Posts Tagged ‘1986’

Q: What happened to the end of 1986 Week?
A: It collided with the weekend. Party!

Q: Aren’t you too old to party?
A: You’re never too old to party. You might have to party at 12 frames per second instead of 24, but you’re never too old to party.

Q: Well, how would you rate 1986? What kind of year was it musically?
A: It was a very good year for blue-blooded girls of independent means.

Q: Since you were writing about 1986, why didn’t you mention The Smiths’ The Queen Is Dead? It’s supposed to be their best album.
A: I’ll end with them. Sort of. Like it’s any of your business anyway.

Q: Looking at your tag cloud, I see that the biggest name is Bruce Springsteen. You mention him a lot, but you don’t write about him very much.
A: You have to form a question in the form of a question. Don’t be a sports journalist.

Q: Right. Bruce – WTF?
A: Springsteen has been around so long and recorded so much that it’s impossible not to notice him. He’s a handy measuring stick. Dylan has been around even longer and has recorded even more, but he doesn’t have the same impact on our culture. Bruce has remained relevant, or at least topical. Bob has not. Plus I don’t like Dylan’s voice. But to answer your question, I don’t know what I could add to the existing mountain of Springsteen music journalism that would make a difference or sound original by even one gram. So I’ll go on referring to him and trying not to refer to Dylan. Or Donovan.

Q: How are you getting along in the novel-writing sector?
A: I’ve written 15,000 words.

Q: Is that a big number?
A: If I keep them, yes. If not, no.

Q: Would you say that writing a novel is an iffy proposition?
A: I’d say I knew the job was dangerous when I took it.

Q: What did you listen to today? Sweatin’ to the Oldies?
A: Today I listened to M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011). The radio hit, “Midnight City,” sounds like vintage Depeche Mode. I’m still wading through the rest of this two-disc set. This French band is kinda arty, like Arcade Fire but without the beat. I might have to counter with Oingo Boingo. I might spend this week listening to M83, blink-182, Haircut 100, Matchbox Twenty, Heaven 17, Maroon 5, The Dave Clark Five, The Bobby Fuller Four, 3 Doors Down, and Fun Boy 3.

Q: Fun Boy 3?
A: I bet I’ll be able to dispense with some of these guys in a song or two!

Q: Where’s Deadmau5 on your list?
A: I just learned that the 5 should be pronounced as an s. I feel as ridiculous as the day someone busted me for pronouncing R.E.M. as “rem.” Which reminds me of something I read recently. What a way to begin a review: “I don’t ordinarily like to think about sex and R.E.M. at the same time…” I don’t even care what the rest of the sentence is! (Review of the film Fourplay in Portland Mercury, 27 February 2013)

Q: Let’s get back to The Smiths. Are you hating on them?
A: As if. I like half a dozen of their songs very much, but they’re scattered across their four studio albums, so their 1986 disc, The Queen Is Dead, didn’t move me.

I have tons of respect for Johnny Marr, their guitarist, but not much for Morrissey, even if he’s still being treated like a god. If all bands can be explained by The Monkees, then Johnny Marr is Mike Nesmith and Morrissey is Davy Jones.

Nevermind all this Q&A BS. Here’s a real interview for you. In the April 9 Seattle Weekly, Duff McKagan, the original bass player in Guns N’ Roses, interviews Marr. (Marr has a new album, The Messenger. It has some surprisingly strong tracks for a guy whose heyday was in 1986.) The interview is not only fun, it produced this gem:

McKagan: You were sort of the anti-guitar hero. I’m just so fascinated by your guitar style. I try to picture you guys in 1979 or whatever. I don’t know what he was listening to to get that sound.

Marr: Joy Division were rehearsing in the room above my band. They were scary guys just to look at because they wore old man’s clothes. With haircuts like they just came from the second world war. And that was much scarier than looking at someone who looked like the New York Dolls, or one of the Rolling Stones.

A: Everyone have a good week. Sweat to the oldies all you want, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: I didn’t ask a question!
A: Deal.

 

Siouxsie & The Banshees
Tinderbox
1986

Siouxsie & The Banshees are proof of the power of networking. Susan Dallion was one of a group of early Sex Pistols fans who were inspired to go out and make music too. She changed her name to Siouxsie Sioux, which is impossible to type, and recruited the first Banshees in 1976.

Siouxsie’s drummer, John Ritchie, changed his name to Sid Vicious and joined the Pistols. Her first guitar player, Marco Perroni, kept his name but joined Adam & The Ants. She got a guitarist back from the Pistols, Steve Jones, but it didn’t take and he ended up recording with Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, and Iggy Pop. This is starting to read like a LinkedIn profile. When two other band members quit during a tour in 1979, Siouxsie recruited Robert Smith of The Cure and a drummer named Budgie to fill in. Budgie had already changed his name from Peter Edward Clarke. Still with me? Smith eventually went back to The Cure. Budgie eventually married Siouxsie. None of this ever happens at the monthly lunches of the Oregon Columbia chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.

I’ve written about Siouxsie & The Banshees in my round-up of female acts of the 1980s. I called them (and The Cure) “goth outfits.” That was doing them an injustice. They’re much more than stereotypical black-clad, pale-skinned, bloodless disciples of H.P. Lovecraft who long for death’s ashen caress. They also rock with considerable force…though not on this record.

Tinderbox is not only misnamed (I don’t hear much on it that’s flammable), it’s so smooth that I can’t always tell which song I’m in. The exceptions, however, are more like the Banshees I remember. “Cities in Dust,” an unblinking glimpse of the apocalypse, was the hit. It’s good – it takes The Pretenders’ “My City Was Gone” one step further and almost makes it danceable – but “Cannons” is the real sleeper. I also like “92 Degrees,” which starts slow but builds to a satisfactorily melancholy finish.

Tinderbox is a record for confirmed Banshees. As for the rest of us, keep networking, because a) you never know, and b) you never know.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 1
Pretty in Pink soundtrack
When I posted this in 2013, I made Pretty in Pink a Pick. I’ve changed my mind. Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses” is the only superlative song, and it’s available everywhere. However, this album is notable for a rare appearance by the strangest name of the 1980s, Belouis Some. Some, who was Neville Keighley when he made his first appearance on earth, had two hits that were popular in ’80s dance clubs: “Some People” and “Imagination.” His contribution here, “Round, Round,” is not in that league. Overall, the Pretty in Pink soundtrack is still better than the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club (1985), but not within a light year of the soundtrack to Singles (1992).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day 2
The Church, Heyday
Midnight Oil without the grit. So otherworldly it can barely be detected through the Hubble Telescope. They had a hit in 1988 with “Under the Milky Way,” which was easily within Perry Como’s comfort range.

 

Graceland
Paul Simon
1986

I sold all my records. In 2011 I realized that I hadn’t played one since 2005. Did this cause me to drop a record on my turntable? No, because by then all I had left was a turntable. I’d already sold the rest of my stereo components. I’d never felt the need to replace them.

After turning this over in my mind for another year, I packed up everything (only a dozen LPs but about 250 45s, now called “sevens”) and took it all to a local store, Music Millennium. I hate having anything around that I never use, but many of these discs I bought when they were released, and this was an emotional moment. The store clerk was very kind. You’d think she’d been through this before with other men my age.

I sold the turntable on Craigslist. That left a portable phonograph we occasionally deployed at backyard parties. I sold that on Craigslist, too, to a guy named Adam, who was celebrating the start of his first real job after college. (At Music Millennium, they told me that people 35 and younger were the ones who were keeping vinyl culture alive.) Adam was all smiles when he saw what was waiting for him. He’d brought an album along to test the unit’s sound quality. When he slipped it out of the paper bag and I saw the starkly lit faces of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, both of them dressed in black, I yelled to Special D, “Get in here!”

Bookends,” she breathed.

Bookends

We put Adam’s record on and pulled the trigger. Special D and I were transported back to teenhood by the half-minute of lonely guitar, the Bookends theme, that preceeds “Save the Life of My Child.” At that point we were ready to either adopt Adam or just give him the damn thing, but common sense won out and Adam went home with his new phonograph and I put his money in my wallet.

This brings me to what I consider the best album of 1986, Paul Simon’s Graceland. (The critics at Rolling Stone agree with me, but the readers go with Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Live/1975-85. Stupid readers.)

Graceland is remarkable in so many ways that I’m just going to mention four: That the guy who wrote Bookends was still writing like a fiend 20 years later; that it revitalized a career that was already pretty damn vitalized; that the first two cuts, “The Boy in the Bubble” and “Graceland,” as awesome as they are, are just the beginning of the record; and that Graceland is filled with as many quotable lines as a Star Trek episode, as well as lines you can misquote, including the title of this post and a gem thought up by Special D as she walked through the Florida surf at sunrise: “I’ve got diatoms on the soles of my shoes!”

Paul Simon is not on my Top 10 list of favorite artists, but even I can appreciate the achievement that is Graceland.

So what did I do with the money from the sale of my records? What do you think? I bought CDs!

Random 1986 Sexually Ambiguous Danceable Doofuses of the Day
Book of Love, Book of Love
LA might’ve been Ground Zero for big fluffy danceable-and-forgettable faux-New Wave zero-calorie pop confections. Exhibit A: Book of Love, a group that scored in 1986 with three songs off their debut: “I Touch Roses,” “Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes”), and “Boy” (where the crucial lyric reads, “Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh/Boy, uh huh, boy, uh huh”). Actually I kinda like that one.

I can only describe them by comparing them with their big fluffy contemporaries. Book of Love is a poor man’s Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, or a funky version of The Spoons. They pick up where Missing Persons left off, though I can’t say what they found that Missing Persons was missing. They borrowed Erasure’s grooves but dropped the histrionics. Bonus: When all three of the women in Book of Love sing together, they come close to Joan Jett!

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Depeche Mode, Black Celebration (1986)
Yes, I enjoy these guys, but come on. Every song on this disc could’ve been done better by someone else. Depeche Mode bounced back in 1987 with Music for the Masses (featuring “Behind the Wheel” and “Strangelove”).

True Stories
Talking Heads
1986

Every album Talking Heads released after Stop Making Sense (1984) was a disappointment. How could it have been otherwise? How do you top or even equal a record like that? Only The Beatles created a pop cultural icon and then came back to create a second: Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

(The only Beatles competitors I can think of are Bruce Springsteen for Born to Run and Born in the U.S.A. and Pink Floyd for Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. Doubt me on that last one? Even Special D, who would rather go bird-watching in the Mines of Moria than listen to Pink Floyd, just had “Leave those kids alone!” pop into her head.)

True Stories is the music from the film of the same name, directed by David Byrne. It appeared two years after Prince tried to pull off the same trick with Purple Rain. I haven’t seen either of these movies even though my TV remote has a Netflix button. However, I’ve heard all the music. On True Stories, Byrne’s vocals seem cold and detached, but his original plan was to have his actors sing the songs so I won’t subtract points here. But the various ballads and songs of love on this disc turn me off, which is kind of a problem if you’re writing ballads and songs of love, and the closer, “City of Dreams,” drags on like a really boring dream you want to finish so you can get out of bed already and get some breakfast.

On the plus side, I mostly like “Love for Sale” and I would’ve loved “Puzzlin’ Evidence” if it had been an instrumental. I get tired of hearing “puzzlin’ evidence” over and over. And over and over. The one track that broke into the Top 40, “Wild Wild Life” (which shot all the way to #2 in New Zealand), is infectious but might’ve worked out better for Wang Chung.

True Stories is not a bad record – I give it a solid B – but it suffers because of what went before it. That’s not fair but I get paid to be unfair. OK, I’m only pretending that I get paid, but I’m definitely unfair.

As for Purple Rain, for all its faults, it’s more exciting than True Stories and light years sexier. True Stories doesn’t have a Darling Nikki, who enjoys a good grind.

Random 1986 Could Go Either Way of the Day
The Mission U.K., God’s Own Medicine
They were called The Mission in the U.K. and The Mission U.K. in the U.S. I don’t know what they were called in the U.S.S.R. Their music was perfect if you were a moody teenager who came home from school and locked yourself in your room so you could be all moody.

Rhapsody calls them “goth’s answer to The Monkees.” Allmusic.com describes them as “pompous, melodramatic, and bombastic.” Why are they being so mean? The answer is right at the beginning of this record, when singer/guitarist Wayne Hussey intones, “I still believe in God, but God no longer believes in me.”

If you like The Cure and The Cult, two moody English bands that hit it big, you might like their younger, less-talented but moderately OK brethren, The Mission.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Dead Milkmen, Eat Your Paisley
This album’s a snore, but the Milkmen had a knack for titles, from the name of their band to “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.” R.E.M. could only dream of being so witty.

Get Close
The Pretenders
1986

Pretenders (1980) is the kind of album that runs you over with a cement mixer then shoots you in the head five or six times for insurance. Bracing. Pretenders II (1981) is more of the same at a lesser pitch. Disappointed? Nah – that formula worked just fine for Led Zep I and II. On the Pretenders’ third at bat, Learning to Crawl (1984), they changed course and gave us a pop album with an edge. Though Learning to Crawl came nowhere near the sales of its contemporary, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1982), it’s aged a whole lot better. Keeping Vincent Price off your record always helps.

But by Get Close, Chrissie Hynde’s original bandmates had either overdosed, or were fired and then overdosed, or had simply walked away. The session musicians on Get Close are good but they’re not James Honeyman-Scott, Pete Farndon, or Martin Chambers. Ms. Hynde doesn’t give her best when she’s not pushed by independent talents. Eric Clapton has the same problem. I do, too. There. I just wanted to put myself in the same paragraph with Chrissie Hynde and Eric Clapton.

Get Close is listenable, but it’s not exceptional. And Hynde’s new tendency to produce leisurely, sonically bloated, overly dramatic songs results in “My Baby,” “Hymn to Her,” “Tradition of Love,” and “Light of the Moon,” which is a lot of territory to give to the leisurely, the bloated, and the overly dramatic. This is not, after all, a Yes album.

(I should admit right here that I really like “Tradition of Love” and “Light of the Moon.” I even like the synths-gone-wild Jimi Hendrix cover, “Room Full of Mirrors,” which Hynde turns into a song with big hair and shoulder pads.)

There was a hint of this tendency on Pretenders (“Lovers of Today”), but back then Hynde had a band that swiped like a scimitar. This band swipes like a credit card. Many of The Pretenders’ contemporaries could’ve recorded the songs on Get Close. The letter D alone gives us three candidates in Depeche Mode, Def Leppard, and Duran Duran. Get Close’s one hit, “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” would’ve suited The Bangles just fine.

Special D, in that way she has of concisely cutting to the bone, says Get Close sounds “blurry.” Special D should have her own music blog, but she’d never write more than 10 words per post.

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
Steve Earle, Guitar Town
Mr. Earle is a country Springsteen. Guitar Town, his first album, intersects at times with Nebraska, though Springsteen fans who don’t like Nebraska will be relieved to hear that Guitar Town is much brighter.

I almost like this album. That may read like an insult, but country music normally gives me the hives (and I don’t mean The Hives). Even I can’t resist “Hillbilly Highway,” “Good Old Boy (Gettin’ Tough),” and especially “Fearless Heart.” Mr. Earle’s guitar playing on this album evokes Tom Petty and Mark Knopfler. Those are worthwhile evocations.

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
The Housemartins, London 0 Hull 4
The Smiths with sleep apnea.

“I am what I am. Thank God.” – Jimi Hendrix, “Message to Love”

A co-worker entered my humble cubicle one day late in 2012 and said, “Flashback!” He was looking at the two shelves above my desk, which held a row of CDs, a display of old postcards, and the Pets.com Sock Puppet Spokesthing. While he gushed about these ancient cultural artifacts, I saw my possessions through his eyes. I realized that I could’ve decorated my space the same way at the job I had in 2000. In fact, I know I did.

I’m stuck in time!

In an email later that morning to this co-worker, after stating that I didn’t care what he thought of me, I wrote without even thinking “I’m through being cool!” and hit Send. Then I thought, Oh no, it’s Devo! I’m really stuck in time.

Rather than consider what all this says about me, let’s use it as an excuse to go back to the future. Welcome to 1986 Week, commemorating that stellar year when, as Paul Simon sang on Graceland, “I was single/and life was great!”*

Most of the artists I loved in the ’80s released nothing new in 1986. Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure, U2, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen held off until 1987 (when Prince gave us Sign ’O’ the Times, his equivalent of The White Album, and U2 gave us their masterpiece, The Unforgettable Fire**).

The B-52s didn’t record again until 1989, but in 1986 The Rolling Stones dressed up just like them.

Dirty Work

By 1986 Romeo Void had broken up. David Bowie and Michael Jackson had left the bulk of their best work behind. Gary Numan had left all of his best work behind. Robert Cray debuted with Strong Persuader, though I prefer what he did later. Duran Duran released Notorious, which was notorious for being awful. I refuse to listen to Madonna’s True Blue or Boston’s Third Stage. I can’t decide which is funnier, The Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill or Metallica’s Master of Puppets. I’ll get to Depeche Mode, The Pretenders, Paul Simon, Talking Heads, and Siouxsie & The Banshees as 1986 Week progresses.

What was the best song of 1986? Yo, pretty ladies around the world: Put your hands in the air like you just don’t care for Cameo’s “Word Up!”

Don’t expect 1986 Week to last all week. Don’t expect a comprehensive survey. Don’t get all army-foldy on me, either.

As we used to say in the peculiar slang we employed back in 1986: See you tomorrow!

* Special D is fond of quoting that line to me. Hey doll: “I sure do love you/let’s get that straight.”
** A tip of the critic’s pointy hat to my friend and fellow softball player Donald Keller, who put “mantlepiece” in my head whenever I want to say “masterpiece.” 

Random 1986 Pick of the Day
The Chills, Kaleidoscope World
1986 gave us albums from The Chills, The Cramps, and The Creeps. This reminds me of an evening I spent at Fenway Park in 1979 when we had three pitchers on hand named Clear, Frost, and Rainey.

I don’t know a thing about Kaleidoscope World; I just needed a Chills album from 1986 to fit my theme. The album I have heard is Submarine Bells (1990), which has two lovely pop songs, “Singing in My Sleep” and “Heavenly Pop Hit” (nice try, boys).

Random 1986 Pan of the Day
Stan Ridgway, The Big Heat
I must honor this man for rhyming “Tijuana” with “barbecued iguana” in Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio.” Sadly, on his solo debut he sounds like The B-52s’ Fred Schneider with really bad hair.