Adam Ant’s Classic ‘Friend or Foe’ Album

2.28 adam ant - friend or foe

Back during the last days of high school and the beginning of my college career, music was richly diverse. It was the days of punk rock’s influence whose ethos pretty much threw out the blues-based mega-elitism of the musicians’ playing abilities in favor of a stripped down musical sound built upon a pop foundation. The outcome of these bands, primarily consisting of late Baby Boomers and early Generation X-ers, was a throwback to the essence of the early days of rock & roll and Brill Building pop confections. Additionally, these musicians were scouring the world for new sounds of which they could incorporate into their own music, giving rise to “world music.” But, before that term took off in the wake of Remain in Light by Talking Heads (1980), Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaboration My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, Peter Gabriel’s self-titled albums from 1980 and 1982 and Graceland, Paul Simon’s seminal 1986 album.

But, just before those albums appeared, a lesser known punk band called Adam and the Ants were struggling to find a sound as they were attempting to navigate the punk underground in England. The band needed a unique sound they could sell to the kids. Thus, upon the invitation of band namesake Adam Ant, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren was asked to manage the band. First, McLaren dressed the boys in the band up as pirates, decades before Johnny Depp became Jack Sparrow. Then, McLaren told the boys to throw out the punk sound and replace it with a more pop sound only set to what is known as the Burundi Beat.

2.28 adam and the ants publicity photo

Burundi is a small country in central Africa whose native tribal drummers were recorded in the early Seventies by a couple of French anthropologists. Although this academic recording sold very few copies, somehow one ended up with McLaren. The recording was made of 25 tribal drummers whose rhythmic beatings were used for various religious ceremonies and secular events. So, when Adam and the Ants co-opted a watered down version of the rhythm and applied it to their pop/rock/dance songs, the band’s first album showing off this new sound took England by storm. And, Antmania was born, albeit very briefly. It was at this time that the evil genius McLaren struck. He stole all of the original “Ants” and made them the backing band for a 14-year-old yet physically mature for her age Burmese singer Annabella Lwin and rechristened as Bow Wow Wow. McLaren also stole the sound of the Ants as well.

So, the battle was on. Adam hired a new set of Ants, including his new songwriting partner guitarist Marco Pirroni. The band went on to have UK hits like “Antmusic”, “Prince Charming”, “Dog Eat Dog”, among others. While, Bow Wow Wow had one hit, their cover of “I Want Candy”, which was just a minor hit in the States. But, after one more album, Prince Charming, Ant went solo, only bringing along his new musical partner Marco. And, together they concocted one of New Wave’s finest albums, Friend or Foe, which was released in 1982.

2.28 Adam Ant - Goody_Two_Shoes

Immediately, Ant’s first solo video “Goody Two Shoes” was a huge hit on MTV, which then crossed over to the radio to become his first Top 10 hit in the United States. Finally, Adam Ant was a world-wide pop star. “Goody Two Shoes” was the only song whose rhythm allowed me to witness a 6-foot, 5-inch, 250-pound chiseled defensive lineman to do an Adam Ant “dance” imitation down the hall of a dorm. It was a sight to behold. Still, Friend or Foe yielded one more hit song, the slyly sexy “Desperate but Not Serious”. This album was truly a hedonistic party classic of its time. The album is nothing but fun danceable pop/rock hybrid that brought African rhythms to the world.

Unbelievably yet not surprisingly, that Burundi Beat brought out the Campus Crusading Fundamentalist Christians (and remember: I AM a Christian) out of their depths to condemn the direct use of African rhythms because they represent the summoning of evil spirits. While, if you did just a little college library research you could discover that the Burundi used this rhythm in celebrations of their dead relatives and the life force of nature and Earth. That was my first run-in with the Christian far-right concerning their racist views of rock music. In other words, these people would love to remove all rolling from the definition of rock & roll, which is code for removing the “black” for the music of the youth of all American teens and twenty-somethings. If these people had just used their time to befriend the undesirables, the world might be better off today. Instead, they peddled neo-McCarthyism that is so rampant today.

2.28 adam ant at live aid

Anyway, Friend or Foe is another great example of the New Romantic movement of London 1980-82, but more importantly, this album is a classic example of great New Wave music. I must admit that Friend or Foe is one of my Top 30 New Wave Albums from the original, and still greatest, New Wave.

One day, I HAVE to tackled a Top New Wave Albums. But, until then, pop Adam Ant’s solo debut on your turntable, in your CD player or just stream it, crank up the volume and just enjoy the pure joy Adam Ant puts on display as he sings the twelve songs on this classic album. This is another example of a classic album that has been overlooked for far too long.

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The Psychedelic Furs: Once an Underground Band, Always an Underground Band

2.27 Psychedelic Furs - Forever Now

Awhile ago, my wife said that she never envisioned a time when kids were not watching music videos on MTV. Sure, that thought stands when going through the daily grind of living, but within the context of human history, it makes sense that the music video being played on a television channel would go by the wayside as technology grew to replace it. Now, the user can simply go to YouTube or some other streaming site to watch the video or video in which that one person wants to watch, be it musical, comedy, zit-popping or some other theme. Back in our day, the radio played the music that particular station wanted to play. Now, each individual can control the specifically the songs to which he or she will listen while streaming or listening to, another dying technology, their iPod or iPhone.

But, back in those glorious early days of MTV, music was transitioning from those butt ugly, long haired virtuosos to photogenic new wave artists from England and New York City. Suddenly, no one really wanted to see the not-so attractive lead singer of Foreigner, who had one of rock’s finest voices, to the young girls all swooning over the guys from Duran Duran. Seemingly, overnight, the choice of music shifted from AOR to a Second British Invasion in the likes of A Flock of Seagulls, Culture Club and Tears for Fears. And, the big plus to many my age was the nice sounds that were rooted in the punk rock of Ramones and Sex Pistols and the synthesizers of Kraftwerk and other Krautrockers. To quote Bob Dylan, “The times they were a-changing.”

2.27 Psychedelic Furs - LMW video clip

One band that I fell for in the early days of MTV was the English new wave band called The Psychedelic Furs. Certainly, the names of those bands were parodies of the names of bands from the garage rock era in the Sixties, but that was the attitude that swept through all art scenes during those heady days. Unfortunately, I never got to see the band live, but the reason I fell for them was simple enough. First, I had read that their 1982 album had been produced by a guy who was quickly becoming a hero to me, the one and only Todd Rundgren. Then, their first single, “Love My Way” had a decent video, but the song was killer and the band was using a xylophone. Like I said, everything was up for grabs back then.

A couple of things I noticed immediately when I put the album on the old turntable, that The Psychedelic Furs were either part of or, at least, influenced by the New Romantic scene of London in 1980 and 1981. This small niche of musicians and their fans were heavily influence both artistically and fashion-wise by David Bowie during his Young Americans/Station to Station Thin White Duke period of the mid-Seventies along with glam rock stalwarts Roxy Music. While the economy stunk at the time, these young people were dressing up, being very chic and “uptown”, while the musicians sang songs that lyrically vacillated between post-apocalyptic visions and positive escapism. And, although the music reminded many of Joy Division, the lyrics were never downers.

2.27 Psychedelic Furs in 1982
The Psychedelic Furs circa 1982

Overall, The Furs were a vastly underrated band. I mean, Todd Rundgren doesn’t produce posers. Mainly, he only works with talented artists of the underground. Forever Now, kicks off with “President’s Gas” is a typical attempt to attack the cult of personality of politics. The music is great, but The Furs downfall has always been their lyrics over the course of an album. Next up is the single, “Love My Way”. This song is a perfect example of a great song that is a bit too left field for the general public here in the States. It is a driving, intense dance/rock song that reminds one of Roxy while lead singer Richard Butler’s vocals are reminiscent of Bowie on Scary Monsters.

The rest of the album is great underground rock with many music touches of Roxy, Bowie and Joy Division. At the time, I remember thinking I was hearing the sound of the future and I wasn’t too far off if you ever listened to Depeche Mode in the late-Eighties or in the Nineties. The Psychedelic Furs were really just about five years too early for this album to be a bigger hit than it was at the time.

2.27 Psychedelic Furs today
The Psychedelic Furs today

As I listen to the album right now, the songs are good, not great. But, they all contain a pinch of the sound that groups like Love and Rockets or Pixies will make more popular at the end of the decade. Side Two of the album is basically short on pop hooks and long on dissonance and feedback that will become the bread and butter of bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine.

In retrospect, I can finally understand why Rundgren took on this production work. He wanted to help this band begin to define the sound of the future, not have big hit songs now. And while The Psychedelic Furs next two albums will tone down the crying guitars, they will never hit the big time that many thought they deserved. Personally, I like a world in which a band like The Psychedelic Furs have never been worshiped by the masses. Rock music needs cult bands, whose sounds will influence nearly everyone who ever listened to them to form a band in an attempt to emulate them. Think of the Velvet Underground or Big Star. Those bands never were popular during their time, but many people have started bands in an effort to sound like one or both of them. And, rock music is always the better for that.

Cyndi Lauper’s ‘She’s So Unusual’ Stills Holds Up 35 Years Later

2.26 cyndi lauper - she's so unusual

Back in the late Fall of 1983, two new female artists had sprung to the attention of the music underground, though neither would remain an underground sensation by the time 1984 rolled around. Still, let’s back up to the Quarter Break of 1983 that took place around Thanksgiving, as usual. While home on break, I discovered these two women who would go on to shape popular music for years to come. The women were Madonna, whose debut was quietly dropped back in July 1983, and Cyndi Lauper, the woman with the thrift-shop clothes, Brooklyn accent and big pipes, whose debut, She’s So Unusual was released in October 1983. Little did we realize that these two woman would battle it out on the charts for the better part of three years, until one’s hits dried up while the other became a cultural icon. But, when these albums were released, many music fans were picking Cyndi Lauper to have the long, influential career. Her vocals were much stronger than Madonna’s at this stage in their careers and Lauper showed on her debut album that she had songwriting chops. And, initially, Lauper was the clear winner. However, by the two’s third releases, Madonna began to capture the imaginations of little girls who wanted to be like her and boys who wanted their girlfriends to act like her. And, for some reason, Lauper lost her touch on mainstream music, and began a quick descent into obscurity, although many would have preferred her woman power message to have won out over Madonna’s strong woman in the bedroom persona. But, that was not meant to be. So, let’s go back to celebrate that great debut album that Cyndi Lauper gave us back on October 14, 1983.

2.26 Cyndi Lauper Live

Immediately, Cyndi Lauper jumped into our family rooms via her great video for that “Girl Power” (yes, the Spice Girls stole Lauper’s shtick a decade later) anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. From the beginning of that song, as the guitar, synthesizer and electronic drums crash together in order to grab the listeners attention, we were all mesmerized by the images of Cyndi, in her Goodwill clothing, pleading with her parents to allow Miss Lauper and her girlfriends out of their homes so they can just have fun. The song became the weekend party anthem of young college women on the Ball State campus. Everywhere you went for nearly the rest of that school year, you could hear the refrain coming from small clusters of young women singing their newly adopted anthem “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. And, Lauper’s video even threw a bone to guys everywhere as World Wrestling Federation (back in those days!) icon Captain Albano was cast as Lauper’s father in the video. It was a marketing coup that paid dividends for both pro wrestling and Lauper, and one she continued to court throughout the Eighties.

2.26 Cyndi Lauper - Girls Just Want To Have Fun

Yet, what could have been a novelty song in less talented hands, easily transitioned into an anthem as sales of her album began to take off. Suddenly, we realized this woman was more than a party girl looking for fun. No, Lauper had depth, as she displayed on her heartbreaking ballad “Time After Time”. And, who couldn’t related to her sentiment of a relationship ending as the two people in the couple just slowly begin too drift apart even though they are trying to cling to each other against that current of breakup.

2.26 cyndi lauper - time after time

Side One also had a third hit, “Money Changes Everything”, which displayed Lauper’s pop/rocker side, and a song that should have been a HUGE hit, a cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”, which showed her new wave side. In both cases, the female protagonists in each song are strong woman who are not afraid to face life with a man and their one-sided relationships. Rarely had a woman’s strong side been on display in rock music since Aretha Franklin came on the radio demanding her man to show some “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Finally, women and girls had a female rock artist not afraid to show her strength off to the public. Sure, the Wilson sisters of Heart, Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders and Pat Benatar all had shows of strength. But, to devote a whole side of an album to this was new ground in 1983.

2.26 Cyndi Lauper - She Bop

And, while we were blown away by Side One, nothing on God’s green earth prepared us for what Cyndi Lauper did on Side Two. The whole second side of the album is a new wave tour de force lead by the backing band from Philadelphia who would have some chart success in 1985-6 known as The Hooters. Their muscular rock sound with new wave pop touches only allows Lauper to flex her vocal muscles around these songs. Although only one hit song was on this side, these songs represented the true meat of Cyndi’s message of being a strong female. Yet, it was the one hit song on this side, the Top Five “She Bop” that made most of the noise.

And, why was that? Upon first glance, “She Bop” is a great new wave dance song. But, as you read the lyric sheet, you notice that this is a song about a woman telling the world that she loves to have a little female alone time. Of course, males have been disguising songs about masturbation throughout the history of rock ‘n’ roll. Come on, what do you think the Everly Brothers are dreaming about when they sang “All I Have to Do Is Dream”? Or, what exactly is going on in that seemingly bubblegummy hit from 1977 by Alan O’Day called “Undercover Angel”? Or, how about “Imaginary Lover” by the Atlanta Rhythm Section? Or, “Rosie” by Jackson Browne, “Turning Japanese” by The Vapors, or Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”? Up to this point, rock music was full of songs about males relieving themselves. But, females? Good girls didn’t do such things. Or did they?

2.26 shep bop video still

Well, Cyndi Lauper blew the lid off the subject and confirmed to the world that women did such things and she did too. And, “She Bop” got passed the censurers, became a huge hit and answered to the world that women liked sex, even if they needed to help themselves from time to time. The subject matter blew the lid off a then-taboo subject, as the Eighties began to shed the code words and started to be more direct in their lyrics, especially with the use of expletives, which led to songs in the Nineties and beyond to release both “clean” and “dirty” versions of songs and albums. Yet, it was Lauper, not Madonna, who blew the lid off this subject matter, a fact that is lost to history, especially since you rarely hear “She Bop” played on free radio’s “Eighties Weekends”. I understand why radio will no longer play the Genesis song “Illegal Alien”, but “She Bop”? Come on! That cat’s out of the bag, pardon the pun. Let’s just move passed it and let this great song live on.

Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper
Are the signs telling us who they think about during alone time?

Now, if you were comparing debut albums, you can see why people were expecting huge things from Lauper. However, if she had gotten as big as Madonna did, I don’t think we would have seen such a rich and diverse career that Lauper has had. Cyndi has branched into acting, allowing her to score some awards along the way. Still, 35 years later, I can more fully appreciate the greatness in the gift she left us when she released She’s So Unusual. One last thing: you can see Cyndi Lauper perform live on tour as she is Rod Stewart’s opening act this summer. Maybe Cyndi could sing “She Bop”, and then Rod could follow it up with “Tonight’s the Night”. That would be a nice one-two punch of sexuality.

2.23 Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods
The U.S. version

Thirty-three years ago today, I entered into one of the craziest, most fulfilling relationships ever lived in the history of mankind. Today is my wedding anniversary, and it is crazy to glance over our shoulders to see our footprints in the sand of life and realize how often we were there for each other. As the spouse of someone dealing with chronic pain, that person must be one of the strongest people on earth. And, that is my beautiful wife.

2.23 the_style_council_cafe_bleu
The UK version

When the last of our two boys moved out, it was my wife who encouraged me to turn one of their rooms into my music room, an that continues to pay off dividends in my fight to maintain sanity in the face of a failed back surgery, along with the numerous that preceded as well as followed. She has also been the major force for me to begin writing. Before, I had viewed writing as a game that I played with my professor, not something that my attempt to maintain sanity. And, back in my coaching days, she was the one who maintained sanity in the house as the long hours kept me away from the house. I know it is cliched to say this, but my wife is my rock, without whom I would have never fulfilled the “promise” adults used to talk about when I was much younger.

2.23 Style Council - My Ever Changing Moods single
Theme Song of My Life

In early June 1984, the guys living in the fraternity house noticed that a girl was sitting in a car in the parking area behind the house next door. So, one of them went over and invited her to hang out at our house until her landlord and/or the girls with whom she would be living finally arrived. Initially, that girl and I did not make a very good impression on either of us. However, later that week, a few of the guys living in the frat house decided to have a small party, and that is when my future bride and me hit it off. And, while the guys had one The Jacksons’ Victory album on downstairs, my future wife and I were listening to The Style Council’s first full length US release, My Ever Changing Moods. It was during that time of talking and listening to the music, that lightening may have struck the both of us a little bit. And, that lightning continued to strike us many times, over and over. And the album of that summer for us? That’s right! The Style Council’s My Ever Changing Moods.

2.23. style-council-youre-the-best-thing-polydor-4
Our Song

As I have stated many times on this blog, I am a huge fan of Paul Weller’s career, from The Jam to The Style Council, and on in to his solo career. But, it is The Style Council with whom I associate with falling in love. [And, no, I haven’t forgotten Daryl Hall and John Oates’ music in this fantastic relationship!] But, will someone please tell me why record companies during the Eighties and before would release a completely different album of songs than the one released in the United Kingdom. Much like Beatles fans in the Sixties who have this same problem with that band’s first handful of albums.

So, after The Style Council released the EP Introducing the Style Council on both sides of the Atlantic, the band’s record company, Polydor, decided to drop My Ever Changing Moods here in the States, as opposed to Cafe Bleu, which was released in the United Kingdom. And, not to play a pun, the mood of the two albums are completely different. Personally, I feel the US version of the album is much more exuberant than the UK version, which I find much more dour. And, am I not sure why there is that much difference between the two albums. I understand that the US version is filled with the actual singles that were released in the UK in the months leading up to the debut albums of The Style Council, I am not sure about the artistic choice to replace two of Weller’s greatest songs, “My Ever Changing Moods” and “You’re the Best Thing”, with their acoustic versions on the UK album strikes me as a contrarian move much more than an artistic move. I think those differences are my biggest beefs. And since I became much more familiar with the running order on My Ever Changing Moods, I tend to get “lost” while listening to Cafe Bleu.

2.23 Style Council - Introducing
The EP that made me transition from The Jam to The Style Council. Who knew you could find a Mod in the American Midwest?

Well, that paragraph is rich. I sound like an American Baby Boomer bitching about the difference between the American version of The Beatles’ Help! and the UK version of the very same album. But, sorry my UK brethren, I prefer my version of The Style Council’s debut album as opposed to yours. And, this discrepancy did not end here. Oh, no! The same thing happened with The Style Council’s second album. Here in the States, that album is known as Internationalists, and is loaded with many fun-loving versions of the singles that had been released in the UK during the time leading up to the release of their sophomore album, known as Our Favourite Shop. Of course, I am going to prefer the version I heard when I was a college student who was falling in love with his soul mate as opposed to the version you all were listening to in a different country.

I know, it all comes down to perspective. And, I’ll take my more romantic version, thank you very much. Still, no one loses when it comes to the music of Paul Weller. [Mike drop – and I walk off into my music room.]

All Apologies, Living Colour’s ‘Vivid’ Is a Forgotten Classic

2.22 living colour - vivid

Way back in 1988, when hair metal and bad pop/dance divas were all the rage on MTV and pop radio, a unique band from New York City released its debut album. Now, all of the members were well-known throughout the city as session musicians and as late night solo artists displaying their respective talents in clubs all over the city. This band came together as lead guitarist and band visionary Vernon Reid began to scour the city with his eyes set on finding the finest musicians that would be willing to play a version of hard rock and metal that was dancing around Reid’s head. His objective was to find the finest bassist and drummer who were willing to help him bring together this funk-based hard rock sound that allowed for jazz and pop excursions. Plus, he wanted to find a powerhouse vocalist who was able to pull this whole sound together. And, the final piece to this puzzle was that all of the members of this band must be, like Reid himself, African-Americans. Thus, in a nutshell, this is how Vernon Reid put together a band consisting of bassist Muzz Skillings, drummer William Calhoun and lead vocalist Corey Glover called Living Colour.

2.22 living colour publicity photo 1988

In the late Eighties, outside of the alternative and rap music worlds, I found little to get excited about. The heroes of the Sixties and Seventies were generally struggling with the changing musical landscapes. And, there were few artists that were attempting to bridge the ever-widening gap between black and white musical audiences. Sure, we had the early sounds of Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers fusing white rock with hip hop sounds from the white guy point of view, while Run-DMC was erasing the boundaries between hip hop and hard rock. But, ever since the great Jimi Hendrix passed away, few black artists were bringing their mindset to the hard rock/heavy metal worlds. And, as rap music album sales rose, the timing became more obvious to Living Colour.

2.22 living colour - cult of personality2.22 Living Colour - Glamour Boys

So, in 1988, Living Colour changed the world when the band dropped their debut album, Vivid, on an unsuspecting audience. I remember reading reviews of the album in several different music rags of the day, most ranging for acceptance to utter genuflecting. I saw the band’s video for “Cult of Personality” on MTV and was blown away by the political voice the band brought over from Public Enemy and integrated it into their debut single. Then, the late great WOXY-FM, 97X, in Oxford, Ohio, began playing the album cut, and eventual second single, “Glamour Boys” in moderate rotation on an alternative music station. So, the former gave my metal side something new to love, while my alternative side was falling for this new wavish hard rock song of the latter. Needless to say, I decided to buy that Living Colour album Vivid. By the way, did you know that Mick Jagger played harmonica, sang backing vocals AND produced “Glamour Boys”? There’s your rock trivia for today.

To be perfectly honest, I have not listened to this album in a good 25 years. So, I was hoping that my memory of the music of this album had not been overblown in my head over the years. So, when I dropped the needle on Side One’s first cut, their most famous song, “Cult of Personality” jumped from my speakers, as my body was mesmerized by the song pounding away. The best thing was that the lyrics, though written as a response to then-Presidents Reagan and the first Bush, still hold up even better today, as our current President uses his reality television image to infest the Oval Office. And, the lyrics of this song predicted the whole thing.

Side One continues with a couple of songs that are confessional in nature, like a metal version of a good Jackson Browne song with “I Want to Know” and “Middle Man” [Note: I use the Jackson Browne comparison because Browne never backed away from his most personal songs also being some of his more poignant political statements as well.] But, it is the last two songs of that side which raises the album into the classic rating. I am talking about “Desperate People” and “Open Letter (To a Landlord)”. These songs fit nicely next to many of the songs from Tracey Chapman’s debut album from the same year as being the best non-hip hop songs that address the plight of African-Americans in the inner city. And the rising rage of the songs are only enhanced by the Hendrix-via-Van Halen guitar solos that Vernon Reid lays down.

2.22 living colour at lollapalooza 1991

On Side Two, the racial observations are still prevalent, finally being dressed up in a type of music that most white knuckle-dragging metalheads will be able to understand. The political statements are made directly in “Funny Vibe”, with help from Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Flavor Flav, and “Which Way to America”. Yet, more subtle racial statements are made with the aforementioned pop/new wave/metal classic “Glamour Boys”, in addition to the cover of the Talking Heads’ “Memories Can Wait”, which is a funky song originally done by a white band made more funky by a black metal band. So, what can be more political than that?

AE25MUCOLOUR_2.jpg

Living Colour’s Vivid, along with other underrated Eighties metal/hard rock classics like Enuff Z’Nuff by Enuff Z’Nuff, Gretchen Goes to Kansas by King’s X, and Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking, that should be placed next to Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood by Slayer, AC/DC’s Back in Black, Motörhead’s Ace of Spades and Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden as THE classic hard rock/metal albums of the Eighties. After listening to the album a couple of times before writing this blog entry, I almost get the feeling that Living Colour was working toward something bigger than trying to become the next Led Zeppelin. Sorry kids! They were way too busy to become anything other than the first Living Colour. They were a band for the Eighties and beyond.

Hey Rock & Roll Hall of Fame! This is the band that should be going into the Hall BEFORE Bon Jovi, not just Def Leppard and The Jam. I am officially back on the Living Colour bandwagon. I may have to purchase the CD version of this album so I don’t wear the grooves any more.

Sometimes, I Just Need a Little Disco to Get Out of My Funk

2.21 nile rodgers presents the chic organization up all night

I thought I’d give this blog one more attempt today. I have begun three entries and rejected all of them after a paragraph. I am not really experiencing a writer’s block, per se, I am simply experiencing a higher than normal pain level today and my stupid back spasms are hitting me especially hard today. Actually, this should not be a surprise, as I have these kind of days after I get my pain pump refilled, as I did this past Friday. The problem is I did not slow down enough over the weekend in order to get things back to normal, so this is the payment I must make for trying to fight through the pain as if I were a distance runner all over again. But, I am not, but I have never been good at accepting my limitations, no matter how often they are exposed to me on a daily basis. My motto continues to be if my brain works then the rest of me must as well. Therein lies the problem. C’est la vie.

So, how does one fight these high pain days. Since I have a pain pump, I do not take oral pain medications, which is a good thing since they make me “dopey”. On the other hand, I do supplement my pain pump dose every couple of hours with ibuprofen and acetaminophen on an alternating schedule. Usually, my music of choice is metal on these days because I can stand in my small music room and scream at the top of my lungs as Metallica, Iron Maiden or Slayer melts my speakers. However, on the rare days when the pain exceeds all normal levels I actually turn to disco of all things. The throbbing bass tends to hit my back muscles in competing waves which unbelievably work together to cancel the severity of the spasms. It’s similar to the way noise-canceling headphones work. My usual go-to albums are Rick James, Donna Summer, KC & the Sunshine Band and Chic/Nile Rodgers. Of course, I chose Chic and Nile not only for the fantastic rhythm foundation found in their music and production work of other artist, but because I thought today would be a great day to review the excellent compilation of the work of the Chic Organization titled Up All Night.

2.21 chic
Chic in their heyday of the ’70s

Actually, this album’s title is Nile Rodgers Presents The Chic Organization: Up All Night and was released in 2013 in the wake of the success Nile was experiencing when Daft Punk asked him to help them on a Chic-influenced tune released in 2013 called “Up All Night”. That song went on to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year, a very deserving award. And, the whole pandemonium put Nile back in the spotlight.

Now, this compilation CD is a two-disc collection of Chic songs and much of Rodgers’ production work during the late-Seventies and Eighties. So, in addition to Chic’s unforgettable songs like “Le Freak” and “Good Times,” the song that is the basis of “Rapper’s Delight”, the CDs hold many of the better dance/disco songs that he produced for other artists. Suddenly, you realize why he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a musician and artist when you look over this album’s tracklist only to discover that Rodgers had produced dance hits for Sister Sledge (We Are Family album), Diana Ross (diana), Blondie’s Debby Harry’s first solo album (Koo Koo), as well as dance songs by the likes of Carly Simon and Johnny Mathis. Unfortunately, this compilation ignores some of Rodgers’ better work with David Bowie (Let’s Dance), Madonna (“Like a Virgin”), Duran Duran (a remix of the single “The Reflex”, the single “Wild Boys” and their trio album Notorious) and the Vaughan Brothers, Stevie Ray and Jimmie, sole album, as well as his other excursions in the rock world.

2.21 nile rodgers + duran duran
Nile and the remaining members of Duran Duran after Andy and Roger Taylor left the band. Rumors were swirling that Rodgers had joined the band in 1986 but only took on the producer’s role

Still, what you have is that cool disco funk sound that Chic was known for, something of a meeting between Steely Dan, Roxy Music and Parliament/Funkadelic. The music is smooth, the rhythm is throbbing and fluid and the lyrics are full of double meanings, which makes the listening experience even more pleasurable. It’s a thinking man’s dance music. Or, is it a “boogie-ers'” thinking music? Hell, who cares! It stimulates my mind as it makes me want to hit the dance floor. This best part about this music is Rodgers’ “chka-chka-chka” guitar work that is uniquely HIS sound.

2.21 bowie + srv + rodgers
Nile produced Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ album, but it was Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar who made the album soar

No, Chic was NEVER like the Village People, a novelty act. They were way more than that. But, unfortunately, the band popped on the scene just as the whole “Disco Destroyers” movement was catching steam. Yet, as new wave moved toward the forefront of the whole music scene, it became apparent that Chic’s influence was living on in this “new” music at the dawn of the Eighties. Today, Chic lives on in the electronic dance music that kids are listening to in the form of Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, and many others.

2.21 chic today
They really are on my bucket list

Still, the original is my preferred source of this music.

Were the Kiss Solo Albums a Bad Idea? Could I Have Been Wrong?

2.20 Kiss solo albums

Back in 1976, I convinced my newly single mom that I wanted to join the KISS Army for my birthday. So, my mother, bless her heart, working as a part-time teacher, scraped up enough money to allow me to join that brilliantly named fan club. Today this day, it remains the only fan club I ever joined, and my tenure in that army was only a year, as I quickly moved on to other musical artists. Still, for that one year, I was in the KISS Army, ready for my orders to invade Canada or whatever we were to do. Keep in mind, that there was no basic training for this Army, so it may have been THE army that our current president could have handle.

The reason I bring this up is that through the Kiss Army, I learned of one of the band’s finest marketing ideas ever: each member of Kiss was going to record AND release a solo album in the Fall of 1978. Now, it there was ever a brilliant idea, this may have been it. Finally, we were going to get four Kiss albums in the place of one. However, there was a problem with this idea. What happens when we, the Kiss Army discover that their individual tastes in music were different that what Kiss Army expected?

2.20 Ace - New York Groove2.20 Gene_Simmons_Radioactive2.20 Paul - Hold Me Touch Me

2.20 peter-criss-dont-you-let-me-down-casablanca-3

During my time in the Kiss Army, the band was reaching heights of success that few artists outside of The Beatles had ever experienced. The difference was that the members of Kiss were able to maintain their anonymity due to their onstage make-up. In 1976, Kiss had big selling albums with Destroyer and Rock and Roll Over. During the first half of 1977, Kiss released what may have been their finest studio album in Love Gun. Later that year, the band went for broke again when they released their second live album, known as Alive II. Although the double album set sold well, it was not the pop cultural reference point of their first live album, Alive.

After the big tour in the wake of Love Gun and Alive II, Kiss were the biggest band in the world. Now, their marketing group kicked into high gear. The band was now having the images put on lunch boxes, dolls, posters, make-up kits, cars, and so much more. The band’s first album release of 1978 was a double album “greatest hits” package called Double Platinum, which is one of the most beautiful album covers with a gatefold all in metallic silver or “platinum”. On the inside of the gatefold were embossed images of each member of the band, which was immaculate. Double Platinum was simple, yet one of the band’s finest album artwork to date. All of this time off was calculated by the band’s management to allow the boys to create their own albums.

2.20 kiss-solo-albums inserts

Now, there was a reason that Kiss album only had a couple of songs by each member on the group albums: these guys were NOT prolific songwriters. They were all very capable songwriters within that forerunner sound to the Eighties hair metal/hard rock sound that would take over the airwaves in the USA by 1987. But, back in 1978, Kiss was nearly the only game in town, but too much was being banked on the success of these solo albums. Still, each solo album was stocked with posters that would fit together like a toddler’s jigsaw puzzle to form a “giant” band poster.

So, imagine the reaction of rock fans in the Fall of 1978, when they bought the solo albums thinking they were getting four times the KISS pop metal sound, but, instead, got four widely different albums. Lead guitarist, and at the time suffering alcoholic, Ace Frehley released the best album, which sounded the most like a Kiss album. Since Ace was not the main songwriter in the band, this discovery was very surprising. Yet, Ace was the man to keep the whole Kiss/glitter rock/pop-metal banner flying high. But, the others’ albums were totally surprising. Who knew at the time that Gene Simmons, the menacing demon of a bass player, really wanted to be a Broadway performer. Or, Peter Criss, the cat-dressed drummer on a high riser basically wanted to be Rod Stewart singing Faces-like semi-sober rockers or solo-Rod sung ballads. Or, Paul Stanley, the star-child himself, was just a wannabe pop star, not too many steps removed from Shaun Cassiday. Oh, how those three solo albums just wanted to make me cry. And, to top things off, Kiss had shipped a MILLION copies of EACH solo album to stores throughout the world! I remember seeing Kiss solo albums in cut-out bins going for $2 a piece throughout the Eighties. There was so much solo product around that many of us on the Kiss bandwagon simply jumped off and looked for something else. Plus, somehow, Kiss had become a pop band for little kids, and no self-respecting teenager was going to follow a rock band that the little third grade girl down the street loved.

2.20 kiss - best of the solo albums

In what should have a majestic coronation of Kiss as the best band of all-time, instead became a sinking ship from which everyone was looking to jump off in order to be rescued by another band passing in the night. Unfortunately, sometime many years later, someone in the Kiss organization had the bright idea to release an album titled as The Best of the Solo Albums, which gathered three or four of the best songs from each members’ solo albums for placement on this compilation album [See the tracklist below. Thanks to discogs.com for the tracklist.] . No longer would I have to subject myself to Gene Simmons trying to croon “When You Wish Upon a Star”, as if he were a Disney character. Come to think of it, may if Kiss had kept the make-up throughout the Eighties, Disney could have orchestrated the band’s new images as a kids’ variety show on the company’s burgeoning television channel. What a missed opportunity for big bucks, which I am certain that Gene would have jumped on. However, by traveling the long trail to redemption that they have been on since the whole MTV special of Kiss Unplugged made the band more palatable for the voters of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for induction. Plus, by bringing the make up back, musicians can try out to become the next artists to travel as Kiss, almost like a traveling Broadway hit or Beatlemania. The bottom line is that Kiss will never die.

Ace Frehley New York Groove 3:01
Gene Simmons Living In Sin 3:50
Gene Simmons See You Tonite 2:30
Ace Frehley Rip It Out 3:39
Ace Frehley Fractured Mirror 5:25
Peter Criss Don’t You Let Me Down 3:38
Gene Simmons Radioactive 3:52
Paul Stanley Tonight You Belong To Me 4:39
Paul Stanley Take Me Away (Together As One) 5:26
Peter Criss Rock Me, Baby 2:50
Peter Criss I Can’t Stop The Rain 4:25
Paul Stanley Hold Me, Touch Me 3:40

I still think the Kiss solo albums were a bad idea in the short term. However, they may represent some of the band’s more collectable albums in their discography. Go figure!