Sunday May 19, 2013
Having 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.
Single Cover Image Courtesy of E'G Records
Thursday May 9, 2013
Long-term rock music fans can probably agree that the experience of listening to some music can be optimal only if carried out in a particular track order or collection, often that presented on a seminal album or single release. In the age of digital music, such a traditional approach has frequently flirted with extinction - even if plenty of purists remain to insist on the "proper" way to hear great albums and even just great songs. Remember the whole mix tape concept? Ah well, there may not be that many of us left, but when the tendrils of commerce occasionally extend to allow the preservation of such mementos, it is certainly a time for noting if not outright celebration.
Visitors to this site may not be fully aware that among the many '80s music discoveries I've had the privileged pleasure of making during my seven-year tenure as '80s guide, Canadian new wave, power pop and straight-ahead rock band The Kings is one of the first and most memorable. It's been a few years since I've sung the praises of the original Toronto-based quartet, but there are actually many reasons to revisit the career of one of the best early-'80s should-have-been-huge bands from a musically rich (if sometimes underrated) era. However, I must admit that the catalyst for this week's feature is the recent official digital release of the iconic but criminally seldom-heard "This Beat Goes On/Switchin' to Glide." For the past decade of digital music availability, there had been no easy way to get this essential Kings experience, but now at least that particular injustice has been rectified. It doesn't make up for the many examples of overlooked but highly worthy '80s music that remains languishing in oblivion, but it's something.
I'll close this musing by making an analogy that should serve clearly to compliment The Kings and its central place in '80s music legend. One of my favorite Elton John songs (or combo selections, if you will) has always been the symbiotically linked "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding." Reaching back into John's sprawling, rather hard rock-friendly period, this piece of music has its greatest impact when heard uncut and without interruption, as intended. The same can definitely be said of The Kings' segued classic spotlighted here. Just listen for yourself.
Single Cover Image Courtesy of Rhino/Elektra
Thursday May 2, 2013
As lamented last week in this space, recent events continue to force pop music fans into facing the frequently denied mortality of our musical heroes. The April 26 death of country music legend George Jones - while not entirely unexpected given his age, recent health and long-time courtship with hard living - silences a major American music figure. Still, our sadness is tempered by the realization that Jones has left behind a tremendous number of quality recordings that will always (barring a dystopian tragedy of culture-erasing proportions) keep his one-of-a-kind, whiskey-laced lonesome vocals widely available to us all. As it happens, this sweeping statement applies to Jones' activity during the '80s almost as much as any other era in which he worked so tirelessly across six decades. Influential to almost every artist working within genres even marginally related to country (including Americana, roots rock and the modern commercial country Jones himself often disdained), this consummate interpretive singer enjoyed a remarkably consistent career filled with moving performances. And though Jones' absence will be felt deeply by those who appreciate music at its most primal and vulnerably human, his death will likely generate as much celebration and commemoration as outright pain. After all, if anyone lived a full, bursting-at-the-seams life, it was certainly The Possum.
To kick off the '80s, Jones scored a top U.S. country hit with what many observers still see as the greatest country song ever recorded, the immortal "He Stopped Loving Her Today." And while that tune's focus on mortality, heartbreak and the inseparable relationship between those two concepts will continue to receive justified attention for as long as these issues continue to grip our emotions, I'll choose a slightly different way of remembering the majesty of Jones. 1981's "Still Doin' Time" may be another one of Jones' three No. 1 country hits of the '80s, but outside of country music circles it remains a relatively little-known commodity. That's a shame - if not a surprise - and probably results from the fiercely honky-tonk sound and themes found here, which Jones made a career of exploring. Without resorting to cliches on any level, Jones takes a song co-written by a Nashville songwriter in his twenties at the time (Michael Heeney) and imbues it with grizzled life experience, all the while directly treating archetypal country music topics like drinking, prison, cheating and (last but probably least recognized) self-loathing. It's a classic, just like Jones' immortal voice and his enduringly towering impact on American pop culture.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Epic
Wednesday April 24, 2013
About this time last year, it was starting to seem like the flood of rock and roll deaths in 2012 was simply never going to end. After all, stretching roughly from the untimely death of Whitney Houston in February to the end of July, the pop/rock music world lost at least a dozen giants from within its ranks. Thankfully, there had been a bit of a lull in that department in the months since - until somewhat recently, when the fates seem to be attempting a catch-up. Even just this week, in fact, music fans have had to deal with the loss of folk legend Richie Havens and Divinyls frontwoman Chrissy Amphlett. Perhaps deeper under the radar but no less significant was the passing April 15 of Scott Miller, the creative and unsung mastermind of influential American college rock band Game Theory.
As is the case with a bevy of fantastic '80s music finds waiting to be discovered, I'd like to be able to say the genius of Scott Miller has long been wildly apparent to me as a semi-professional musicologist. But I'd be lying with abandon if I claimed to have had anything but a passing appreciation up until now for the Paisley Underground-tinged, cerebral power pop of Game Theory. It's unfortunate that premature death serves as such a reliable catalyst for the re-evaluation of an artist's life's work, but this sudden loss will certainly serve as an opportunity for me to catch up on what I've been missing, that's for certain. "Crash Into June," a standout track from the band's 1986 LP Big Shot Chronicles, is nothing short of three-minute pop perfection, filled with unique melodic turns and a positively infectious synth/organ hook during its driving bridge. Visiting Miller's official website this week has certainly delivered its share of devastating revelations, as the sad news of this fine artist's death was accompanied by the bittersweet disclosure that Miller was in the process of working up a new Game Theory album. The welcome availability of the band's out-of-print catalogue in MP3 format on that same website may be small solace, but it is a generous and appreciated one.
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Enigma