Saturday, March 07, 2009

10 Great Songs from One Great Year


The year started off the inauguration of George H. W. Bush as the 41 st President and ended with the execution of Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu. The Soviet Union leaves Afghanistan and its withdrawal sets the stage for the Taliban to fill the void left by the communist regime. This was also the year that Salman Rushdie was targeted for assassination for his book “The Satanic Verses,” by Ayatollah Khomeini.

In March, Time Inc. and Warner Communications announce a multi-billion dollar merger and the Exxon Valdez spills 240,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil after running aground in Alaska 's Prince William Sound. The Skydome opens in Toronto, Kurt Waldheim – the former Nazi SS guard – is elected President of Austria and this was also the year of the Tiananmen Square showdown and massacre.

And although freedom does not yet come to China , the Berlin Wall does comes down – signaling the end of the communist regimes behind the Iron Curtain.

Kid Fears – The Indigo Girls

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers got their start in Atlanta as a regular act at The Little 5 Points Pub and were tangentially part of the Athens, Georgia college rock scene that included The B-52's, R.E.M. and The Georgia Satellites. The two women got to know each other as students at Laurel Ridge Elementary School in DeKalb County, Georgia just outside of Decatur, Georgia, but were not friends because Emily was a grade ahead of Amy. While attending Shamrock High School, they grew closer, and started performing together, first as the B-Band and then as Saliers and Ray . By 1985, these two Emory University students began performing as The Indigo Girls. In a March 2007 NPR Talk of the Nation interview, Emily stated "...we needed a name and we went through the dictionary looking for words that struck us and indigo was one..." They released their first full-length LP, Indigo Girls in late '88 and with it, the track “Closer to Fine” – which reached #26 on the Modern Rock Chart (Billboard). “Kid Fears” was the third track on the album and features a haunting collaborating vocal by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe. The band still tours and records and their forthcoming release, Poseidon and the Bitter Bug, will be in stores March 24th.

If You Don't Know Me by Now – Simply Red

This was written by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who were architects of the Philadelphia Soul sound. They credit their individual marital problems with allowing them to write such a heart-wrenching song. This song was originally sung and recorded by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. Teddy Pendergrass sang lead and was the drummer for the group but took over vocals when their original lead singer left. The Blue Notes had been around for a while, and Harold Melvin was the only original member, which prompted the name change to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. This was their first hit, and many people assumed Pendergrass was Harold Melvin, something Melvin didn't appreciate. Pendergrass did well as a solo artist after leaving the group in 1976, scoring hits with "Close the Door" and "Two Hearts" (with Stephanie Mills). A car accident in 1982 left him partially paralyzed. Simply Red's roots originate from the 1976 Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Manchester art student Mick Hucknall was one of the many young music fans present, along with original members of Joy Division, The Smiths and Buzzcocks. The first incarnation of the band was a punk group called The Frantic Elevators. This band existed for 7 years, with limited releases on local labels, but split in 1984 with only limited local attention and critical acclaim for their final single, "Holding Back the Years" – which was re-released two years later under the band's new name. That song became their first number one hit (followed by “If You Don't Know Me at All”). The band is named after the hair color of the lead singer, Hucknall. Hucknall announced that the band were due to split in 2010, after a farewell tour, starting in early 2009, ending in 2010; "I've kind of decided that the 25 years is going to be enough, so I intend that the 2009 will be the last Simply Red tour."

My Heart Can't Tell You No – Rod Stewart

With his distinctive raspy voice, Stewart came to prominence in the late 1960s and early '70s with The Jeff Beck Group and then Faces. He launched his solo career in 1969 with his debut album An Old Raincoat Won't Ever Let You Down. His work with The Jeff Beck Group and The Faces proved to be influential on the formation of the heavy metal and punk rock genres, respectively. Both bands were also pioneers of blues-rock. With his career in its fifth decade, Stewart has achieved numerous solo hit singles worldwide, most notably in the UK, where he has garnered six consecutive number one albums and his tally of 62 hit singles include 31 that reached the top 10, six of which gained the number one position. He has also had 16 top ten singles in the USA , with four of these reaching number one. It has been estimated that Stewart's album and single sales total more than 250 million, earning him a place on the list of best-selling music artists. Released from his 15 th album, Out of Order, “My Heart Can't Tell You Know” reached number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was considered a comeback song for the rocker. It also paved the way for him to expand into a softer sound which was a huge departure from his earlier, more flamboyant days.

Funky Cold Medina – Tone Loc

In 1959, The Clovers recorded Love Potion #9, and took almost 30 more years before another song about a powerful aphrodisiac became a big hit. In this song, Loc's love potion is the Funky Cold Medina, which is so powerful it even works on dogs. Loc makes it clear that you have to be very careful with the Medina , or it could have unintended consequences, like marriage. This song contains a soup of samples. The drum break is from "Get Off Your Ass and Jam" by Funkadelic, and the main guitar riff is from "Hot Blooded" by Foreigner. Other samples are "Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones (when this song is mentioned), "Christine Sixteen" by KISS, "All Right Now" by Free, "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive. Like Loc's other hit "Wild Thing," this was written by Marvin Young, who recorded as Young MC. Both songs have a similar sound and comical lyrics. The dogs mentioned in the lyrics were spokesdogs of the '80s. Spuds McKenzie shilled for Budweiser and Alex sold Strohs.

Sowing the Seeds of Love – Tears for Fears

After garnering huge international success, following their multi-platinum album “Songs from the Big Chair” in 1985, Tears for Fears kept busy – recording a song for the Karate Kid, Part II soundtrack and being scheduled to perform at Live Aid. However, they pulled out of the concert. The official reason given for their non-appearance was that two of their backing musicians had quit - guitarist Andrew Saunders and saxophonist Will Gregory, due to the expiration of their contract. In place of appearing, the band pledged to donate proceeds from their world tour played in Tokyo , Sydney , London and New York. It was 1989 before the group released their third album, The Seeds of Love, at a reported production cost of over a million pounds. The length of the production left the band with towering debt and a record company eager to cash in on lost earnings. The album retained the band's epic sound while showing increasing influences ranging from jazz and blues to The Beatles, the latter being evident on the hit single "Sowing the Seeds of Love" the first record ever played on Atlantic 252, the UK and Ireland Longwave Radio station. A 64-page companion book, simply titled "Tears for Fears - The Seeds of Love", was released by Virgin Books in 1990 and offered extensive insight from Orzabal, Holland and Adams into the songwriting and production process for the album, as well as the musical scores for each track and rare promotional photographs from the era. After The Seeds of Love, Orzabal and Smith had an acrimonious falling out and parted company in 1991. The split was blamed on Orzabal's intricate but frustrating approach to production and Smith's desire to slow down the pace of their work. Prior to The Seeds of Love, Smith had also been deeply affected by the breakdown of his marriage to Lynn Altman, whom he had met in his teens. Orzabal kept the band name alive by releasing the 1992 hit single "Laid So Low (Tears Roll Down)" in order to promote the greatest hits collection Tears Roll Down (Greatest Hits 82-92). Of course, since this is rock and roll, the band reunited in the 2000's and have announced a new U.S. tour for summer 2009.

Lovesong – Cure

Cure lead singer Robert Smith originally wrote this as a wedding present for his fiancée, Mary, shortly before their marriage. The lyrics were inspired by the constant touring Smith had to go through with The Cure. He wanted his wife to know that no matter how much he had to travel and perform, he would always love her. This contains a hidden lyric from another song. Robert Smith half-sings/speaks "Fly me to the moon" after the second chorus, before the middle guitar solo. The Cure often performed their song "Why Can't I Be You?" and Smith sang lyrics from other songs during extended breaks, including the classic "Fly Me to the Moon." In the US , this was by far the biggest hit for The Cure. In the
UK , "Friday I'm In Love" did better, hitting #6.

Do You Remember? – Phil Collins

In many respects, the 1980's belonged to Phil Collins. Although he became the lead singer of Genesis in 1975 (following the departure of frontman Peter Gabriel), his first charting success happened in '79 with the bands breakthrough hit, “Follow Me, Follow You.” From that point on, Collins and the other members of the band (Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks) recorded 24 top 40 hits, along with 7 platinum albums. As a solo artist, Collins has recorded 9 studio albums (including 2 children's soundtracks for Disney) and has amassed an amazing 39 top 40 singles (including 5 #1's). By 1989, Collins was among the most successful, and the most played artists in history. Taken from his fourth album, …But Seriously, “Do You Remember?” was written by Collins and produced by Collins and Hugh Padgham. Singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop is a backing vocalist on the track. The song looks back on a relationship as its last days are at hand. It conjures up the regret and the sadness of lost love and is one of the finest lyrical pieces he's ever written.

New York Minute – Don Henley

As the title implies, this song is about how quickly and drastically life can change. The underlying message is to treasure the good things you have because they could be gone tomorrow. By the time this song came out, Don Henley had proven to be the conscience of the Eagles. While teamed with fellow band mate Glenn Frey, they scored some of the most popular rock music every made. By his third solo album, 1989's The End of the Innocence, he had already charted with 17 songs – including 11 top 10 hits. Following the release of this album, Henley founded the Walden Woods Project to help protect Walden Woods from development. The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods was started in 1998 to provide for research and education regarding Henry David Thoreau. In 2005, he had a fundraiser concert with Elton John and others to buy Bristor's Hill, part of Walden Woods, and turn it a hiking trail. If he had not, Bristor's hill would be an office building right now. In 1995, Henley married Sharon Summerall, a former model from Texas who had lived in Paris and studied art history. Summerall suffers from MS. They have 3 children together, two girls and a boy. Their first child, a girl was born in December of 1995, their son was born in February of 1998, and their youngest, another girl, was born in the spring of 2000.

We Didn't Start the Fire – Billy Joel

The lyrics are a stream of consciousness list of events that Joel felt his generation was not responsible for. A lot of the references are to the Cold War (US vs. Russia ), a problem his generation inherited. In the liner notes of Piano Man: The Very Best of Billy Joel, Joel explains that he wrote this song after a conversation with John Lennon's son Sean. In an interview, Joel said that he wrote the lyrics first, which he rarely does. He says that is why the song has no melody. Blender magazine rated this the 41st worst song ever in its 2004 article "Run for Your Life! It's the 50 Worst Songs Ever!" Comparing it to "a term paper scribbled the night before it's due," Blender criticized Joel's attempt to "Fit a cultural history of the twentieth century into 4 minutes" (even though the song is closer to 5 minutes, clocking in at 4:47), as well as accusing him of trivializing the Tinanmen Square massacre by mentioning it in the same line as "Rock and roller cola wars." Joel is accustomed to being panned by critics, who were often very harsh on his hit songs.

As Long As You Follow – Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac (like Phil Collins, Don Henley and Billy Joel) played a big part in the music of the 80's and were at a crossroads by the end of the decade. After unmatched success from their previous studio albums, it seemed like the magic began to fade with 1987's Tango in the Night – which turned out to be more of a Lindsay Buckingham solo album, then a compilation (especially given that Stevie Nicks spent the entire recording process locked away at a drug treatment facility). The following year, the band released their greatest hits package, which featured two new songs - "No Questions Asked" written by Nicks, and "As Long as You Follow" written by Christine McVie. In addition, Buckingham – who joined Mac along with Nicks back in 1975 – departed the band following a heated exchange with band members (allegedly in a fit regarding Nicks, whom he had been married to and then divorced). The new lineup never really caught on and following the release of Behind the Mask, the group reunited for the benefit of President Bill Clinton's inauguration ( Clinton used the Mac song “Don't Stop” as his campaign theme).


Blown Away – Jeff Lynne

Lynne's influence by the Beatles was clearly evident in his ELO work and the connection to the Beatles was strengthened when Lynne produced George Harrison's Cloud Nine, a successful comeback album for the ex-Beatle, released in 1987, featuring the popular singles "Got My Mind Set on You," "When We Was Fab" (where Lynne played the violin in the video), and "This Is Love," two of the three songs co-written by Lynne. Jeff Lynne's association with Harrison led to the 1988 formation of the Traveling Wilburys, a studio "supergroup" that included George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison (as well as Lynne himself), and resulted in two albums (Vol. 1 and Vol. 3), both co-produced by Lynne. In 1988 Lynne also worked on Roy Orbison's album Mystery Girl co-writing and producing Orbison's last major hit, "You Got It", plus two other tracks on that album. For Rock On, the final Del Shannon album, Jeff Lynne co-wrote "Walk Away" and finished off several tracks after Shannon 's death. In 1989, Lynne co-produced Full Moon Fever by Tom Petty, which included the hit singles "Free Fallin'," "I Won't Back Down," and "Runnin' Down a Dream," all co-written by Lynne. This album and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 both received nominations for the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year in 1989. Lynne's song "One Way Love" was released as a single by Agnetha Faltskog and appeared on her second post-ABBA album, Eyes of a Woman. Lynne co-wrote and produced the track "Let It Shine" for Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson's first solo album in 1988. Lynne also contributed three tracks to an album by Duane Eddy and "Falling in Love" on Land of Dreams for Randy Newman. In 1990, Lynne collaborated on the Wilburys' follow up Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 and shortly after that released his first solo album Armchair Theatre, with old friends George Harrison and Richard Tandy (of ELO fame) featuring the singles "Every Little Thing" and "Lift Me Up," as well as “Blown Away.” The album received some positive critical attention but little commercial success - which was very surprising considering his incredible success as a producer. In 1991, Lynne returned to the studio with Petty, co-writing and producing the album Into the Great Wide Open for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, which featured the singles "Learning to Fly" and "Into the Great Wide Open". The following year he produced Roy Orbison's posthumous album King of Hearts, featuring the single "I Drove All Night". In February 1994, Lynne fulfilled a lifelong dream by working with the three surviving Beatles on the Anthology album series. At George Harrison's request, Lynne was brought in to assist in reevaluating John Lennon's original studio material. The songs "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love" were created by digitally processing Lennon's demos for the songs and overdubbing the three surviving band members to form a virtual Beatles reunion that the band had mutually eschewed during Lennon's lifetime. Lynne has also produced records for Ringo Starr and worked on Paul McCartney's album Flaming Pie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Someday, I will figure out how to post with my real name.
To comment on we didn't start the fire. You know I am a geek. So when I heard "We didn't Start the Fire" and I recognised it as a history overview, I sat with our set of encyclopedia's and looked up every single reference.
I learned more about the past century from that song than the glib overview our history teacher provided in two years of highschool.
There was a lot that I didn't know. Some stuff that would not have made the final cut with the text book editor as they tend to think a highschooler still needs kid gloves. And what I already knew about became much cooler.
Critics get paid to be nasty. And they get paid to stay stupid. It is the best geek song ever. And... it was the only song in which everyone attending the Stormfront concert in Pontiac got on their feet and "sang" along. More of a chant really since there is no melody.
Billy Joel is a genius no matter who fails to recognise this.