may even be, actually. But this one is even better. Because for once the group inject a little hard rock into those precious, arty LES veins of theirs.

I’m not a big fan of reviewing albums tracks by track, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, so let’s go!

“Dreaming” is dreamy–the best song they ever did. The group say hello to the 80s by having Clem Burke go berserk the minute the needle hits the first groove, while Debbie evokes such palpable saudade on top of the whole shebang you can’t help but wish she was “right there with you” as you listen.

“The Hardest Part” is either about robbing an armored car or a clumsy first-try at backdoor sex, but whatever the point is, it’s driven home just as forcefully as William Jefferson Clinton pushed Gennifer Flowers face into the cushions of a love seat somewhere in the antechambers of the Arkansas State House that very same year. It is a rock song.

“Union City Blues” is so good they made a movie out if it.

“Shayla” may or may not be about some Rosie the Riveter-type being swept up into a spaceship. Whatever the case, it’s real purty, as Michael Stipe once graciously described my lower middle appendage as we stood side by side in the men’s room of the 40 Watt Club.

“Eat to the Beat” yanks the listener forward as if on a chain once again, as that well-coiffed Brit drummer hits everything in sight in perfect syncopation and the lyrics lay out the blueprint for MF DOOM’s Mm..Food.

“Accidents Never Happen” and “Die Young Stay Pretty” are just Blondie being Blondie–a world class pop group treating hooks like they grow on freaking trees. For some, they do.

“Slow Motion” is pretty darn sublime, as Ms. Harry actually makes us laypeople believe we can “play with time” through sheer vocal timbre.

The next track brings us to the heart of the matter. “Atomic” piles on the atmospherics like a multi-colored dream coat and if it lasted four hours instead of four minutes, I’d be down with it. The soundtrack to a spaghetti western filmed deep inside the inner recesses of the Crab Nebula. Which is exactly where I’ve always wanted to dwell.

“Sound A Sleep” isn’t the most satisfying song, but it dozy pace leads neatly into the galloping “Victor,” which is basically a bunch of dicking around in the studio but the band pulls it off with no problem thanks to Debbie’s epically needy moans and a guitar solo that flashes like heat lightning.

“Living In the Real World” is a middle finger raised to our very existence and the band’s earned a little tetchiness by this point. Maybe they knew even then that they would only survive the first three years of the new decade, limping along most of the way.

In short, a great band at their peak!

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‘Til Tuesday–Voices Carry LP

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This group’s bass player/vocalist was savagely ridiculed during this band’s brief heyday, mostly for her python-length braided tail and childish histrionics at the opera house in the video for the title track, but it was clearly a great single that even Springsteen-addicted jocks and stoner metalheads appreciated. Dig a little deeper and you will find that as with a lot of 80s bands considered one-hit wonders, the single was merely the tip of the iceberg and was actually part and parcel of a pretty solid LP. For realz!

The stripped-down, catchy songwriting skills that granted group leader Aimee Mann a “second life” as a solo artist in the late 90s-early 00s were already in evidence back then, only glossed over with typical 80s bravura instrumentation and production. But that wasn’t a bad thing. “Looking Over My Shoulder” and “Winning the War” are catchy, driving tunes that easily could have charted. “You Know The Rest” is so pretty, Liberace covered it. And believe it or not, Aimee can really play that bass, pounding on its four strings with wild abandon in just about every song–kinda like a taller, more fuckable Flea.

As mentioned, she had a genuine renaissance about fifteen years back but then gradually slid out of the public consciousness yet again, so far out, in fact, she recently resurfaced as the object of some good-natured joking as a down and out house cleaner on the TV show Portlandia. I really thought she should have become a running character on the show, perhaps having things devolve to the point where she becomes the sex slave of the two yuppie indie-rock characters she works for, but no one in Portland ever listens to me or else the Trail Blazers would have about 9 championship banners hanging in the Rose Garden about now.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, she’s officially the fourth member of Rush!! I don’t see you or me pulling that off!

Men Without Hats–Rhythm of Youth

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Everybody knows the song. Everybody loves the song. That’s not the problem. The problem rears its ugly head when you try to tell someone that the full-length LP from which the song “The Safety Dance” is taken from is a uniformly excellent record. I’ve been laughed at, kicked and even slapped across the face just for expressing this sentiment. And this is supposedly a free country!

Ivan Doroschuk is no Dave Gahan or Andy McCluskey. He’s better, in fact. His voice quavers and yelps like a friendly dog and with his flowing brown locks, he kind of looks like a shaggy dog. He also, and not many people knew this at the time–dressed like a 16th century peasant all the time, not just for the “Safety Dance” video. This sartorial stubbornness caused him all sorts of problems, especially at the funerals of family members and at the bank when he applied for a home mortgage, but he had a vision and he stuck with it.

The record, though, is 40 or so minutes of exuberant, infectious synth pop. He and his cohorts manage to make their Korgs sound both frosty and warm at the same time, not an easy trick to pull off. “I Got The Message” is a dance song, but also a telescopic view of a rapidly diminishing future that can make a person feel sad if they are sitting alone in bed drinking when they hear it. I’m not sure what the song delivered in French is about, but I do know that Celine Dion performed it for her husband at their star-studded 1994 wedding. If there is a misstep, it’s probably “Living in China” whereby Ivan presents what he thinks is a comprehensive overview of a country of over a billion people that seems to have been researched from the backseat of a cab kerb-crawling through Montreal’s Chinatown and tries to rhyme egg-foo-yung with ping-pong. Not their shining moment.

But, hey, check it out for yourself from one of the many sites that allow you to listen to music for free. How can it harm you? And also, next time you hear someone call Men Without Hats a “one hit wonder” don’t be afraid to remind them that “Pop Goes The World” charted almost as high only four years later.

Sources I know up in New Hampshire tell me GG Allin used to carry this cassette around with him everywhere–that must count for something…

Rebel Yell (the record)

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Billy Idol had already provoked the question “Who is that creep?” from my father as he peeked over his Wall Street Journal one evening during a Radio 1990 broadcast of the promotional video for the song “White Wedding,” but at that point not too many people knew enough about the guy to really say.

“White Wedding” was a minor MTV hit from Billy’s self-titled first album with a low-budget video that had been shot in some Home Counties churchyard. For his next album, Rebel Yell, William threw all his chips into the pot and hightailed it out to Hollywood, where there were endless rows of Yank birds to shag, endless lines of coke to hoover up, and endlessly energetic videos to make. His pursuit of video immortality was so dogged, he was even willing to blind himself¬†for the sake of recording some memorable imagery, ironically for a song called “Eyes Without a Face.” For three days after this particular shoot Billy was literally a “face without its eyes” as the 30 straight hours of posing and sneering in front of smoke machines had fused his contact lenses to his corneas!

With four video hits and two additional tracks notching tons of AOR airplay, Rebel Yell was a monster record that perched Billy pretty much near the top of the pile during 1983-1984 and the dude sure looked like he was enjoying it. Of course the “secret sauce” to all this popularity had those very same initials. His name was Steve Stevens and he wrote just about every note of music on an album that stayed in the charts for 70 weeks.¬† But Billy, ever the egotist, immediately started easing his partner out of the picture. Stevens would only receive songwriting credits on roughly half of Whiplash Smile and then he was gone. And so was Billy’s career. Within ten years he’d be releasing something called Cyberpunk, a whacko reinvention about as convincing as that time George Herbert Walker Bush “dropped in” at J.C. Penney’s to buy socks.

Today, the “rock of youth” mentioned in “Catch My Fall” is a pillow of pebbles, pebbles that are getting smaller with each passing day. Before we know it, it’ll be a pile of dust. For all of us. So make sure you head out onto that Blue Highway as much as you can while you still can…Billy sez so!!