Tag Archive | "80s Music"

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R.I.P. Faye Hunter – This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Let’s Active – “Waters Part”

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First off, I apologize in advance if I tend to spotlight ’80s artists from North Carolina a bit more often than demographically appropriate. However, perhaps residents of other U.S. states and other nations who may be reading this will be willing to cut me a little slack given the relative dearth of things to be proud of lately coming out of my home state. Of course, I’m speaking chiefly in a social and political sense there, as North Carolina has always boasted and continues to boast some of the finest artists in the world across a variety of media. So that brings us back to the music quickly enough, I suppose.

This week I’m spotlighting some fine ’80s college rock with a bit of a heavy heart, as sometimes also happens on this site. Back on July 21, 2013, the music world and the state of North Carolina lost a major contributor to the early alternative music scene in former Let’s Active bassist Faye Hunter. Following some years of personal difficulty and physical decline, Hunter apparently took her own life – leaving this world just a few miles away from Winston-Salem, where she and Let’s Active leader Mitch Easter worked together 30 years ago bringing so much joy into it. Even though it’s becoming more common every year for ’80s music artists to join the ever-growing ranks of those departed too soon, it’s still always a blow to anyone even marginally inspired by the music they made.

As I’ve admitted on this site more than once, many of the great jangle pop bands of the ’80s would have remained unknown to me far longer than they were without the influence of a friend of mine from down the street where I grew up in semi-rural Buncombe County. I realized the other day when reading over some old material on this site that I’ve failed previously to mention him by name. I won’t drop any last names in an attempt to protect the innocent (and guilty), but Scott was one of a few friends of mine back in the day who had his finger on the pulse of indie rock of this ilk. Because of him (and generally only because of him), I developed a working knowledge of the array of North Carolina bands that emerged in the wake and vein of the developing legend known as R.E.M. So I probably first heard about Let’s Active during the late ’80s, which was after Hunter had made her impact on the band – an impact felt strongly on its first two records, 1983′s EP Afoot and 1984′s Cypress. Since then, of course, I’ve had plenty of years to enjoy the work of Easter’s seminal band, and even though he is far better known as R.E.M.’s early producer than as an accomplished musician in his own right, the output of Let’s Active plays a central role in ’80s music history. 1984′s “Waters Part” languidly spotlights the easygoing yet urgent nature of Easter as a songwriter and lead vocalist. The jangly guitars certainly make themselves prominently known but never seem to be merely gimmicks, which is an important distinction in the early years of R.E.M.’s massive impact on underground rock. Cypress was the last Let’s Active album to feature Hunter as a full-time member, but her keen sense of contrast and the significance of sonic shading leave an imprint all over this early alternative classic. For those who knew her over the years, Hunter will surely continue to maintain a presence – despite her untimely and now-permanent physical absence.

  • Sample or download “Waters Part” here.
  • Compare prices on Let’s Active CDs here.
  • Top R.E.M. Songs of the ’80s
  • Top U.S. Regional Music Scenes of the ’80s
Album Cover Image Courtesy of I.R.S. Records
Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Killing Joke – “A New Day”

killingjoke-A_new_day_1984Having rediscovered recently that VH1 Classic does still broadcast music programming of considerable interest to ’80s music fans, I recently caught a rebroadcast of just a few minutes of an old episode of the classic modern rock series 120 Minutes. That was just long enough to witness the creepy majesty of one of early goth rock’s most interesting bands, British group Killing Joke. The music video for the compelling “A New Day” is probably not best viewed under the influence of any sort of intoxicant, as lead singer Jaz Coleman strikes an affecting Grand Guignol-esque pose that has a tendency to stay burned on the brain. Still, this is only a small part of the story of this track – and the versatile overall gifts of Killing Joke as well.

Though the band is probably known better for the novelty 1984 tune “Eighties,” this track from the same year far better captures the brooding but energetic style of this highly intriguing, always original post-punk outfit. Haunting, arpeggiated guitars work in tandem with Coleman’s forceful vocal style to create a bona fide rock sound that clashes wonderfully with punishing, pre-industrial percussive beats. Frequent visitors to this site may be a bit surprised to hear of my affinity for the kind of repetitive, plodding arrangement on display here, but sometimes intensity and a partially anti-melodic approach can accomplish much with minimal aural accoutrements. That’s a fancy way of saying I don’t really know why I enjoy “A New Day” as much as I do, but I can’t deny its power and skin-burrowing appeal.

  • Sample or download “A New Day” here.
  • Watch the song’s 1984 music video here.
  • Compare prices on Killing Joke CDs here.
  • Top Psychedelic Furs Songs of the ’80s
  • Post-Punk Genre Profile

Single Cover Image Courtesy of E’G Records

Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Kim Carnes – "Does It Make You Remember"

KimCarnes-DoesItMakeYou.JPGDistinctively raspy-voiced female pop/rock songstress Kim Carnes certainly remains most identified for her classic 1981 chart-topper “Bette Davis Eyes,” but there’s a lot more to her talented versatility than the synthesizer-fueled new wave of that tune. This should probably come as no surprise given Carnes’ consistent crossover appeal throughout the decade of her greatest success. Ultimately, the singer-songwriter would chart multiple times on the U.S. country, adult contemporary and pop charts, and she could just have easily made a major mark as a bona fide rock artist as well. Perhaps the best example of Carnes’ bombastic arena rock capabilities is 1982′s “Does It Make You Remember,” an underrated track from that same year’s LP Voyeur. As a single, this tune barely cracked the Billboard pop Top 40, but it definitely contains enough melodic pleasures and powerhouse vocals to have earned a more permanent place in ’80s rock lore.

Rise-and-fall patterns of guitar power chords lend this song plenty of convincing muscle, and Carnes has no trouble matching the nearly hard rock flavor of this five-minute epic. The slower, power ballad-oriented sections of the track, buoyed elegantly by electric piano and tasteful synthesizers, help fill that substantial playing time with compelling moments. Carnes rarely gets credit for being a thoroughly accomplished ’80s music artist, partially because her signature song has provided so many great listening experiences and nostalgic moments of recall for fans of that era’s golden age. In addition to the bonus points she should undoubtedly receive for the head-to-toe leather outfit above, Carnes belongs a tier or two higher than pop music history typically places her.

  • Listen to “Does It Make You Remember” in its entirety and watch the music video here.
  • Top 10 Male-Female Duets of the ’80s
  • Top Signature Keyboard Riffs of the ’80s
  • Top Laura Branigan Songs of the ’80s
Single Cover Image Courtesy of EMI
Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Scott Walker – "Track Three (Delayed)"

ScottWalker.jpgFormer ’60s pop crooner Scott Walker has had a spotty record of activity throughout most of his nearly four-decade-long career as a solo artist, releasing only one album of original material, in fact, between the period of 1974 to 1995. That record, 1983′s Climate of Hunter, presented the former Walker Brothers vocalist as a jarringly eclectic pop/rock artist and certainly placed him far outside the typical boundaries of ’80s music. Nevertheless, the oddly titled “Track Three” casts a spacey, foreboding mood through its plodding mechanical beginning and then an explosion of piercing lead rock guitar. Supported ably and unnervingly by the harmony vocals of R&B singer Billy Ocean, the song is genuinely strange and utterly wonderful.

Still, fans of Walker’s baroque/sunshine pop sound from his previous musical fame will likely be disappointed or at least confused by the plodding dance rhythms and spare synthesizer instrumentation on display here. But it’s possible to receive that experience as a positive one, especially considering the relative lack of production from Walker during this era. It’s good to hear from him even if it’s completely disorienting and responsible for creating an essentially creepy, robotic vibe. The uniquely passionate timbre of Walker’s voice has always been able to cast a thick, gripping spell on listeners (witness a ’60s stunner like The Walker Brothers’ 1966 recording of “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore.” However, the cryptic “Track Three” invades far different territory to find its way into the permanent rock music ether.

  • Sample or download “Track Three” here.
  • Compare prices on Scott Walker CDs here.
  • Top ’80s Makeovers of Established Artists
  • Top Jefferson Starship & Starship Songs of the ’80s

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Virgin

Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Dexy’s Midnight Runners – "The Celtic Soul Brothers"

dexy.jpgCasual fans of the ubiquitous ’80s music classic “Come on Eileen” – a worldwide No. 1 pop hit whose majesty cannot be denied – may make the mistake of considering England’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners to be a mere one-hit wonder. Of course, British listeners probably make this assumption less often than we Americans do (the group enjoyed four early-’80s Top 10 pop hits in the U.K., including a pair of number ones), but the soul-inflected, Celtic-flavored roots rock outfit nevertheless doesn’t always receive credit where credit’s due. That’s actually a considerable shame, not only because frontman Kevin Rowland is a memorably passionate singer but because the group’s newly added fiddle players on 1982′s Too Rye Ay create a delightfully organic signature sound. This isn’t really new wave in any way, shape or form, but its acceptance by wide audiences certainly proves that the market for earthy and traditional pop/rock styles was alive and well in the MTV age.

“The Celtic Soul Brothers” failed to become a major hit even in the band’s native land, but it certainly stands as a joyous romp with multi-layered feel-good overtones. The presence of banjo and even forceful fiddle riffs helps this song to stand up more than handily to the huge hit track that famously followed, but Rowland deserved a longer career as a relevant pop artist than the mere decade he enjoyed more than a quarter century ago. Dexy’s Midnight Runners have far more to offer ’80s music lovers than just one hit song and a nifty but lengthy band name, but don’t depend solely on ’80s flashback radio to remind you of that fact. Unfortunately, that’s likely to leave you disappointed and unenlightened.

  • Sample or download “The Celtic Soul Brothers” here.
  • Compare prices on Dexy’s Midnight Runners CDs here.
  • Top 10 Songs of 1983
  • True One-Hit Wonders of ’80s Music

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury

Source: About.com


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2013 Rock Hall Class Has Potential to Shrink Gender Gap

h10898zh2ls.jpgI don’t know if it will happen (hey, it probably won’t), but with five of 13 performers containing at least partial female membership, 2013′s list of nominees for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has the opportunity to make at least a modest dent in the historical male domination of that institution. Hard to believe perhaps (even with a clear grasp of major gender inequality in rock music), but of the nearly 700 individuals inducted into the Rock Hall since its inception 26 years ago, fewer than 10 percent have been female. That number is especially cringe-worthy and shocking for the youngest generation of pop music fans, who routinely see women dominate the charts and make a mark in multiple genres. However, even for members of the ’80s music generation like many of this site’s readers and myself, it comes as a bit of a surprise just how low that percentage is.

Still, this could be the year for some improvement in this figure, as recently announced 2013 Rock Hall nominees include three legendary female rock and pop artists that just may get the nod: Heart, Joan Jett and Donna Summer. Some probably believe that the latter’s untimely 2012 death may increase her chances (and the notion of such a so-called “sympathy” nod is certainly arguable), but the other two noted nominees really deserve enshrinement for their impact and influence on guitar-based arena rock and hard rock. If I had to make a guess, I’d say there will probably be more than a few disappointing omissions for the spectrum of music fans when the inductees are finally announced (Deep Purple and Rush certain to be among them on what are amazingly those bands’ first opportunities to get in). So fans of female rockers should probably refrain from getting their hopes too high. Even so, these are solid examples of a possible turning of the tide that will be welcome as rock music prepares to enter its seventh decade within just a few more calendar clicks.

  • Top Heart Songs of the ’80s
  • Top Joan Jett Songs of the ’80s
  • Top Donna Summer Songs of the ’80s
  • Top Women of ’80s Rock Music
  • Top Rush Songs of the ’80s

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sony

Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Discharge – "The Price of Silence"

Discharge-Never.jpgIf you’re looking for some ’80s hard rock that will mercilessly pulverize you and make you enjoy it like a masochist, look no further than the pioneering English punk rock/heavy metal hybrid band Discharge. This is some heavy, heavy stuff, and unfortunately too few ’80s music fans knew about it at the time, myself definitely included. Of course, I had barely reached double figures in age when this track was recorded and initially released, but what I would have given to know this band intimately during my teens, when I fell more than I like to admit for the spangled allure of hair metal. An awareness of the band would have certainly moved my musical development along and perhaps helped me skip a few years of befuddled searching, but then again maybe I would have just been a deeply (and obviously) troubled teen had I heard this music during my most formative years. Hmmm… that might have been fun.

Instead, I awakened to this standout track and the entire 1984 compilation Never Again as a direct result of a charitable buddy of mine who introduced me to punk rock. Having now hit 40 years old with a sickening thud, I’m grateful I’ve had about a decade for this menacing yet somehow still melodic band’s music to bounce around my brain. The concussion has certainly been worth it, and “The Price of Silence” stands as a quintessential Discharge tune serious music fans really shouldn’t miss out on any longer. For all I know, fair reader, you may be far ahead of the curve on this one, but just in case the distinctive growl of Cal Morris and the band’s defiant, uncompromising anti-war lyrical approach have eluded you thus far, this is a fine place to start.

  • Sample or download “The Price of Silence” here.
  • Compare prices on Discharge CDs here.
  • Top Punk Rock & Hardcore Artists of the ’80s
  • Top Metallica Songs of the ’80s

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Sanctuary

Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Associates – "It’s Better This Way"

associates-sulk-82.jpgThe synth pop, new wave and New Romantic genres of the early ’80s certainly contained their share of musical variety, but Scotland’s Associates carved a distinctive niche on the strength of the brooding beauty of frontman Billy Mackenzie’s gloomy yet urgent vocals. Armed with equal nods to punk rock, post-punk and cabaret pop styles, the band reached its creative peak with 1982′s Sulk, a full-length statement that should have made Mackenzie and chief collaborator Alan Rankine into household modern rock names. Alas, such recognition was not to be – partly because the the new wave market was flooded at the time and partly because the duo’s creepy Goth rock sound was ahead of its time.

The record featured several singles that became popular in the U.K., but several album tracks are also more than worthy of music lovers’ attention. In particular, “It’s Better This Way” serves as a fluid showcase for both Rankine’s haunting guitar tones and Mackenzie’s highly versatile delivery that variously combines the theatrics of heavy metal with the aggression of punk. As I continue to mine the great expanse of ’80s music for this regular feature, I’m continually amazed at the tremendous bounty of deserving music that remains hidden by the mainstream veil. Contemporaries ranging from early T.S.O.L. to ’90s band Smoking Popes exhibit similarly operatic vocal overtones that end up going very well with alternative music. Still, Associates was one of the first and most interesting bands to genuinely exploit such an approach.

  • Listen to “It’s Better This Way” in its entirety here.
  • Top ’80s Songs of The Cure
  • Top Psychedelic Furs Songs of the ’80s
  • Top Eurythmics Songs of the ’80s

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Beggars Banquet/Sire

Source: About.com


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This Week’s Forgotten Gem of the ’80s – Prism – "Don’t Let Him Know"

prism.jpgThe songwriting partnership of Canadian musicians Jim Vallance and Bryan Adams left a wide-reaching mark on ’80s music across several genres. However, Vallance himself got his start as a songwriter and early drummer in Canadian arena rock band Prism, all of which preceded his more renowned association with the eventual pop superstar Adams. And although he had long ceased to contribute as a working member of that band by the early ’80s, Vallance continued to lend his talents to the new lineup.

“Don’t Let Him Know” is a top-notch Adams/Vallance composition that hums along with all the elements of mainstream rock circa 1982: strong power guitars, bright and melodic keyboards, and passionate vocals from a singer capable of operating in the upper registers. Vocalist Henry Small had just recently joined the band for 1981′s aptly titled Small Change, and his delivery on this track – which reached the top spot on Billboard’s mainstream rock chart in the U.S. – ranks highly among similar examples in the genre. There was a small window for this kind of music to be viable and not sound almost laughably dated, but this tune fits nicely into that limited space. A fun listen any week of the year.

  • Sample or download “Don’t Let Him Know” here.
  • Top Canadian Artists of the ’80s
  • Top Bryan Adams Songs of the ’80s
  • Top Loverboy Songs of the ’80s

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Source: About.com


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R.I.P. Bob Welch – And the Hits (Not the Good Kind) Keep on Coming

BobWelch-FrenchKiss.jpgCan I just say – to whatever part of the universe might possibly be listening – please stop with the constant deaths of artists in pop music and other worthy entertainment fields. I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve been losing heroes at a staggering clip, and this week’s losses of legendary writer Ray Bradbury and should-be-legendary musician Bob Welch have pushed me teetering toward the limit of endurance. I’m probably not the only one, I suspect, who would say that recently deceased artists like these (not to mention The Band’s Levon Helm) are more like family members to me than most of my actual family members. This is painful stuff, quite frankly, and stacked next to the loss of two beloved cats in the past 14 months, my wife and I are getting a little sick of the constant grieving.

I know, I know – these may seem like small, indirect losses to many observers, though probably not that many who actually find themselves reading this post. I don’t care. My passion for great music, fearless writing and exceptional artistic efforts wherever they may be found fuels me like devout religion must for a great number of believers in such things. With every R.I.P. blog post I write and every gifted soul I help lay to rest on these virtual pages, the world becomes just a bit more hollow, a touch less forgiving, and far less rewarding. I hope you’ll pardon me for not having anything specific to say about ’80s music this one time, as I recently composed a forgotten gem feature about Mr. Welch without any knowledge of his health problems of late -  just because I was struck (removed from sensational news items) that this guy was a brilliant songwriter and deserved to be regarded much more often as such rather than only as an early member of Fleetwood Mac. This is like battle fatigue, folks. Somebody please make it stop so we can start on the long road toward getting used to an existence without these brilliant individuals. That alone will be hard enough.

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Capitol

Source: About.com


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