The Go-Go’s or Bangles: They Both Are Great!

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Happy Memorial Day to all, especially those current troops out there in addition to those veterans of the US military. I am the first male in my family to have never been a military man, but I have very close relatives and friends who have been recently fighting for the freedoms that I take for granted on a daily basis. Personally, I’d love to take war away and make everyone play in a basketball tournament to settle things that way, but I’m a crazy progressive.

Back in the Eighties, those of us who were coming of age during that decade were beginning to see bands that were racially-integrated, bands composed of Mexican-Americans, rock bands consisting of African-Americans, funk/rap bands whose members were white and even all-female bands. Music was beginning to be up for grabs by everyone! Finally, we were witnessing democracy in rock music, and it was better for it.

And, even though female rock stars like Pat Benatar, the leaders of Heart, The Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Bangles, among many others were popping up everywhere and were taking hold of their musical futures. Still, they ALL ran into misogynistic views of their roles within rock music. But, thankfully for all of the women who followed in their footsteps, these women preserved.

Now, as a person who grew up buying and listening to tons of music, I was drawn to the music of The Go-Go’s and Bangles. Many of us rock-aficionados, once we got beyond the beauty of these women (sorry, ladies, I’m a male), it was time to decide which group was “better”. In one corner, you have a pop-punk band with roots directly in the L.A. punk scene. And, in the other corner, you will find a band with their roots in L.A.’s Paisley Underground, whose influences ran the gamut from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to the folk-rock of The Byrds and the Mamas & Papas to the rock world of Todd Rundgren. But, regardless of the two bands’ roots, their music made me feel good and happy with strong melodies, muscular guitars, wonderful harmonies (especially Bangles) and spot-on songwriting. While listening to their albums, I was hearing wonderful musicians. Their gender played no role, though, sorry ladies, I will always be a Sussana Hoffs or Jane Wiedlin man myself – I like their vocals and songwriting, but I am a sucker for a brunette. I digress.

Now that Heart and Joan Jett have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it’s time to take stock of the two greatest all-female bands of the 1980s. First off, Pat Benatar should be inducted soon, since those first two acts knocked down part of the sexism wall, and Pat obliterated what was left of that wall. And, she was followed by The Go-Go’s and Bangles in quick succession.

The Go-Go’s made their biggest noise when their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, hit the #1 spot on Billboard‘s Top 200 Album Chart in early 1982. They followed that album with two commercially disappointing albums. But, that debut was a motherlode of terrific pop punk songs. Their first single, “Our Lips Are Sealed”, peaked at #20, while their follow-up single, “We Got the Beat”, became the band’s first Top 10 album, as the song peaked at #2.

The Go-Go’s had one more Top 10 album and song each, both of which peaked at #8 on their respective charts. The album was Vacation, while the song was “Vacation”. Then, two years later, after inner-band turmoil and drug and alcohol abuse led to a lackluster swansong album to the Eighties, Talk Show, released in 1984. By that time, the band’s magic was used up, although they did get a #11 hit with “Head over Heels”.

While The Go-Go’s were imploding in 1984, Bangles were releasing their brilliant power pop classic of a debut album called All Over the Place. Although the critics sang the praise of this album, the singles that were released did not catch on with the public, which I will NEVER understand. But, it was the band’s sophomore album that people loved, 1986’s Different Light. Their first single was the Prince-penned “Maniac Monday”, which peaked at #2. But, it was the third song, the novelty hit “Walk like an Egyptian” that caught on with the public by not just going to #1 in 1986, but actually being the number one song of 1986.

In 1987, while the ladies were recording their third about, the band donated a cover version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Hazy Shade of Winter”, which was much more muscular than the original version. That song showed EVERY strength of the Bangles: muscular musicianship, beautiful harmonies and a sense of each member’s individual personality. This song can be found on the Less Than Zero soundtrack.

Unfortunately, band inner turmoil was beginning to unravel the band. It wasn’t so much drugs and alcohol but the other usual excuse: the fixation of the media on one member over all the rest. Still, in 1988, Bangles released their final album of the 1980s titled Everything. The first single was a strong power pop song, “In Your Room”, which peaked at #5.

But, this time it was the second single that struck gold with the public. People everywhere were falling in love with the Beatlesque “Eternal Flame”. The beautiful ballad that was rooted directly in The Beatles’ album Rubber Soul, with its sophisticated music, along with their unparalleled four-part harmony, the song touched teens everywhere at that spring’s prom song of the year. Personally, I attended a middle school talent show at my wife’s school back in 1988, and I got to watch FIVE different quartets of girls sing that song. When I realized the middle schoolers were crying themselves to sleep after a bad break-up, I figured the group’s days may be numbered. Unfortunately, I was correct.

Both bands would made periodic reunions throughout the Nineties. Then, early in the new century, both band reunited to record new music and tour. Though, the Bangles have recorded more new albums than The Go-Go’s, both bands have seen their bassists from their heydays leave the band.

I can honestly state that I love both bands, though I do tend to go back to my Bangles music more often. Still, be truthful. You loved these bands back during their salad days. Don’t brush them off as bubblegum music, because they both were way more sophisticated than that. These women were every bit the innovator that Elvis Presley or The Beatles or James Brown were. Now, let’s show them the musical respect they all deserve. They were much more that one-dimensional pretty faces. These were top-notch musicians and gifted songwriters, as they continue to write hit songs for newer artists. See what I mean?

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I Saw the Light: Make Room for Todd Rundgren in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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Last year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame did a cowardly thing by inducting Chic’s Nile Rodgers using the “Musical Excellence” pathway. In doing so, the voting board found a way to ignore Chic. That whole argument aside, I have a much better candidate for induction via Musical Excellence.

This artist was something of a wunderkind in Philadelphia in the late-Sixties. He was known for his songwriting skills in his original band, arguably helping birth power pop as well as helping my Philly known for soul, and in his case, blue-eyed soul. Next, because he was becoming something of a studio rat, he was hired to engineer The Band’s Stage Fright album. Beginning in the early-1970s, this man began down a path as a solo artist, continuing with power pop, blue-eyed soul, AOR, progressive rock and even electronic music. At the same time as his rise as a solo artist, he became a highly in-demand producer, producing Grand Funk, Meat Loaf, XTC, New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, even Indy’s own Roadmaster’s debut album. Then, in the lat-Seventies, he formed a group of equal minded players in a group run as a democracy.

By now, most of you know I am talking about Todd Rundgren. Now hold on all of you Cars fans. Sure, that little project might have been a slight misstep, yet I still maintain it may have gotten more people to learn about how great the Cars are due to Rundgren. In Rundgren’s solo work and his work with Nazz and Utopia, Rundgren has kept striving forward in his music. Additionally, he initiated work in the video realm, being one of the first to produce music videos, even at one time filing work with the FCC for a 24-hour-a-day music video channel. Finally, he became a leading figure in rock music to begin utilizing computers in his music during the 1980s.

But, as any Rundgren fan will tell you, it all comes back to his music, that unique blend of pop, rock, blue-eyed soul, power pop, whatever way he wants to move. He made power pop possible with Nazz. He showed his versatility as a solo artist, and with Utopia, he had the band that could move from progressive rock (their first couple of albums), to AOR (Adventures in Utopia), through a Beatles pastiche (Deface the Music), early-80s protest (Swing to the Right) to pure power pop (Utopia). But, Todd Rundgren will always be known for his 1972 tour-de-force double-album Something/Anything?. So, let’s take a look at My Top 20 Todd Rundgren Songs.

20. “Fahrenheit 451” – Utopia (Swing to the Right, 1982)

19. “You Cried Wold” – Todd Rundgren (Hermit of Mink Hollow, 1978)

18. “Love Is the Answer” – Utopia (Oops! Wrong Planet, 1977). Ended up as a Top 10 hit for England Dan & John Ford Coley.

17. “Lysistrata” – Utopia (Swing to the Right, 1982)

16. “Time Heals” – Todd Rundgren (Healing, 1981)

15. “Libertine” (Utopia, 1982). This was a radio hit back in the day on AOR radio stations. Not bad for a power pop song!

14. “I Just Want to Touch You” – Utopia (Deface the Music, 1980). This song with slightly warped lyrics really does sound like a Beatles’ gem. If only this album had come out before The Rutles had done such a fabulous job skewering the Beatles’ myth.

13. “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now” – Utopia (Utopia, 1982). This was a video hit on MTV. How can you beat a power pop song with a video depicting the guys in the band as caterpillars. I just love Rundgren’s warped sense of humor.

12. “That Could Have Been Me” – Todd Rundgren featuring Robyn (White Knight, 2017). Yep, you saw that right. Runt collaborated with a pop singer, making a brilliant pop song. I haven’t listened to this album all the way through yet, but I have high hopes because Rundgren collaborates with many artists, such as Daryl Hall and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame.

11. “Bang the Drum All Day” – Todd Rundgren (The Ever-Popular Tortured Artist Effect, 1983). Okay, I pushed this one down the list because it’s nearly the only Rundgren song ever played on Indy radio.

10. “Could I Just Tell You” – Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?, 1972). Pop perfection.

9. “The Very Last Time” – Utopia (Adventures in Utopia, 1980). How was this pop song NOT a Top 40 hit? It’s just beyond me.

8. “Be Nice to Me” – Todd Rundgren (Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, 1971). What a beautiful ballad about heartbreak. No one does these types of ballads better than Todd.

7. “Set Me Free” – Utopia (Adventures in Utopia, 1980). This pop song actually landed in the Top 30. If the band had released a similar album instead of the brilliant but misunderstood Swing to the Right album.

6. “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” – Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?, 1972). I just love this album!

5. “I Saw the Light” – Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?, 1972). Power pop heaven!

4. “Open My Eyes” – Nazz (Nazz, 1968). Rundgren must love this power pop song because he plays it live to this day.

3. “Can We Still Be Friends” – Todd Rundgren (Hermit of Mink Hollow, 1978). This one pulls my heartstrings every time I hear the song to this day.

2. “Hello It’s Me” – Todd Rundgren (Something/Anything?, 1972). I think most people incorrectly believe this is Runt’s true sound. Like I said, he does these types of ballads well, but he’s a rocker at heart.

1. “We Gotta Get You a Woman” – Todd Rundgren (Runt, 1970). THIS is the song that I believe best represents Rundgren musically AND lyrically. And, the little lyrical twist at the end of the song is absolutely brilliant.

I believe if twenty of us made this list, we’d have at least 12 different number ones. Now, it’s time for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to elect Todd Rundgren. And the world would be a step closer to being corrected.

Why Did Power Pop Have to Happen?

As you all know by now, I am a huge fan of power pop music. And my love of the genre seems to continue to grow the deeper I dig into this form of rock music. Now, my older son, loves to say that power pop is punk rock without the danger, and he might me onto something. I do love melody, maybe not what is currently pawned off as melody on Ryan Seacrest’s all-day radio programs. No, I am talking about the melody of the early Beach Boys and The Beatles, but I still love a loud guitarist whose solos mainly follow the Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ definition: “Don’t bore us, Get to the chorus.”

Next, you mix those two parameters in a Shake’n’Bake bag and, whammy!, you get the basis of power pop music. But, why was there ever a need for power pop to begin with? I have got to admit that I spent the past couple of weeks attempting to determine this.

The common belief is that the rock & roll era started in 1954 when Bill Haley & His Comets hit Number One with “Rock Around the Clock”. Other artists began to see commercial success, such as Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Carl Perkins, to quickly name a few artists. A short time later, the Everly Brothers dropped their brotherly harmonies on these new fans of this new music. They were followed by arguably the first person to follow the power pop formula was a Texan by the name of Buddy Holly.

Now, rock & roll continued to go and develop until 1965. In 1965, The Beatles released a musically and sonically mature album, Rubber Soul. That album pushed Brian Wilson to create the Beach Boys’ masterpiece Pet Sounds. The final episode that stopped rock & roll and turned it all into rock music was Bob Dylan leaving his folk roots behind by plugging in for his 1965 tour, inventing this folk rock thing, which signaled the end of superficial lyrics and declared that this music be taken seriously.

As 1966 rolled around, The Beatles responded with the even more sophisticated Revolver. A band of blues and jazz virtuosos formed rock’s first power trio Cream, who introduced the idea of extended solos and song arrangements. Now, everything was up for grabs.

Finally, to put the last nail in rock & roll’s coffin, occurred in 1967. First, it was The Beatles’ releasing Sgt. Pepper LP. Then, the Jimi Hendrix Experience took Cream’s power trio template to new aural heights. And the San Francisco bands began pushing the boundaries by playing extended jams instead of songs. After a few years of all of this serious instrument play dominating rock music, a small group of musicians wanted to bring back the fun of the music that sounded as though it came from the early Beatles, only adding a loud, punchy guitar like you could hear other English bands like The Kinks and The Who. And, all of a sudden, artists such as Badfinger, Raspberries and Todd Rundgren carried this banner into the Seventies. Mostly, these artists experienced some hit songs, but not the big hit careers many critics had predicted for them.

However against the grain these power pop artist moving, they were influencing budding musicians to follow in their footsteps. And the strange thing is, no matter how little money was made by these artists, more and more musicians were jumping into the power pop sweepstakes, through the golden age of the late 1970s/early 1980s, the anti-grunge power pop bands of the ’90s and well into the 21st century.

So, power pop is a viable road to cult status. Maybe a few of my favorite power pop artists, such as Big Star (a HUGE cult band now), Raspberries (had a couple of hits in the early 70s) and The Knack (it wasn’t their fault that The Clash called the band “phony Beatlemania”, since they could ROCK!). I will attempt to introduce the genre to you.

Whatever Gets You Through the Night: The Healing Power of Music

Hi everyone! It’s been a month and between recuperation from my surgery, which is going well, and a constant battle with my internet provider, which does not really provide internet service, this has been a somewhat lazy month. Hopefully, by the end of the year, I will have a need provider since the new rural competition is currently laying their fiber optics cable in our isolate neighborhood. Things are looking up on that front.

Since you are reading this, I take it you are a fairly rabid music fan. It is not enough for us to be able to name songs we hear on the radio, we dive into the topic on a deeper level. Many of us grew up drawing the faces of KISS on our school notebooks or our favorite group’s logo. Then, we discovered rock music magazines like Creem or Circus in the Seventies, finally graduating to Rolling Stone, who not only covered music but politics and other cultural milestones. Then, some of us began to buy not only biographies of various artists we also purchased rock music reference books. Some of us were known by our friends to know the statistics of various records and albums like we would memorize the stats on the backs of baseball cards.

But, what is it that initially draws us into a song? For me, a great song will elicit emotion from me. There has to be a yin and yang dichotomy in play in a great song in order to accomplish this emotional response in me. For example, I love Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. Superficially, you might believe it has to do with my being a former runner, but that has nothing to do with it. The lyrics are about the universal teenager’s feeling of wanting to break free of their parents’ grip and be recognized as adults. The whole time, the music’s rhythm is pulsating in a manner that enhances one’s need to move on. The whole song becomes a push/pull between the need to become an adult and that safety afforded by staying with our patents. The music builds and builds with the lyrics moving in the same direction until everything stops at the crescendo. Then, after a short pause, The Boss counts “1! 2! 3! 4!”, and the floodgates burst forth, releasing not just our emotions but convincing us as well that we CAN become adults, no matter how bland our lives will be, it is time for us to begin the next generation of humanity.

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So, while “Born to Run” tends to be life-affirming in my mind, other songs can push some of our other emotional buttons as well. All of us have songs that are still associated with the break-up with the significant other that was not really our match, but damn it! We sure loved being in love. While there are a host of emotions that songs can touch in us.

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Take as an example, Sir Elton John’s beautiful good-bye to a brother named “Daniel”. I loved that song. I still have the original 7-inch record. Being a little precocious when I was young, I always using the lyrics to reflect as to what my feelings would be if I were to ever loose my younger brother. It would be devastating. Then, a couple of years later, I read that the song was written as an anti-Vietnam song, about the death of a dear friend, or “brother”, of the writer (the incomparable Bernie Taupin) during the War. A verse which explains this was dropped from the song in order to make the song more universal.

For a couple of years in the mid-Sixties, my dad was the head boys varsity basketball coach at a tiny school, which no longer exists. Anyway, Dad went on to become something of a community icon after being a principal for nearly 30 years at my old elementary school. But, when he coached, he had a talented team. Every team should have a guy who is willing to do the small stuff on the court, known as the dirty work. He had a young man who personified this role called John. John was my hero. I sat next to him on the bleachers during practice, rebounded for him during shooting drills, etc. I idolized all of the players on Dad’s team, but John was special to me. Unfortunately, he was killed in Vietnam in the early-Seventies. My parents, and the whole community were devastated. Unfortunately, I did not get to go to the funeral. But, I do have the song “Daniel” that has become my way of showing respect to a young man with some much potential that never got the chance to fully develop it.

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So much emotion can be packed into a song. I don’t care if you find solace in Frank Sinatra’s music or Slayer’s. The commonality is that we ALL find refuge in a song. And, just because I prefer power pop of Jellyfish to my son’s hip hop is immaterial. We still share the experience.