Displaying items by tag: Today's Song You Should Know
If you're a music fan, one of the saddest things about getting older is that songs that hold a touchstone for your life become essentially invisible to later generations.
"Colour My World" by Chicago is one of those tunes. Thanks to the demographic quirks of classic rock formats, it's rare to hear anything older than the early 1980s on the radio. And even on the few hard classic rock radio stations, a lot of bands that were integral rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s are pretty much ignored because they fall into that category of "classic but not hard rock."
While plenty of the Peter Cetera-era soft-rock hits from Chicago's 1980s and 1990s output are still receiving plenty of attention, the early songs of the band once known as the Chicago Transit Authority are sadly unknown to most music fans under the ago of 50. Which sucks, because the band put out a string of really impressive horn-based rock albums that reflected the jazz and classical roots of the original band members. A great jumping-in point for that era of Chicago is the band's Chicago At Carnegie Hall, a massive four-album live set that covered most of the important tracks from the band's first three releases. While the studio version of "Colour My World" (which was on the band's second album) was the hit, I much prefer the live version. It sounds a bit more relaxed and despite the size of the crowd, more intimate.
With vocals by the late, great Terry Kath and music/lyrics by James Pankow, "Colour My World" was originally released as the "B" side of the May 1970 single "Make Me Smile." It was released a year later as a single and went to #7. Despite only having one verse and a flute solo, the song was played at every high school dance and most of the backyard weddings throughout much of the 1970s.
Unless you're pretty deep into the weeds with your knowledge of late 1970s British pub rock bands, you probably aren't familiar with The Motors. The band was comprised of Andy McMaster, Nick Garvey, Ricky Slaughter (Richard Wernham) and Bram Tchaikovsky (Peter Bramall). McMaster and Garvey had recently played together in the band Ducks Deluxe, which also included future Graham Parker and the Rumour members Brinsley Schwarz and Martin Belmont.
The band only released three albums in their short life and while they had a #4 hit single in the U.K. with "Airport," their biggest impact in the U.S. was with their final album. 1980's "Tenament Steps" hit #174 on the U.S. album charts, thanks in part to the track "Love And Loneliness." It was the only single of the band's to hit the Billboard U.S. Top 100 singles chart, although it only made it to #78.
Listening to "Love And Loneliness" now, it's tough to see why it wasn't a massive club hit at the very least. Swirling piano and keyboards lead a track which has a hook so solid you could hang a small car on it. It's just a great tune and you can easily imagine it playing as part of some imaginary John Hughes soundtrack.
The band member who found the most success after leaving the band was Bram Tchaikovsky (Peter Bramall), who left the band in 1978 and later had a U.S. Top 40 hit with the Power Pop ear candy track "Girl Of My Dreams."
Rather than focusing on the death of convicted murderer and well-known music producer Phil Spector, I wanted to focus on some of his victims. Specifically, people whose careers and lives were negatively impacted by Spector's erratic behavior and tendency towards violence. And if you want a textbook example of Spector's negative impact on a female singer's career, you have to look no farther than his ex-wife, Ronnie Spector.
Spector's voice is instantly identifiable, and as the lead singer of The Ronettes, she had a string of hits arranged and produced by Phil Spector. "Be My Baby," "Baby I Love You," "Walking In The Rain" and other singles helped define the pre-Beatles soundtrack of the early 1960s. But the group broke up in 1967 & the following year Ronnie Spector (born Veronica Yvette Bennett) had married Phil Spector. Where she quickly found herself in the grasps of a manipulative, angry psychopath.
She famously left the marriage when she escaped barefoot from his mansion in 1972, but in the years of her marriage she experienced a simply stunning level of abuse from her husband. In her 1990 memoir, "Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts And Madness," she detailed years of psychological torment. He surrounded the house with barbed wire, guard dogs and confiscated her shoes to keep her from leaving. On the rare occasions he allowed her out alone, she had to drive with a life-size dummy of Phil. She also claimed he sabotaged her career by forbidding her to perform.
It wasn't until 1976 that she began an attempt to build a solo career by appearing on the Southside Johnny recording of "You Mean So Much To Me." The track was written by Bruce Springsteen and that association brings us to "Say Goodbye To Hollywood."
In 1976, Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band were hobbled by a lawsuit filed by former manager Mike Appel. They were legally prohibited from recording a follow-up to the "Born To Run" album and spent much of their time touring. But members of the E-Street Band did also did some session work, including drummer Max Weinberg and pianist Roy Bittan appearance on Meatloaf's "Bat Out Of Hell" album. In January of 1977, Steve Van Zandt decided to take the entire E Street Band into the studios and cut some tracks with Ronnie Spector. The result was a single of Billy Joel's "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" b/w "Baby, Please Don't Go." Release on the same CBS-distributed label as Meatloaf (Cleveland International), it was billed as the first single off an upcoming album.
Joel had released "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" in 1976 and was obviously inspired by the Phil Spector Wall of Sound that framed the Ronettes work. So much so that his version of the song began with the same drum intro as their single "Be My Baby." "Baby, Please Don't Go" was written by Steven Van Zandt. Both tracks are magnificent updates of the iconic Ronettes sound as listening to them now, it's hard to believe "Say Goodbye To Hollywood" wasn't a hit. Incessant piano undertones, the incessant Clarence Clemons sax counterpoints and an overall production that is best described as "timeless." There was some level of work done on an album, but in later years, Ronnie Spector said she was distracted by custody issues and other legal problems that prevented her from focusing on her career.
She has released several albums since (including a 1999 album produced by Joey Ramone), but her most recognizable work as a solo act is likely her vocals on the 1986 Eddie Money hit "Take Me Home Tonight."
If you're a rock music fan, you're likely familiar with the story of Big Star, a Memphis-based band that created three albums of music that are still regarded as highly influential even though the best-selling release - the debut album entitled "#1 Record" - likely only sold a few hundred copies when it was released in June 1972. But the band's music has been re-released continuously over the ensuing decades and you can now buy pretty much every track and live show the band ever recorded. Their music matters because not only were they talented, but their songs captured the zeitgeist of what was to come in music. Every one from R.E.M.'s Peter Buck to Paul Stanley have cited the band as an influence.
There are a precious few bands like Big Star that just seem to capture a specific moment in time. More often than not, the bands aren't all that successful at the time, but as the years pass, their talent and influence become clear. Which brings me to the Chicago band Insiders.
The band was part of a massive wave of talent that exploded in Chicago in the 1980s. You could go to clubs seven days a week and not catch all of the talent playing on a regular basis. And for whatever reason, the scene never took off the way it did in L.A. in the late 1980s or Seattle in the 1990s. A number of bands were signed by major labels but for the most part, the exercise was more frustrating than starmaking.
One group that nearly everyone thought would break big was the Insiders. Imagine Lennon and McCartney backed by Tom Petty's Heartbreakers. Their songs were ear candy, the band was incredibly tight live and they were one of the few bands that didn't have a weak spot in the lineup. After being initially courted by Warner Brothers, they signed with Epic and released their debut album, "Ghost On The Beach" in 1987. The title track became a Top Ten modern rock track and the album reportedly sold about 100,000 copies.
But like a lot of bands, the follow-up album turned into a bit of a nightmare. They recorded a bunch of tracks in Memphis, which the label apparently decided didn't include a hit. They recorded another group of tracks and eventually were dropped by the label. The entire story is much too long to get into here, but it's worth noting that Chrysalis Records wanted to sign the band, but wasn't willing to pay Epic's price for the recorded tracks.
The band later released several albums through the independent label Monsterdisc, including "Live At Fitzgerald's," an absolutely smoking live album that included tracks from their debut album as well as ones that had been slated for the follow-up.
There are a number of great unreleased tunes from the Epic period, but I wanted to showcase "Little Miss Information" here. In part, because it's just a song with a hook as powerful as a cannonball. And also because a member of the band posted this live clip on YouTube, which gives you an idea of just how good a band they were live.
"Ghost On The Beach" has been out of print since the early 1990s and it has never been released digitally. I love the band enough I spent some time trying to shake loose tracks from Sony to release independently, but wasn't able to make it happen. But if you like their sound, a collection of unrleased tracks called "Back In Memphis" is floating around on some torrent sites. And you can listen to a couple of live tracks and well as songs from their unreleased Epic album on this Soundcloud page.
If you are familiar with the music of The Tubes, it's probably from one of their two big 1980s albums. Toto’s David Foster and Steve Lukather produced the album The Completion Backward Principle, which produced the hit "Talk To Ya Later." And 1983's album Outside In included the #1 hit "She's A Beauty," which still gets a lot of airplay on those "hits of the 80s & 90s" radio stations.
But in the mid-to-late 1970s, the San Francisco-based band was known as much for their insanely over-the-top theatrics as their music. Their shows were part rock, part performance art and while they didn't sell a lot of records in that early period, they had a reputation as a band you had to see live.
Their best album from that period was their self-titled debut, which included the songs "What Do You Want From Life?" and "White Punks On Dope." While both songs ended up being released as singles, the tracks received 99% of their airplay from college radio stations and FM stations that were still holding on to "freeform" format.
The video below is the full concert for a New Year's Eve 1975 show at Bill Graham's Winterland. It opens with lead singer Fee Waybill dressed in a white tux as he goes through a rambling albeit pretty straight-forward version of "What Do You Want From Life?" But fast-forward to about 90 minutes in when the band tackles "White Punks On Dope?" with the already tall Waybill sporting foot-high heels and an outfit best described as "space hooker."
"Ghosts" is the second track released off of Bruce Springsteen's upcoming album "Letter To You" and the song will be a treat for fans hoping to hear some of the classic E-Street Band sound. Springsteen's voice might be weathered around the edges, but the tune is vintage Springsteen at its best. Solid chugging guitars and piano, explosive drums and just a hint of saxophone at the end. The video cuts between classic performance footage of Springsteen & the E-Streeters (along with snippets of a couple of old pre-E-Street bands) and footage shot earlier this year as the band recorded the track live in the studio.
The lyrics reflect a lot of the themes Springsteen has been discussing in interviews done to promote the new album. How we get to a certain age and we're both happy to still be here and doing good work. While still being haunted by the ghosts of all the loved ones we left behind. While the song is technically named "Ghosts," most people will probably refer to it by it's massive hook, "I'm Alive."
If this is a representative sample of what we can expect to hear on the new album, it can't get here fast enough.
If most people know the name of Kiki Dee at all, it's because of her connection with Elton John. At the height of his 1970s fame, John signed Kiki Dee to his newly formed Rocket Records and he tried hard to break her big as a solo artist. Dee had released her first solo single in 1964 and had released a number of well-regarded singles and several albums. But while some of the tunes got airplay in the UK, she never quite had a hit. She bounced from label to label and by 1970 became the first white artist signed to Motown Records.
Her fortunes changed when John signed her to his label and her first Rocket Records single - "Amoureuse" - became a Top 15 hit in the U.K. The resulting album "Loving & Free" also included "Super Cool," written by Elton John & Bernie Taupin. The single didn't chart anywhere, but it's a fabulous song and it is instantly recognizable as a John/Taupin track from that era. In fact, I suspect that if John had released the song himself it would have been a huge hit.
Dee's next album spawned the 1974 Top 15 U.S. hit "I've Got The Music In Me," but none of her follow-up singles charted. In 1976 she had her biggest hit when Dusty Springfield was too sick to record the duet "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Elton John. That song went to #1 in more than 20 countries and was John's first #1 in the U.K.
Dee has continued to record in the years since and had several modest U.K. hits. But her biggest chart success in recent years was in 1993, when the track "True Love" (a duet with Elton John off of his "Duets" album) went to #2 in the U.K. Her most recent release was the 2013 single "Steppin' Out With A Soul Man."
There are certain moments in American rock when a town or region just seems to capture whatever cultural zeitgeist is in the air. The L.A. hair band scene in the early 1980s, the New York City punk scene of the late 1970s and the Seattle grunge sound in the 1990s propelled a bunch of local bands into the national spotlight. But the scenes that have always fascinated me are the ones that never quite caught fire, despite having a depth of talent as deep as any of the ones that are now household names.
I lived in Chicago in the 1980s and early 1990s and the city had a rock scene that was as strong as any that I've ever seen. But for some reason, the talent was never able to capitalize on the magic. A couple of bands managed a bit of commercial success (like "Off Broadway"), but most of the bands ended up being talented footnotes in rock scene that never quite caught fire.
The Bad Examples was one band that I was certain would be superstars. They were a tight band live and had a pop/rock sound that sounded like a ballsier, less condescending Squeeze. Yet despite releasing several really strong albums, they never managed to get signed to a major label and never really grew past the "really hot in our home town" phase.
"Bad Girl" was one of my favorites to hear live back in the day and listening to the song in 2020, I'm struck by just how radio-friendly the tune sounds in retrospect. It's always hard to determine why an individual song wasn't a hit, but if a radio station was to play "Bad Girl" as part of their 80s/90s format, I think most listeners would just assume it had been a hit and that they had just forgotten about it.
I highly recommend tracking down the band's music, especially the 1991 album Bad Is Beautiful, which includes the radio-friendly "Ashes Of My Heart" as well as their best-known song, "Not Dead Yet." In the end, it's an ironic twist of fate that despite the talent in the band, lead singer Ralph Covert became a success not as a member of The Bad Examples, but for his string of "Ralph's World" children's albums, one of which was nominated for a Grammy.