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.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Ultravox - Rage in Eden (1981)



You might think it would be difficult to follow-up the wonderful Vienna single and album, and you'd be right. If you like Midge Ure-era Ultravox, there's something here for you, but for the most part, the material is weaker than on Vienna or Quartet. Sophomore slump, maybe? Rage In Eden wasn't Ultravox's second album, but it was their second with Ure. Vienna wasn't exactly a cheerful album, but it wasn't so morbid as to have a track titled I Remember (Death In The Afternoon). Smash Hits gave the album a rating of 5 out of 10 (see below) and that sounds about right.

Track 2, We Stand Alone, contains the phrase "this gigolo and gigolette" several times in its lyrics and while I'm certain I heard the song when I was in high school, I can't imagine why I didn't work the word "gigolette" into as many conversations and term papers as I possibly could back then.

Bonus points for the Peter Saville artwork on the cover.

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "polished progressive rock, thumping disco and flamboyant new romanticism"
  • CashBox: "gorgeously produced dance club delight"
  • Record World: "a beat and production that will have rock dance clubs playing every cut"
  • Smash Hits (5 out of 10): "too bland to satisfy"
  • Trouser Press: "A very good record, not a great one"
  • High Fidelity: "Ultravox concocts an enticing - albeit distant - brand of textured, shimmering rock."

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #144
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #123
Peak on the Rolling Stone chart: #49

Tracks: They definitely chose the best cuts to release as singles: The Thin Wall, which peaked on the British singles chart at #14 and The Voice, which peaked at #16. Also good are We Stand Alone and Accent On Youth/The Ascent; avoid Your Name Has Slipped My Mind Again by ending the CD after 8 tracks. Other tracks are decent filler with the characteristic Ultravox sound.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None. I was aware of the album and a couple of my friends had it, so I heard it in the early '80s. I had Quartet and an import copy of the Vienna album, so I guess I thought I was set as far as Ultravox was concerned. In addition to that vinyl, here's a sweet vintage pinback from my personal collection:
 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Patti Austin - Every Home Should Have One (1981)



When I posted about Herbie Hancock's 1982 album, Lite Me Up, I called that album the sequel to Qunicy Jones' The Dude. I stand corrected - this Patti Austin album is the sequel to The Dude. That means that this album features Jones' impressive production prowess more so than Austin's vocals. I could see where a critic might say that any vocalist could have recorded this album with Q, but I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far.

After recording 4 jazz albums for Creed Taylor on the CTI label, Austin redirects her talents here to adult contemporary R&B and helps kick off Quincy Jones' fledgling Qwest label.


Rod Temperton (who wrote the best slow jam of all time) penned four of the tracks here and there's plenty of recognizable names in the playing credits: Greg Phillinganes, David Foster, Richard Tee, Bob James, Steve Lukather, Eric Gale, Ralph MacDonald, Ernie Watts, Jerry Hey, etc.

I've read complaints that the CD version contains some edited/remixed tracks, but since I never heard the original vinyl or cassette, I'm blissfully oblivious to any differences. That's good, because such things would irk me to the point of needlessly hindering my listening pleasure.

Press of the time:
  • Billboard: "sleek, sophisticated hybrid of pop and r&b "
  • CashBox: "a contemporary R&B alchemist's dream"
  • Record World: "much anticipated"
  • Stereo Review: "I've never heard an album of hers that did not light my inner fire"
  • Musician: "pretty much an extension of Quincy's last album, The Dude, and contains the same hits and misses."


  • US Billboard Top 200: #36
  • Billboard Jazz LPs: #9
  • Billboard R&B albums: #16
  • CashBox albums: #62
  • CashBox jazz albums: #12
  • Rolling Stone: #43

Tracks:
  1. Do You Love Me (#24 R&B, #1 Dance): a high-energy album opener, penned by Temperton. Nice work by Lukather - too bad it's covered up in the mix.
  2. Love Me To Death: I like the groove, but there's not much melody in the verse and not much of a hook in the call-and-response chorus.
  3. The Way I Feel: the verse is very similar to the previous track, but when the chorus first takes off then modulates, it's fantastic.
  4. Every Home Should Have One (#62 pop, #55 R&B, #24 AC): I doubt these lyrics would have been written these days (condensed version: every home should have a good woman to take care of her man). Nonetheless, there's some catchy hooks here and Austin is finally allowed to show a little personality.
  5. Baby, Come To Me (#1 pop, #9 R&B, #1 AC): a classic duet with James Ingram that topped the charts with a little help from exposure on the soap opera General Hospital. It's Patti's album, but it's Ingram who brings the goods here.
  6. The Genie: on the same 12" single with Do You Love Me that reached #1 Dance and the groove and tempo are practically the same, so that makes sense. The bridge is better than the verse is better than the chorus. I keep waiting for the Lukather solo that never happens.
  7. Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart): written by Thom Bell and Linda Creed, originally released by The Stylistics in 1971. Not as good as the original nor the 1974 cover by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, but still a great cover - the material alone makes it one of the better cuts on the album.
  8. Symphony of Love: pseudo-reggae filler. Same groove Jones would use for Donna Summer's State Of Independence single the following year.
  9. Oh No, Margarita: this song - about a girl who pursues a guy who is no good for her - is more filler, but I'll be damned if the chorus hook is what I find myself singing after I've put the CD away. Great manic solo from Watts.
  10. The Island: Brazilian quiet storm from the pen of MPB legend Ivan Lins. Beautiful setting, but it never seems to go anywhere. Odd way to close an album.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: None. Did I hear this album in 1981? No. Would I have enjoyed it as much then as I do now? Absolutely.

Previously revisited for the blog:

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Sadao Watanabe - Orange Express (1981)


Japanese Import

I like smooth jazz and I cannot lie. 

Watanabe had been well-respected as a straight-ahead and bossa nova sax player since the 1950's, but my favorite Watanabe is 1978-85 when his work more closely resembled Grover Washington, Jr. and Tom Scott (this particular album favors the latter). Recorded in NYC, there's a lot of familiar names backing up Watanabe: Dave Grusin, George Benson, Marcus Miller, Richard Tee, Eric Gale, and Jon Faddis. The writing is nondescript, but the performances are fantastic.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Did not chart
Peak on the Billboard Jazz LPs chart: #17
Peak on Cash Box jazz album chart: #18

Tracks: Top tracks are the funky Ride On, Good For All Night, and the final two tracks (Straight To The Top & Mbali Africa), which both sound like they were lifted directly from a Stuff album.

Bonus tracks: Two versions of the pseudo-reggae-lite Yes I Love You. The best I can tell, the song was 1982 single-only Japanese release with an instrumental version on side A and a version with vocals from Ken Tamura on the flip. Both are presented here and neither is worth your time.


 
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Around the time this album was released in 1981, I was starting my sophomore year in high school. We had six classes a day back then (now 8 is the norm); I "studied" Algebra II, Biology, World History, Health, English and had marching band as an elective. Of those six classes, five were taught by what I consider to be subpar teachers - some apathetic, some incompetent, some clueless, and some all of the above. So I had a rough year academically, but as far as my family was concerned, I was to blame, not poor instruction and assessment. I get it - when I was teaching, I wanted the parents on my side, too. In any case, my teachers for English and world history were so bad, they later achieved a sort of pseudonymic infamy in a chapter of my somewhat autobiographical doctoral dissertation. But that really doesn't have much to do with this album other than coincidental timing, so never mind. As you were.  



Saturday, August 28, 2021

Various Artists - The Greatest Hits Of 1981 (1992)


UK Import

Musically, the UK had a very different 1981 than I, so while this compilation has some well-known tunes, I count five tracks with which I was previously unfamiliar. All 20 tracks were top 20 hits in the UK while only 6 reached the US Top 40.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Not released in US

Tracks:
  1. Dead Ringer For Love - Meat Loaf (#5 UK)
    This duet with Cher is an overly-long, not-so-subtle rip-off of Summertime Blues and Mony Mony best described as a long-lost outtake from the Grease soundtrack. For a Steinman tune, it's tolerable which I guess is a compliment?
  2. Stand And Deliver - Adam & The Ants (#1 UK)
    I think the general consensus is that this tune is the best single Adam & The Ants ever released. And, in this particular case, the general consensus is correct.
  3. Girls On Film - Duran Duran (#5 UK)
    A better video than tune. It wouldn't make my top ten list of DD tunes, but I like it just fine.
  4. Kids In America - Kim Wilde (#2 UK, #25 US)
    From the first time I heard this song, I was a Kim Wilde fan. I bought her debut album through the Columbia Record Club and was subsequently disappointed in her sophomore effort. 
  5. Funeral Pyre - The Jam (#4 UK)
    Not the best Jam, but not the worst. To be honest, I didn't really start to enjoy The Jam until the mid-'90s. In high school, however, I had a Jam pinback I would wear on my letter jacket because I thought the band name was cool even if I didn't listen to their music. It was part of my "I like hipper music than you" fa├žade I was cultivating at that time.
  6. Happy Birthday - Altered Images (#2 UK)
    I always sing the Beatles tune with the same title on birthdays, but I should probably switch to this one. Fun song - makes me think of the movie Sixteen Candles.
  7. Reward - The Teardrop Explodes (#6 UK)
    I group this band with Echo & The Bunnymen in a category called "bands I should have listened to in the early '80s but never did." It wasn't that I wasn't exposed to them, I simply (mistakenly) chose not to listen to them much. Opportunity lost. The driving beat, the manic horns - this tune would have been right up my alley. Bonus points for the trippy muted trumpet solo.
  8. The Model - Kraftwerk (#1 UK)
    I recognize Kraftwerk as an influential band. I understand they are pioneers in the field of electronic music. I understand they have had a lasting impact on the genres of industrial, dance, and rap music. They're in the Rock Hall.  I'm just ambivalent to their music.
  9. Ghost Town - The Specials (#1 UK)
    While the lyrics are depressing as hell, it's got a great groove and there's no denying this is Jerry Dammers' major opus. When we first shut down for the pandemic in March 2020, this song was in my head all the time as I drove around town and I'll bet I wasn't the only one.
  10. The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) - Fun Boy Three (#20 UK)
    Is it a novelty song or political statement? Both? To these ears, it might be OK for album filler, but as a single? Go figure.
  11. There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis - Kirsty MacColl (#14 UK)
    We have a winner - this rockabilly romp is a blast and the wry lyrics are hilarious. There's no acceptable excuse why I haven't explored her entire catalog. Currently accepting suggestions for a starting point for that journey.
  12. Bette Davis Eyes - Kim Carnes (#10 UK, #1 US)
    A huge hit in 1981, winning Grammys for both record and song of the year and was like nothing else on the radio at the time; me and my friends sang along with Kim every time we heard the thing. Nine weeks at #1 and Billboard's biggest hit of the year. A great blend of synth and guitar arpeggios plus I really dig the sexy growl of Carnes' voice.
  13. Keep On Loving You - REO Speedwagon (#7 UK, #1 US)
    Based on interviews I've seen, Kevin Cronin seems like a great guy and I'd buy him a beer if I ever ran into him; I just don't like his vocals. Nonetheless, this was the biggest power ballad of 1981 and I've heard it twice on the radio this week, so my opinions and I will just be on our way.
  14. Why Do Fools Fall In Love - Diana Ross (#4 UK, #7 US)
    Not a bad cover, but with all due respect to Ms. Ross, this is one of those remakes that makes me long to hear the Frankie Lymon original.   
  15. Easier Said Than Done - Shakatak (#12 UK)
    I've only recently been hipped to Shakatak, but I really like the piano-based R&B-lite thing they've got going on. Dig.
  16. Let's Groove - Earth, Wind & Fire (#3 UK, #3 US)
    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.
  17. Get Down On It - Kool & The Gang (#3 UK, #10 US)
    Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout! Get your back up off the wall! I just love K&TG. This was some great radio-friendly funk. Recommended.
  18. Intuition - Linx (#7 UK)
    Brit funk along the lines of Level 42 or Shakatak with just a touch of calypso added for good measure. However, there's no real hook to speak of, but I like the all-too-brief soprano sax solo.
  19. Wired For Sound - Cliff Richard (#4 UK, #71 US)
    I'll add my voice to the chorus of people who wonder why Richard wasn't as big in the US as he was in the UK. This is a catchy little tune that didn't get much traction over here. Shame.
  20. Chequered Love - Kim Wilde (#4 UK)
    And the lovely Kim gets a second entry on this compilation. Man, I loved her debut album. It was in heavy rotation in my car once I got my drivers license in June 1982. (I may have driven illegally before having a license but I admit to nothing.) 

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: The Carnes, REO, Ross, K&TG, and EWF tunes I would have heard on the radio in '81.  The Ants, Wilde, Jam, Teardrop, and Duran tunes I would have heard (and probably purchased most) in 1982 or '83. I would have caught up to the cuts by Kraftwerk, Altered Images, Specials, FB3 at some point in the '90s. That leaves tracks 1, 11, 15, 18, & 19 that were new to me when I first put this CD in the tray.


Saturday, August 21, 2021

Level 42 (1981)


Note: the CD I listened to was the 2007 reissue with 5 bonus tracks.


The name of the band is a reference to the novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, in which "42" is the answer to "the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything." I tried reading that book once, but it just wasn't my thing. This Brit-jazz-funk music, however, is squarely in my wheelhouse. 

At the time, New Musical Express called this album "dull, quiet music for contentment" but I disagree. There some poppish stuff here, to be sure, but there's also tunes that remind me of Spyro Gyra, Lee Ritenour, and other Fender Rhodes/slap bass/smooth jazz/instrumental pop/R&B-lite groups I was listening to at the time. Wish I'd had this album in that mix back then. No clue why the record labels didn't think this album wouldn't be a good fit in the US in '81, but I was 15 year knucklehead and what did I know? Polydor did release an extended 12" of the single Starchild in the US, which peaked at #57 on the dance chart.

Like many Americans, I first heard of Level 42 in 1986 when their fantastic single Something About You hit. I immediately went out and bought the World Machine album on which it appeared. My introduction to the group's earlier music was in 2015 when I was given a 1983 UK K-Tel compilation titled Cool Heat ("The hottest, jazziest, coolest, funkiest hits") which included a track from Level 42's third album, 1982's The Pursuit of Accidents.


While they could have easily gone in the direction of acid jazz of the course of their career, they chose the pop route and since that's where the money is, I can't say as I blame them.

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: Not released in US until 1986, peaked at #20 in the UK

Tracks: I dig them all, both the instrumentals as well vocal tracks - it's hard to find grooves that are both danceable and mellow, but here ya go. The UK singles were Love Games (#38), Turn It On (#57), and Starchild (#47). Track 7, Dune Tune, is a nice, dreamy change of pace. 

Bonus tracks:  

Live tracks are occasionally fluff on these re-releases, but the tunes form the 1983 performances show a lot of energy, excitement and some great soloing. Later performances from the year 2000 are a little more polished and subdued, as one might expect. There's also the aforementioned long version of Starchild, which I'm glad they included.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: See above. 

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Pretenders II (1981)



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

First, track 3 of this album is my all-time favorite Pretenders song, Message Of Love.

Second, this isn't a very good album as a whole, but if you compare it to the group's debut album, it becomes that much more disappointing. Sophomore slump, regression to the mean, whatever you want to call it. It rocks, but the overall material is weak. No matter, they'd bounce back with the next one.

I dig the fact there's no band name or title on the cover and I don't know if I like it for artistic reasons or because it must have driven the label's promotion department crazy. I think they ended up putting a sticker on the shrinkwrap?

Press of the time:
  • Trouser Press: "disappointing in its pacing and reiterated techniques"
  • Smash Hits (7 out of 10): "Whatever else, it's not pompous."
  • Rolling Stone (★★★★): "passionate, recklessly engaged, and, in some ways, far richer that its predecessor"
  • Stereo Review: "the biggest rock-and-roll letdown in recent memory"
  • Musician: "Disappointing, but not the unmitigated disaster"

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #10
Peak on the Billboard Rock Album chart: #11
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #14
Peak on the Rolling Stone album chart: #6


Tracks: The best stuff: Message Of Love (#5 rock) and Talk Of The Town. The good filler: I Go To Sleep (written by then-boyfriend Ray Davies), Pack It Up, and Louie Louie. Meh: Birds Of Paradise and Day After Day. The rest.

Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I originally purchased this album in the '80s solely for Message Of Love. Didn't listen to the rest of it much, if ever. The fact that titillating titles such as The Adultress and Bad Boys Get Spanked didn't capture the attention of a teenaged boy speaks for itself. I probably would have been better off picking up a copy of their Extended Play instead.


Previously revisited for the blog:
Learning to Crawl (1983)
Pretenders (1980)

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Herb Alpert - Magic Man (1981)


Note: the CD I listened to was 1990 Audio Master Plus Series version.

The third album of Alpert's late '70s comeback - instrumental pop with lots of hand claps. It worked for the hit song Rise back in '79, so maybe lightning will strike twice? [spoiler alert: it didn't] There's nothing on this album as good as anything on its predecessor, Beyond. And there was nothing on Beyond as good as Rise. You get the picture. As they mention over at allmusic.com, "The high-flying confidence of Rise and the experimental bent of Beyond began to wear off by 1981, giving way to the more relaxed but musically weaker ministrations of Magic Man."  Still, that doesn't mean there's not the occasional good tune scattered among the 8 tracks. Speaking of 8 tracks:


I bought copies of the Rise and Beyond albums in 1980, but wasn't wild enough about Beyond to seek out Magic Man in '81. 

Press of the time:

Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #61
Peak on Billboard's Jazz LPs chart: #10
Peak on Billboard's R&B albums chart: #39
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #71
Peak on Cash Box Jazz albums chart: #15

Tracks: The title cut was released as a single and peaked at #22 on the adult contemporary chart, #79 pop. It's one of the better tunes on the album. Manhattan Melody, track 2, is an unabashed disco tune and while it would have been slightly dated in 1981, I dig it now. Then things turn a bit sour. Herb doesn't need autotune, but he doesn't exactly have a great voice. Nonetheless, when you own the record label, you can do whatever you want. In this case, he chooses to sing on I Get It From You, a cover of a wonderful tune from Pages' 1978 self-titled album. It falls flat and is exacerbated by the fact he has Pages sing back up on his version. Stick with the original version. We're also treated to lackluster covers of Besame Mucho and Alpert's own You Smile - The Song Begins. If by chance I had purchased this album in 1981, chances are quite good I wouldn't have listened to side 2 much.


Personal Memory Associated with this CD: Around the time this album was released in 1981, the high school band would have been starting summer rehearsals and I would have been right there in the heat and humidity of it all. Admittedly I may be remembering incorrectly, but I seem to recall having practice 5 mornings and 1 night each week for the 3 weeks prior to school. Practices focused on learning new music for the year, retraining ourselves how to march, and learning some drill so that we could entertain at halftime at the first football game. There was also a lot of "YOU WILL OBEY" brainwashing going on throughout, but that's a large part of every high school extracurricular activity's hidden curriculum. If all my close friends hadn't been in band, I'm not sure I would have endured that mess even with my love for music. Nonetheless, I tolerated such situations for four years in high school immediately followed by another four years in college so I must have enjoyed something about it back then. But summer band practice really doesn't have much to do with this Herb Alpert album other than coincidental timing and the fact Herbie and I both played trumpet, so never mind. As you were.  

Previously revisited for the blog:
A Portrait In Music - Disc One (1997)
Passion Dance (1997)
Classics, Volume 1 (1987)
Beyond (1980)
Rise (1979)
What Now My Love (1966)