Since September 2010, this blog has recorded the journey of this music junkie as I attempt to listen to all the music in my CD collection. CDs revisited in their entirety from start to finish - no skipping tracks, no shuffle. Compact Discs only - no vinyl, no tapes, no files.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Billy Squier - Don't Say No (1981)



If I were to say that this album sounds like (somewhat better) Robert Plant-ish wailing on top of some quality Sammy Hagar-ish rock-pop riffs, some people would see that as an insult while others would consider it a compliment of the highest order. Anyway, that's what this music sounds like to me and I dig it.

There's no denying the album's success on the rock charts with a couple of Top 40 appearances, as well.
SongRockHot 100
In The Dark735
The Stroke317
My Kinda Lover3145
Lonely Is The Night28-

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "the best elements of heavy metal with a pop consciousness"
  • CashBox: ""His stylish brand of head-banging has both melody and emotion"
  • Record World: "thunderous drums, crunchy guitars and rough but melodic vocals"
  • Rolling Stone (★★): "Boomph omph Bdumph dumph ouch"
  • Musician: "Competent, oft-tuneful, but generally unremarkable"

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #5
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #3
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #8
Peak on the Rolling Stone album chart: #6

Tracks: I nominate the first 28 seconds of In The Dark as the best rock album opening since Van Halen's Runnin' With The Devil a few years earlier. Tracks 1-7 here are solid, there's a 2 track lull, then I'm onboard again for the closing track, giving the album a winning batting average of .800. But if I'd had this cassette back in '81, I would have definitely played side 1 way more than side 2.

Bonus tracks: Extended live versions of My Kinda Lover (8 minutes) and The Stroke/concert jam (14 minutes) from Squier's 2009 tour.
Record Company Exec: Billy, we're putting out a special '30th Anniversary Edition' of Don't Say No next year and we're looking for anything to make it different from previous reissues. Do you have any B-sides from '81?
Billy Squier: Nope
RCE: How about some tunes you threw together for movie soundtracks?
BS: Don't own the rights.
RCE: Demo tracks?
BS: Nah, man.
RCE: Do you have anything we can tack on to the end of the CD?
BS: I've got a couple of board mixes from last year's tour.
RCE: That'll have to do.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: During my first two years in high school, all the "cool senior boys" would back their mid-70's Ford or Chevy pick-up trucks into parking spots next to the football stadium about 15 minutes before school began, stereos blaring. In addition to the driver, the truck cab would normally seat the driver's current girlfriend. Tradition held that the truck have bench seating and the girl would sit as close to her boyfriend as physically possible without actually climbing into his lap (this was a few years before wearing seatbelts was mandatory in Texas, not as if that would make any difference to young lovers). Trucks entered the school's parking lot at the slowest rate of speed possible with windows down and loud rock music testing the limits of stock speakers. Occasionally, they'd play the radio (either Moby in the Mornin' on 97 Rock or Stevens & Pruett on KLOL), but this Squier album was a popular choice for the tape decks, as was Tattoo You and any Van Halen available.


Back in '81, the high school campus had a student smoking area and no minimum age to buy tobacco plus the legal drinking age was 19 with no open container law, so there was most likely plenty of other stuff going on in those truck cabs that I naïvely wasn't aware of at age 14.


There's a great acoustic blues version of The Stroke from Squier's 1998 album, Happy Blue, included on the 2006 compilation 80's Hits Stripped. And then there's this.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Brenda Russell - Love Life (1981)


Note: the CD I listened to was the 2018 Japanese Disco Fever reissue. (I wouldn't classify any of the cuts on this LP as disco music, but if inclusion in a disco reissue series is what it takes to get a re-release of this wonderful album, then so be it.)


I discovered this smooth pop/soul album about a year ago and I don't hesitate in calling it the best new-to-me album I heard in 2020 (and thus far in 2021). I first fell in love with Russell when I saw the video for Piano In The Dark in 1988 and last year I fell in love with her all over again. I've got two problems with this album: 1) at just over 30 minutes in length, it's too short (I know you should leave 'em wanting more, but good grief), and 2) I wasn't exposed to this goodness until 39 years after its initial release.

An undeniable 'feel good' album. All Russell originals, she gets top-shelf studio support from the likes of Bill Champlin, Abraham Laboriel, both Jeff & Steve Porcaro, Neil Larsen, Buzzy Feiten, Dean Parks, and Don Grusin. Steve Lukather offers up his usual stellar solos on a number of tracks and almost steals the show, but it's difficult not to focus on Russell's vocals and piano playing.

Just to be clear: I love the thing. Very highly recommended.

Press of the time:
  • Stereo Review: "Fresh, accessible, and delightful"
  • Record World: "she presents her observations on loving and losing in a most compelling manner"
  • Billboard: "a/c/pop cuts with catchy melodies"
  • People: "pleasantly upbeat songs delivered with sassy-to-soothing vocals"

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #107
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #42
Peak on CashBox album chart: #94

Tracks: All-killer-no-filler, not a bad track to be found. I could listen to track 4, Lucky, on repeat for a half-hour straight (and have). So damn uplifting and wonderfully positive. The single released from the album was track 7, If You Love (The One You Lose), a duet with Donny Gerrard which inexplicably made it only to #50 on Billboard's Soul Singles chart. I initially thought about ranking the album's eight tracks, but after a few attempts, the results always looked something like this:
  1. Lucky
  2. (tie) the other 7 tracks


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: This album has soundtracked dozens, if not hundreds, of walks around my neighborhood over the past year. It is unfortunate that my mind will always link this album to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it certainly made 2020 a much better year for me.


Previously revisited for the blog:
Get Here (1988)

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Pages (1981)


Japanese Import
Note: this release was originally purchased as a iTunes download, later replaced by a CD. 

This album is partially produced (7 of the 9 tracks) by Jay Graydon. As I remember it, my first exposure to Graydon was his iconic guitar solo in Steely Dan's Peg. Then I noticed his name popping up as producer in some of the records I was digging as a teen, Manhattan Transfer and Al Jarreau in particular. Fast forward 25-30 years and I'm bored at work so I begin to search for other albums that Graydon produced in the '80s. I never could locate a definitive discography, but the wonderful Danish website Blue Desert directed me to some possibilities and prompted me to seek out not only this Pages album, but also Steve KipnerAirplay, and Marc Jordan. And down a Westcoast/AOR rabbit hole I happily dove.

Pages was a collaboration between singer/songwriter/keyboardist Richard Page, keyboardist Steve George, and lyricist John Lang. In addition to Graydon and his production/writing/guitar talents, we're treated to appearances from the usual studio stars of the time: Jeff Porcaro, Neil Stubenhaus, Tom Scott, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Abraham Laboriel. Heck, even Jarreau shows up to help out on a tune.

The two reviews below compare the group to Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald edition), and Billy Joel. I'm not hearing much Joel, but throw in some Toto and David Foster-produced versions of Chicago & The Tubes, and baby, you got a stew goin'.

According to this interview, Page was asked to replace Bobby Kimball in Toto and Peter Cetera in Chicago and he would have been fantastic in either job. Instead, he and George formed Mr. Mister.

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "seamless and accessible, but not terribly distinctive"
  • CashBox: "mellow pop cum jazz fusion"

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks: From what I gather, the singles released were track 1, the Ambrosia-flavored You Need A Hero, and track 4, Come On Home, which features a tasty contribution from Tom Scott. Neither saw any chart action, not even the adult contemporary chart. I like them both - heck, I like all the tracks, even those with silly lyrics (O.C.O.E.) or when the band tries to rock the 7/4 (the Tubes-ish Automatic). The album ends with a lovely piano ballad, Midnight Angel.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Once I discovered the band, I couldn't readily locate this CD, so I bought this 1981 self-titled album from Apple's iTunes store and downloaded the files so I could have a new soundtrack for my daily walks around the creeks and azaleas of deep East Texas. I figure that would have been 2012 or 2013. In typical Apple fashion, there's now no evidence that I ever purchased those files on my account, but they'd be happy to resell them to me for $5.99 or maybe I'd like to subscribe to Apple Music instead? I'm surprised they didn't try to sell me a trendy NFT. Well, I've got two words and fingers for them, but this is a family blog.

 
what the young hipsters now refer to as 'Yacht Rock.'  Web series here, dormant podcast here, 'Yacht Or Nyacht?' ratings here. All recommended.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Various Artists - Billboard Hot R&B Hits 1981 (1996)


Truth in advertising from the good folks over at Rhino. Ten R&B tunes from 1981, all were top 3 on the R&B chart, 8 of the 10 hit the top spot.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Tracks:
  1. Let's Groove - Earth, Wind & Fire
    Typical EW&F greatness - funky bass line, tasty horn licks, a bridge that's smooth as anything, and a chorus so good they start the song with it. Nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal category.
  2. Just The Two Of Us - Grover Washington, Jr.
    I had the 45 (with picture sleeve, natch) in 1981, later bought Grover's 'best of' LP and replaced that with a CD.  While the 4 minute single version is featured on this disc, I encourage you to experience the full 7½ minute version: Richard Tee's intro, Bill Withers' vocals, the steelpan solo from Robert Greenidge, the subtle change of feel when MacDonald brings in his percussion backing track at around the 5:30 mark for the final choruses.
  3. A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do) - Ray Parker, Jr. & Raydio
    In this humble blogger's opinion, Ray Parker, Jr. is an underappreciated songwriter, producer, and guitarist. He consistently put out smooth grooves like this single for years. The baritone vocals of his music fit perfectly in my vocal range which means my family had to hear my a capella versions of tunes like this around the house quite often. I've always found it curious that Parker was a first-call session player, yet many of his own recordings don't feature much of his guitar playing.
  4. When She Was My Girl - The Four Tops
    The group's 23rd Top 40 hit. 23rd! It's always great to hear Levi Stubbs over those smooth background harmonies. Nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Song category, eventually losing to track 2, Just The Two Of Us. 
  5. Love On A Two Way Street - Stacy Lattisaw
    In spite of the overblown intro that sounds like it was taken straight from a Broadway overture, I love this cover of a late ‘60s soul song. Lattisaw has a young, innocent voice and it sounds like she just lost her first love. I'm only five months older than Lattisaw so it's very likely I thought I was going through the same kind of heartbreak (I wasn't). It's difficult not to sing along, so I don't fight the urge.
  6. Don't Stop The Music - Yarbrough & Peoples
    I don't love it. I can't pinpoint what exactly turns me off, but I'll admit it's got a fantastic bass line. And by the time the Chipmunks show up to contribute backing vocals, I'm ready to stop the music.
  7. Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me) - Gap Band
    The group would have more success on the pop charts the following year when they retitled this song as You Dropped A Bomb On Me. Is it plagiarism when you steal from yourself? Or was it simply a case of 'if it ain't broke...'?
  8. I'm In Love - Evelyn King
    Great groove from Kashif plus King is in fine voice. I always wondered why she would ever drop the "Champagne" from her credits because that's a HoF nickname if you ask me.
  9. What Cha' Gonna Do For Me - Chaka Khan
    Fantastic pop-soul song, complete with a Michael Brecker solo. Sounding like a song from The Dude (maybe the best R&B album of '81?), it's a crime this tune didn't chart higher on the pop charts.
  10. I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Part I) - Roger
    If I heard this cover back in '81, I have no memory of it. I normally wouldn't recommend that anyone cover a classic like this, particularly if versions by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight are readily available. I sure am digging this take, though. Funky arrangement which sounds like Devo attempting an Ohio reggae feel plus bari sax licks and talkbox. Catchy as hell. I immediately went in search of the most excellent 10+ minute version.
Charts, we got charts:

SongR&BHot 100DanceAC
Let's Groove133-
Just The Two Of Us32-2
A Woman Needs Love (Just Like You Do)14-11
When She Was My Girl111-9
Love On A Two Way Street226-19
Don't Stop The Music11926-
Burn Rubber (Why You Wanna Hurt Me)18419-
I'm In Love1401-
What Cha' Gonna Do For Me15322-
I Heard It Through The Grapevine (Part I)17925-

The overall #1 year-end R&B song for 1981, according to Billboard? Diana & Lionel duetting on Endless Love (more on my experience with that particular tune here.) From this CD, tracks placed at 4, 9, 11, 12, 16, 22, 27, & 48.  Let's Groove was released too late in the year for the '81 year-end chart, but would rank at #2 on the 1982 chart.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Nothing in particular for most tunes. I've recounted my Just The Two Of Us memory here. And you damn right we played an arrangement of Let's Groove in my high school marching band (mainly a percussion/tuba feature rather than full band, but let's not nitpick). Thanks to the wonders of technology, here's a screen capture of a grainy VHS recording of a performance of that tune from the fall of 1982. Other songs included in the same halftime show were Satin Doll, Theme from Hill Street Blues, On Broadway, and, as always, ending with the school's fight song (a.k.a. Notre Dame Victory March).


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Spandau Ballet - The Albums 1980-84 (2012)


EU Import

An imported box set featuring Spandau Ballet's four studio albums released during the years 1981 - 84, when they recorded for the Chrysalis label. No liner notes, no bonus tracks, just cardboard sleeve replicas of the original vinyl releases, but for $13.41 I ain't complaining.



JOURNEYS TO GLORY (1981)
8 tracks, 37 minutes


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #209
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #41

Reviewers called out this debut for its artsy pretentiousness, even quoting the band's own lyrics: "The art is pretending it's Art." The ad below includes a descriptive list of the band: 1) art, 2) fashion, 3) music. Music is listed third! Still, it's got a few worthy synthpop tunes (I think the best thing here is track 7, Confused), but the rest is the band trying to find its sound through Gary Kemp, a 21 year old songwriter learning how to write songs plus some out of tune vocals from Tony Hadley. Not the soulful sound they'd later become known for; this music shows more post-punk influences than blue-eyed soul. Overall, there's nothing really objectionable about this lackluster album of tunes consisting of only 2 or 3 chords, but there's nothing to get excited about, either.

It's art. It's fashion.


DIAMOND (1982)
8 tracks, 40 minutes


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart

Notedly different from Journeys To Glory.  Giving it a score of 3 out of 10, Smash Hits called it "boring contrived rubbish." Ouch. Sounds more like contemporaries Haircut 100 or ABC than predecessors Numan or Bowie, but by my count, there's only two decent tracks here: Instinction and She Loved Like Diamond, the latter of which gives us some foreshadowing of what would come next for the band. However, tracks 6-8 are completely unlistenable.


TRUE (1983)
8 tracks, 36 minutes


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #19
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #42
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #20
Peak on the Rolling Stone chart: #20

Ahhh,  that's more like it. It all comes together here. Maturity and new producers can go a long way. Smash Hits called the album less interesting but more enjoyable and that's just fine with me. Fortunately, this was my first exposure to the band. When my buddy Jim loaned me this LP in '83, I took to it immediately and quickly dubbed myself a cassette copy. As I mentioned in an earlier post regarding the title track:
I love the thing, I always have, and I don't care who knows it. I know all the lyrics and will also vocalize the sax solo. These days, I don't have need for the "I heard this song first so I'm a better person than you" condescension, but insufferable teenage me played that card whenever I could. I'd been a fan of the True album for a good six months before this single hit the local radio waves and I had no reservations about sharing that fact with everybody I knew. Like I said, insufferable.
The track that got me hooked, however, was Communication, particularly the chorus, so I'm partial to that tune. But it's a solid album; the only track I'll occasionally skip among the eight here is Foundation.

According to Gary Kemp via the wonderful Tim's Twitter Listening Party, this album was originally going to be produced by Trevor Horn and I would have loved to have heard that.


PARADE (1984)
8 tracks, 41 minutes


Note: this release was originally purchased as an LP, later replaced by this CD.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #50
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #35
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #35
Peak on the Rolling Stone chart: #45

Not quite as good as its predecessor, but the singles are every bit as tasty. There's no first-rate ballad like True, but I listened to the heck out of this album when it was released. It's the exact same sound as the True album and that was just what I was looking for in 1984. Stereo Review called the Parade album "a sort of modern-day dance-club Noël Coward with a beat" and since I can't match that description I won't even try.

My top picks are Only When You Leave (which was called "almost too good a start to the LP"), I'll Fly For You, and Round And Round.


Oddly, when the group moved from Chrysalis to Epic, I didn't follow them. I've never heard any of SB's post-Parade music. Easy enough to remedy that oversight.

Personal Memory Associated with these CDs: I remember I was listening to the True album and dancing around my house in '83 when it finally occurred to me that disco music was still around and had simply been rechristened as "dance music." 

The Parade album reminds me of my dorm room during my freshman year at university, fall 1984, when I was full-on music snob and thought I was so very sophisticated because I was listening to Spandau Ballet while my dorm companions were listening to REO Journeywagon or some such. I had to save the rabble from themselves, obviously. Sheesh. With an attitude like that, it's amazing I was able to make any new friends. Of course, it was those very same people who would eventually turn me on to music from Jean-Michel Jarre, Dancing Hoods, and King Crimson; I quickly realized how narrow-minded I was. More on that first semester here and here.

Previously revisited for the blog:
The Twelve Inch Mixes (1986)
The Singles Collection (1985)

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Brian Eno & David Byrne - My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts (1981)


EU Import

Note: the CD I listened to was the 2006 "Enhanced CD"  reissue with bonus tracks.

Eno claimed the album explores his 'African psychedelic vision' (apparently Eno's vision of Africa also includes a great deal of India) but to these ears it sounds like leftover backing tracks/demos from Remain In Light that were never fleshed out. According to the wiki, it was recorded in '79-'80 before Remain in Light, but problems clearing the spoken word samples delayed its release by several months. High Fidelity called the album "half compelling, half maddening" and I am in complete agreement.

Pitchfork retroactively named it the 21st best album of the '80s, while Slant Magazine had it at 83. I'm just not hearing it. To me, it's very noisy and the best parts are when Bill Laswell lets loose with some funky bass.

Press of the time:
  • Rolling Stone (★★★½): "many of the selections are heady and memorable."
  • Trouser Press: "semi-standard funk riffs as a foundation for strange and fascinating music."
  • Musician: "Look, this stuff is art, not entertainment."
  • High Fidelity: "a record of fascinating eccentricity"
  • Robert Christgau (C+): "Something fishy's going on when unassuming swell-heads like these dabblers start releasing their worktapes."
  • Stereo Review: "muddle-headed art-school pretensions" 


Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #44
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #52
Peak on the Rolling Stone chart: #20

Tracks: It all runs together after awhile. I like most of the grooves introduced here but since they seemingly loop endlessly, my cup runneth over. But if you want to hear a track titled Solo Guitar With Tin Foil, knock yourself out (despite the title, it's actually one of the best tracks here - very peaceful).


Enhanced CD. And it still works 15 years after (re-)release! At least it does on my aging desktop machine. However, the only "multimedia" included is a video for track 2, Mea Culpa, now readily available on the YouTube.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Around the time this album was released in 1981, I participated in my high school's entry in the state's One Act Play contest.* I was a below-average, overly self-conscious actor who couldn't be bothered to memorize lines but what the hell I had free time and they needed warm bodies. The director (who subsequently left teaching to become a protestant pastor) chose the 18th century Oliver Goldsmith comedy She Stoops To Conquer as our entry - I played a servant boy, Dick Ginger and to call it a bit part may be an overstatement. There are no small parts, only small actors? I call BS on that mess. Anyhoo, we advanced to the second round of competition before losing to the entries of other area schools. I never really understood the play, but that's what happens when you try to cram the content a five act play into the required 40 minute time limit and you can be sure 14 year old me wasn't going to read the whole damn five act play (it's not looking likely for 54 year old me, either). We weren't listening to Eno & Byrne on the school bus during trips to contests so that story doesn't have much to do with this album other than coincidental timing, so never mind. As you were.  

Image from the back of our cast/crew t-shirts. The high
school drama club was then known as "The Magic Circle"
for reasons too inane to describe in this brief space.

*Don't get me started on teaching our children that arts are about competition. You've got a stage play? We've got a stage play! Let's stifle creativity with an abundance of arbitrary rules and see which is subjectively better! #triggered

Previously revisited for the blog:
Ambient 1: Music For Airports (1978)


Blog post #1650

Saturday, February 27, 2021

James Taylor - Dad Loves His Work (1981)


Note: the edition I have is the 1984 'made in Japan-for-US market' CD pressing.

A statement my sons would never make? Dad loves his work. But I'm recently retired so that point is now moot. [humblebrag cheesy grin]

There are a few immediately identifiable voices that emerged during my formative years that are always a delight to hear: Linda Ronstadt, Michael McDonald, Karen Carpenter, and James Taylor, who probably truly does love his work. All his acoustic guitar folky-pop just goes down so damn easy on these ears. This album certainly isn't Taylor's best effort (it currently ranks 20th out of 26 over at besteveralbums.com), but I'll spin it every now and then.

The material's good, not great, and what was side one is much better than side two. But there's too much unnecessary slide guitar and the male falsetto voices just don't work - if you're writing singing parts in that range, I believe the material is better suited for females.

Press of the time:
 
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #10
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #16
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #9
Peak on the Rolling Stone chart: #6


Tracks: There's no doubt the cream here is the duet with J.D. Souther, Her Town Too. It peaked on the charts at #11 pop, #5 adult contemporary, #21 rock and was Taylor's 14th and final Top 40 appearance. That fact surprised me as did the fact that Taylor wasn't even so much as nominated for a Grammy award throughout the entire decade of the '80s. Still, Her Town Too is one of the better melancholy break-up songs you'll come across. Also good are I Will Follow, and Summer's Here, and Hard Times, a single that charted at #72. 
 
For more information on the brief life of the CD longbox,
go visit The Legend of the Longbox.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Around the time this album was released in 1981, I travelled on a Saturday morning to Victoria High School to compete in the band's annual solo & ensemble competition. Any memories of a cold, 3 hour ride on a yellow school bus have since been suppressed with extreme prejudice. I didn't participate in a small ensemble that year, but I did enter a trumpet solo entitled Antares, written by the late H.A. VanderCook (founder of Chicago's VanderCook College of Music), originally published in 1938, and amazingly still in print as of this writing. In other words, that piece is an old war horse when it comes to such solo competitions and holy pack rat Batman wouldn't ya know I still have my sheet music (1981 cost: $1.50). Ideally a competition against a standard and not peers, each solo is heard by a judge and given a roman numeral rating of I (superior) to V (poor). My mediocre-at-best performance probably earned a III, but that day the judge took pity on my scrawny ass wanted to encourage my progress as a musician and gifted me a II. Child trumpet prodigy, I weren't. The above tale doesn't have much to do with this James Taylor album other than coincidental timing, so never mind. As you were.