The Psychedelic Furs – ‘Mirror Moves’

4.30 Mirror_Moves_(The_Psychedelic_Furs_album_-_cover_art)

So, what did you expect me to do? I could have stayed home yesterday to write a blog entry, or I could spend the afternoon watching The Avengers: Endgame with my younger son Seth. Well, family is so important to me, that I chose the latter. The movie was AWESOME, but I’m a huge sucker for superhero movies. Now, is the movie another Dark Knight? Heavens, no! But, I found it a very satisfying way to end this era of the Marvel Universe. Plus, the whole weekend was a nerd’s dream! What with Game of Thrones and The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, this was a pretty good weekend for the old visual arts. Hey! Did anyone else who watch the RRHOF Induction Ceremony think that The Cure stole the show? I thought they came out and took no prisoners, winning over a crowd who was there to see Stevie Nicks (not bad) and Def Leppard (Sorry! But Joe Elliott is a studio concoction), while Roxy Music and The Cure had the best performances.

Now, that we’ve gotten that stuff out of the way, let’s get to the audio arts. By now, my readers know that I came of age during the 1975-1984 decade of AOR, punk, new wave, funk, post-punk, MTV and great pop music. And, I will go down with a fight saying that from the years 1981 through 1984 might have been the greatest years of popular music when the best music was the most popular. During that time period, even the underground music was a rich area to mine. Now, in the Spring of 1984, I was finishing my junior year in college. I was at the height of my “coolness,” if there was ever an era when I could have been considered cool. My musical tastes were in tune with a generation, and, generally speaking, I was at my most irresponsible moment in life. I played on an intramural basketball team that unexpectedly won the campus championship when I had the game of my life against the defending champions. Then, I rode in Ball State’s version of Indiana University’s famous Little 500 team bicycling race called Bike-A-Thon (we’re not very original at old Fruit Jar Tech). Plus, I was still a couple of months away from meeting the love of my life, my future wife Jill.

4.30 The_Ghost_In_You_CD_Single

During that Spring, it seemed as though that every building or store that I would go into, I would always hear two songs, Talk Talk’s original, and definitive, version of “It’s My Life” and The Psychedelic Furs’ outstanding “The Ghost in You.” In both cases, I was smitten with the lush sounds each band had recorded. So, after a payday, I went down to The Village, to cash my check, took my usual $40 to live on for the next two weeks and bought both albums. At the time, the cognoscenti loved the lushness of Roxy Music’s 1982 album Avalon, so it came as no surprise that you would begin to hear that album’s influence by 1984. What caught me off guard in both cases was that both of these bands confidently incorporating these textures in their music.

Today, let’s focus on The Psychedelic Furs. Back in 1980, the band debuted as a punk-influenced pop band, straddling the worlds of punk and pop, in a brand new world known as post-punk. They were edgy and energetic and totally different than anything getting played on rock radio here in the States. For me, I loved their post-David Bowie’s Berlin period sound they were occupying. However, in 1982, they hooked up with my man Todd Rundgren to forge a new musical soundscape on their brilliant Forever Now LP, which is known for the single “Love My Way,” which has pop’s greatest use of a xylophone ever.

4.30 the-psychedelic-furs

As, The Furs moved into Roxy Music land a bit on that 1982 album, their follow-up, Mirror Moves (1984), finally merged the whole colliding worlds of influence of Bowie and Roxy into a confident and mature musical statement all their own. Sure, the melancholy sound of “The Ghost in You” caught my ear, and found its way on numerous mixtapes of the day, but it was songs like “Here Come the Cowboys,” “Life Is a Stranger,” “Alice’s House” and “It’s Only a Game” that made this album stand out to me. Mirror Moves is definitely The Furs’ high point, as well as their most musically satisfying album that keeps me coming back to it all these decades later.

4.30 The P Furs Live

Unfortunately, few of my friends have ever heard this album, yet those who have given it a spin have all purchased it. Now, whether they still own it all these years later, I know not. All that matters to me is it still sounds fresh today. And, like all great music from your youth, it still takes me back to that moment in time, bringing back all the sounds and smells of the day. Funny how music does that, when the more popular art of this era, television and the web, cannot evoke such vivid memories. Instead, those evoke taglines that reduces speech to an Orwellian series of someone else’s thoughts instead of inspiring us to develop our own critical thinking, as music has always done for me. Thankfully, The Psychedelic Furs have enriched my memories.

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Prince’s ‘Sign ‘o’ the Times’ Is My Favorite Prince Album These Days

4.24 Prince_sign-o-the-times

Have you ever had back spasms? Man, they are the worst. Ever since my first back surgery back in 2002, I have had back spasms to varying levels of tolerance. So, after a great Easter Sunday spent with my family, my back staged a delayed retaliation against the lower half of my body that knocked me down all day yesterday. All I could do was lay around and sleep. Thank goodness for PBS docuseries on the great American blunder called The Prohibition. I actually learned more about it in much greater detail than I had ever in my youth. That Puritan culture that came over from Europe has really screwed with our sensibilities over here. Fortunately, I grew up Lutheran, who along with the Episcopalians were the only American protestant denominations to refuse to sign the measure to get alcohol banned over here. Between that and Luther’s 95 theses, we some major wins on our side. But enough of that stuff, let’s jump into some rock music.

Monday, I wrote about a double album that I think just might be the most perfect album ever released, at least during my enlightened years. That album was The Clash’s masterpiece, London Calling. Now, today, I want to talk about another double album that I thoroughly enjoy. However, this one was more of a slow burner for me. Everyone who follows this blog knows that I am a HUGE Prince fan, so much so that when he passed away, my brother texted my boys for them to check on me that day. At the time, I wondered why everyone was calling me, until one of the boys spilled the beans on their uncle. Anyway, I will always hold Purple Rain AND 1999 as two of my ten favorite albums of all time. Yet, the album that I have continued to revisit over the years has not been those two, but Prince’s third masterpiece of the Eighties, Sign ‘O’ the Times.

Sign 'o' the Times (1987)
Directed by Prince
Shown (leaping): Prince

Now, me being a singles guy deep down, I have always dug the big three songs on this album: the title song, “U Got the Look” and “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.” Everyone knows those songs anchor the album. Still, it’s the songs in between that make this album so rich and such a great listen. So, where do I begin? Most people might go to “Housequake,” that funky song with the altered vocals (known as “Camille,” a Prince alter-ego) and a great concert centerpiece. Others might choose “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” another Camille vocal that makes the whole song a bit unnerving. Me? I keep finding myself loving “It” more and more after every listen. To me, this is a stripped down version of his Nineties sound, making it the perfect transition from the Eighties glory days to the Nineties funkafied era. Plus, you get to hear some string sections that must have been written for a totally different song by the great composer Clare Fisher.

But I have to tell you that three songs truly provide the depth of this album. First, there is “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Slow Love,” two diametrically opposed songs in that the former is a folkish song while the latter is an R&B song just begging to be placed on one of those “Make Out” mixtapes we used to record back in the Eighties. But, what they have in common is a lyrical nod to Joni Mitchell, whom Prince loved. The third song of this triumvirate is the oddball “Starfish and Coffee.” This song represents Prince just telling all the Top 40 fans to “F-off” because he’s going in places you could never imagine, much like he did back on his self-titled second album with “Bambi.”

4.24 prince - i could never take the place of your man

If you loved Around the World in a Day or Parade, Prince gave us a much more confident version of his neo-psychedelic sound with “Hot Thing.” Then, there was the last Revolution song, the James Brown-esque “It’s Gonna Be a Beautiful Night.” Both songs proved that the Purple One still had his funk card. Yet, for all of the brilliance of all the songs on this album, one song remains THE song on this album and maybe in the whole Prince catalogue, which we all know is stuffed with timeless songs.

I will NEVER get over the emotional response I had when I first heard the man’s most overt religious song, “The Cross.” This song is Prince’s “Stairway to Heaven,” plain and simple. Like that aforementioned classic, this song is a slow-building rock song that has the emotional depth that Contemporary Christian artists could only dream about. When I saw Prince on his Lovesexy tour, “The Cross” was the climax of that show. Never before or since had a performance of a song move me so much. The man cut to the essence of Christianity, which humans have totally screwed up. Today, as a sufferer of debilitating chronic back pain, his lyrics of “If We Can Just Bear the Cross” means more to me than anything I ever learned in confirmation classes 40+ years ago. The lyrics are short, concise and succinct, proving that less can be more.

4.24 prince-lovesexy-tour

Since Prince’s untimely passing, his estate his re-releasing some of his twenty-first century albums on vinyl, and believe me, I do not care how many purple vinyl albums I have, I will always get his stuff. Currently, I have everything from his debut through Graffiti Bridge on original vinyl, as well as Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. But, I have been slowly adding his most recent releases beginning with lotu3flow3r/MNPLSound to HitNRun2, still awaiting 20TEN‘s vinyl release along with all of the Nineties stuff. I just like vinyl more than the CDs I still own and treasure. I still love the sound of that needle in the grooves. Plus, as an old fart, I can read the liner notes better on the bigger album.

The Greatest Album Ever: ‘London Calling’ by The Clash

4.22 The Clash - London Calling

Back in February, I wrote of my late mother’s love of music and how her love of music influenced my love. Well, Mom loved Easter. Every holiday brought out the art teacher in Mom, but, for some reason, Easter was her holiday. Maybe, it had to do with her favorite time of the year Spring. Or, maybe, it had to do with her religious beliefs of the soul’s renewal. Or, maybe, she simply loved decorating eggs for the Easter Bunny to hide. To me, it was a combination of those reasons and much more. Whatever the reason, as I got older, I played along, still coloring those eggs with her into my early twenties. And, she always encouraged my brother and me to be creative with them, even though we both knew the ultimate endgame for these eggs were to become deviled eggs for the church pitch-in the next day. So, we had eggs decorated as the members of Kiss for four straight years, camouflaged eggs courtesy of my military-minded brother, eggs decorated as the members of The Police, eggs that looked like the cover of Grateful Dead albums, sports eggs (especially baseball players or just boring old footballs) or whatever else my brother’s weird mind could envision.

But, as I got into eighth grade, Mom would just buy me a package of jellybeans (the ONLY thing I had in common with President Reagan!) and an album. I strung together some hands down classics during that stretch from 1977 through 1981. In 1977, I got Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, followed by, in order, The Cars’ The Cars, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, and, in 1980, London Calling by The Clash. Then, in 1981, I got two EPs: Devo Live and Extended Play by Pretenders. While I loved them all, London Calling was THE album. It was perfect, from beginning to end, and remains that way to this day. I guess I am still in touch with that angry teen now that I am entering the age of senior discounts. I really thought I would have mellowed out by now, and I have to a certain extent. But, I still get worked up whenever I see people getting mistreated by those in power, and I guess that moral indigence will remain with me until my death.

4.22 The Clash on Fridays
The Clash on Fridays in 1981

If you are a rock fan, and if you are reading this drivel then you must be, you know this album for the two bookend songs. The first one, “London Calling,” is the call-to-arms for a generation of youth to see through the Orwellian actions of conservative governments throughout the world and step up to counteract everything. Then, there’s the last song, the nineteenth on the album, the one whose title is perversely left off the listing on the album, the hit song “Train in Vain (Stand by Me)”. Those are the songs that are still played to this day. However, I maintain that the album’s true brilliance resides in the remaining 17 songs.

London Calling proved that the band had learned to play their instruments and create songs that sound like a tour through the American musical catalogue, both rural and urban. Joe Strummer, Mike Jones, Paul Simonon and Topper Headon came together to create one album that encompasses everything that was great about rock/pop/punk music at the turn of the decade. We get an obscure Fifties cover song in “Brand New Cadillac” every bit as poignant as their earlier cover of the Bobby Fuller Five’s “I Fought the Law,” followed by a song that could have  cleaned up and made into a hit by Bobby Darin called “Jimmy Jazz.”

4.22 The Clash on SNL
The Clash on Saturday Night Live in 1982

The band sticks to its punkish roots with “Hateful,” then give a glam-like “Rudie Can’t Fail.” And, if you think the band forgot about it’s left-wing politics, then listen to “Spanish Bombs,” “The Right Profile,” “Clampdown,” “The Guns of Brixton” and “Revolution Rock” to get a refresher. But, be warned, they’ve cleaned up the production quality so these songs could have fit nicely onto the radio. Then, as if to make a statement to Blondie that they weren’t the only punk band who could make a quality disco-rock song, along comes the working class anthem “Lost in the Supermarket,” the band’s first foray into New York’s burgeoning hip hop culture that would pay dividends in 1981 on their triple-album follow-up Sandinista! and the one-off single “Radio Clash.”

This album is loaded with great songs, as you move from Motown-ish soul to flat out rock anthems. There is nary a wrong note or lyric. Even the artwork on the cover is perfect. First, there is the iconic photograph of bassist Paul Simonon getting ready to just wreck his bass during a performance at the legendary New York Palladium from September 1979. Next, the band used the same lettering and coloring that graced the cover of Elvis Presley’s debut album from 1957 as a homage. And, to cap everything off, was the sticker placed on the album’s packaging proclaiming, “The Only Band That Matters,” putting an exclamation upon the greatest album ever recorded.

The Clash Performing at US Festival
Joe Strummer & Paul Simonon at the US Festival in 1983

No band ever reached for so much and grabbed the whole opportunity by the balls and made it their own. This album was completed and recorded with a sense of urgency, not only to pay the bills but to change society. And, The Clash did this in the short term and the long term. This is an album for the ages, every bit as important as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. Youngsters, yes, the Sex Pistols made a huge initial splash, but for the long run, The Clash is the band from the punk movement that matters.

My Ode to ‘Some Girls’

4.19 Some_Girls

I have to admit something. Believe it or not, I’ve led a fairly blessed life. I have gotten to experience many things that most “normal” people have not. Growing up, I had the luxury of having parents who were educators, so they valued education and passed that onto me. I was blessed with some intelligence, finding much of my studies fairly stress-free, except for that immunology class which completely took me out of my comfortable zone. Which, for me (and I am not trying to brag), meant I had to study a little.

I had what many would consider to be a successful high school athletic career in cross country, track & field (athletics in the rest of the world) and basketball. The running-thing was my bread-and-butter, which allowed me to go many places to run, including, albeit very briefly, college. I ran all over the state of Indiana in various events, including being part of a mile relay team that won a state championship in the Junior Olympics in 1978. Running actually took me to Colorado during the summer of 1978 to compete in a national event where I got the opportunity to shake hands with one of the greatest men I have ever met, the immortal Jesse Owens, who was an inspiration to me. And, all of that running set me up to coach some great young athletes at two different high schools. Neither school had a track tradition when I took over as coach, but I was fortunate to have some of the finest competitors ever on those teams. And, every case, those kids won team championships that they will hold on to for the rest of their lives. Plus, I got to teach most of them a little science in the classroom, which made the whole experience worthwhile.

4.19 Stones 1978

But, one thing that sticks out in my mind, and probably in the minds of all of my former students and athletes were the days that we’d discuss rock music during classroom downtime. Those kids must have been blown away by my rock “nerdiness.” One thing they love to hear was to begin with one of their favorite artists, then weave back through rock history through all the proceeding artists who influenced the one before them, taking it back to the blues, country and jazz of the Forties. It was a great way to stop the science brain fatigue from burning us all out, while keeping them excited about my class. It was a simple mind trick, or cheap trick, if you will.

Anyway, I was thinking about that trip to Colorado recently. I remember dubbing several cassette tapes for my trip, along with a couple early forays into what would become my college obsession of the mixtape. About six weeks before I left on that cross country bus trip with a bunch of teenage boys and girls from the area making the journey, I bought a couple albums for the local record store. I picked up Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, Foreigner’s Double Vision and, on a whim, Some Girls by the Rolling Stones. Yes, I knew the Stones, but I had no idea about this new album, other than “Miss You” had debuted in the Top 40 of Billboard’s Hot 100. Just so you know, the Stones were my third choice, but it quickly became my favorite album of the summer of 1978. I played that damn album all of the time.

4.19 Stones tour t shirt

Some Girls may have been the last great gasp of rock brilliance by the Stones, but at least they created an album of absolute brilliance. Seriously, what’s not to love about this album? Yeah, yeah, yeah! I know! The Stones freaks out there will drone on and on about their Mick Taylor era, which was terrific, but that happened before I had hormones pumping through my veins. And, while that era just might be the music on which the Stones’ reputations rest, Some Girls is a crowning achievement for a band that many were beginning to write off. You see, these five Brits nearing the ripe old age of 40, at least in Seventies Rock terms, met the challenge of punk rock and disco head on, and kicked their asses.

This album has everything that makes the Stones one of the greatest bands ever. They did disco better than anyone else with the immortal single “Miss You.” They gave us a raunchy rock ballad in “Beast of Burden.” The Stones did punk (“Shattered,” “Lies” and “Respectable”) and country (“Far Away Eyes”). They had a cowboy song with Keith Richards’ “Before They Make Me Run.” They covered The Temptations’ “Imagination,” and they rocked hard on “When the Whip Comes Down.” And, then there was “Some Girls,” a song that all teenage boys wished they could have lived in life; instead, we had to live vicariously through Mick Jagger’s exploits depicted in this song. In the late Seventies, nothing compared to that lineup. It was one of the few perfect albums released during my high school years, at least until The Clash dropped London Calling on us in the State in early 1980. But, for a couple of years, I had Some Girls to listen to before running or basketball games.

While “Miss You” and “Beast of Burden” were the huge hits on the charts, the teenage boys commiserated through “Shattered.” That was the one song that nearly every young man getting ready for a sporting event in high school could agree upon. As we would say back then, “‘Shattered’ was the shit!” It was normal enough for most to love, and punk enough for the few knowing to accept. While “Miss You” made you wanna dance or “Beast of Burden” made you wanna slow dance, “Shattered” made you wanna go crazy. And, that’s what all good rock music should make a teenager wanna do!

Today, Some Girls remains on my go-to list for albums that still put me in a good mood. To this day, I still have not seen the band live, nor do I want to. Nowadays, they could never rise to the moment to capture what they did on this album. To me, the band was done when they started touring stadiums in 1981 behind “Start Me Up” and having the tour underwritten by Jovann perfume. I know my brother saw them in the Hoosier Dome on the “Steel Wheels Tour,” and my older son and his wife saw them play a couple years ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But, I never could justify seeing them. The Boss? Yes! U2? Yes! But, not the Stones. I have seen enough of their concert videos in the past that I am not that impressed with them. But, those studio albums, from Beggar’s Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street to Some Girls, that’s how I want to always remember the band. I prefer them young and in their prime and not looking like the patients I would see at the nursing home when I would visit my mom when she was alive. My apologies go to Charlie Watts because that man is an ageless wonder behind the drums!

Missed Opportunity: My 30 Favorite Songs by The Replacements

4.18 replacements 1985

I will admit that I was slow to the whole college rock party, mainly because, generally speaking, my peers at Ball State University were still stuck on album oriented rock music, along with the fun new wave music getting played on MTV. I knew of a couple guys through competitive cycling who were into Black Flag, Dead Kennedys and the Butthole Surfers, but they were the minority. Finally, in the Fall of 1984, after discovering Hüsker Dü, The Smiths and Camper Van Beethoven, I got my introduction to another great Minneapolis artist who was not part of the Uptown Empire of Prince. Through their now classic album Let It Be, I was introduced to the world of The Replacements.

To me, The Replacements will always be something along the equivalent of The Kinks to R.E.M.’s Beatles, if I can make such an analogy. Unfortunately, few ever got to hear this band’s brilliance on the radio, especially here in Central Indiana. After we moved back to this area in mid-1990, I could not believe how few people around here had heard of the band. Before their original guitarist Bob Stinson was kicked out of the band for his drinking problem, The Replacements had recorded three consecutive albums that are milestones of Eighties college rock: Hootenanny, the aforementioned Let It Be and 1985’s Tim. That means The Replacements recorded three classic albums out of their first four attempts. The band was noted for a sloppy country-ish punk-based rock sound, mainly due to their notoriously drunken live performances, that was coupled with the insightful, poetic lyrics of frontman Paul Westerberg. To me, The Mats, as their fans called them, represented another level of great music that was being ignored and ridiculed by the Boomer generation.

4.18 replacements 1987

After Stinson’s removal, journeyman guitarist Slim Dunlap was brought into the fold, actually adding a level of professionalism the band had been missing up to that point. The result was another terrific album that was released in 1987 entitled Pleased to Meet Me. This album showed The Replacements finally growing into the musicians that was always predicted of them. Bassist Tommy Stinson, Bob’s kid brother and the band’s true rock star, was growing into a steady force, while drummer Chris Mars was continuing his steady beat. Westerberg’s music and lyrics were reaching a new peak in maturity, and the band actually had an alternative rock hit with the song “Alex Chilton,” named after the lead singer of ’60s band The Box Tops (“The Letter”) and ’70s power pop visionaries Big Star. The song, as well as the album, was a rip roaring extrapolation of Big Star’s sound into the Eighties. It seemed to be setting the stage for big things for this underappreciated band.

Finally, in 1989, I was listening to WOXY-FM, 97-X, “The future of rock and roll!” (go watch the film Rain Man and you will hear the station’s old promo as Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman’s characters drive out of Cincinnati near the beginning of the movie) when I heard the DJ say that The Replacements had released a new album. I thought, “Finally! They are going to join R.E.M.” And, the DJ introduced this new song called “I’ll Be You,” the first single. Then, he played some more cuts, such as “Talent Show,” “Achin’ to Be” and “We’ll Inherit the Earth.” Sure, I was immediately taken aback by the cleanliness of the production yet was totally excited by the maturity of the sound. Hell, the band sounded as if they had been rehearsed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and had finally become tight. Little did I know that this album had been intended as a Westerberg solo album. Regardless, I thought the band was ready for the big time, and the mainstream was ready for The Replacements.

4.18 the-replacements-snl-nbc-1986-compressed

I have always felt that The Mats were the perfect band for their music to be a staple played on the jukebox of a dive bar here in the Midwest and South. But, for some reason, these guys were never marketed to their true audience. Maybe, their record company was trying to break them on rock radio, on which they would have been a natural, especially since classic rock will never quit playing Creedence Clearwater Revival (tell me the difference!). Sure, their 1984 song “Gary’s Got a Boner” was never created for radio, but their 1989 album Don’t Tell a Soul definitely was. The band even toured with Tom Petty’s band, and Tom was notorious with not putting up with to many stupid shenanigans from the opening band onstage. The stars were aligned. But, regular rock radio dropped the ball, while The Replacements continued to dominate alternative radio with hit after hit.

Not too many bands who truly had the creative run and growth that The Replacements had during the mid-Eighties, did so without ever reaping the financial benefit from that quality of work. This was a great band that few people around me know about, and that saddens me. So, I implore every one of my readers to get out there and buy their records, or CDs, or both (like me). And, while we’re at it, here are my 30 favorite songs by The Replacements, a very good place to begin.

  1. “Achin’ to Be” (Don’t Tell a Soul, 1989)
  2. “Alex Chilton” (Pleased to Meet Me, 1987)
  3. “All Shook Down” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  4. “Androgynous” (Let It Be, 1984)
  5. “Anywhere’s Better Than Here” (Don’t Tell a Soul, 1989)
  6. “Bastards of Young” (Tim, 1985)
  7. “Can’t Hardly Wait” (Pleased to Meet Me, 1987)
  8. “Color Me Impressed” (Hootenanny, 1983)
  9. “Favorite Thing” (Let It Be, 1984)
  10. “Here Comes a Regular” (Tim, 1985)
  11. “I Don’t Know” (Pleased to Meet Me, 1987)
  12. “I Will Dare (Let It Be, 1984)
  13. “I’ll Be You” (Don’t Tell a Soul, 1989)
  14. “Johnny’s Gonna Die” (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
  15. “Kiss Me on the Bus” (Tim, 1987)
  16. “Left of the Dial” (Tim, 1987)
  17. “Merry Go Round” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  18. “Nobody” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  19. “Sadly Beautiful” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  20. “Shiftless When Idle” (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
  21. “Sixteen Blue” (Let It Be, 1984)
  22. “Skyway” (Pleased to Meet Me, 1987)
  23. “Someone Take the Wheel” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  24. “Somethin’ to Dü” (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
  25. “Take Me Down to the Hospital” (Hootenanny, 1983)
  26. “Takin’ a Ride” (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)
  27. “Talent Show” (Don’t Tell a Soul, 1989)
  28. “The Ledge” (Pleased to Meet Me, 1987)
  29. “When It Began” (All Shook Down, 1990)
  30. “Within Your Reach” (Hootenanny, 1983)

Sinead O’Connor: Pioneer or Pariah?

4.7 Sinead

Back in 1987, I was living the dream as an employed medical technologist working in the hematology lab at a huge hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, while commuting an hour, one-way, from Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University. My young family and I moved to Oxford upon my second graduation from Ball State University, thinking we could hide our beat up mid-Seventies cars among the cars of the college students going to Miami. Little did we realize that our cars had more in common with the adults of Oxford than the students. But, that’s another story altogether.

To me, 1987 represents one of the last great years for the music of my youth. During that year, U2 blew up due to The Joshua Tree, Prince released his second double album masterpiece (Sign ‘o’ the Times) and John Mellencamp released what I considered to be his finest album ever, The Lonesome Jubilee. There were many other great albums by the likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, INXS, New Order, The Cure and so many others. However, there was a new artist who was getting huge airplay on the local alternative radio station, and her name was Sinead O’Connor.

4.7 The_Lion_and_the_Cobra_(Sinéad_O'Connor_album_-_cover_art)

This Irish woman burst on the scene with the wail of a banshee and a lyrical maturity not seen coming out of Ireland since U2, maybe even Van Morrison. At the time, O’Connor’s debut album The Lion and the Cobra had two singles that were getting run on the airwaves of WOXY-FM, the rocking “Mandinka” and the sublime “I Want Your (Hands on Me)”. I remember being so excited by the sound of that album that I thought Sinead would become a major star by the beginning of the Nineties. Then, I saw her performance during the Grammy Awards show in early 1988, with her wearing a Public Enemy logo “tattoo” on the side of her shaved head, and it was transfixing, solidifying my notion about her impending superstar status. And, remember, this was a moment in time when many strong female artists were taking their places amongst the rock royalty. We had the Bangles, Janet Jackson and Tracey Chapman to lesser known, and probably forgotten artists such as Suzanne Vega and Toni Childs. Yet, Sinead O’Connor overshadowed all of them in my book.

Fast forward to 1990 when O’Connor released what is now considered to be her masterpiece, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. The album was huge in the States behind the success of her lead single and emotional video for her cover of the Prince song “Nothing Compares 2 U.” That song had original been released on the only album by a Prince-masterminded band called The Family. In its original form, the song was an overblown art-funk-rock mess of a song. But, O’Connor stripped the song to its brilliant essence and sang the hell out of it, discovering all the pain wrapped up in the lyrics, immortalized in that stark video as Sinead cried at the end of the song. Upon the first time I heard the song, I knew that it had to be a hit. But, I was actually worried that it would face the same stupid ignorance that radio had shown alternative artists in the past. But, I should not have worried since the song connected with the masses, as did the album. Both the song and album hit number one here in the States that year, as it did pretty much every where else in the world.

4.7 Idonotwantwhatihaventgot

Follow-up single, “The Emperor’s New Clothes” followed “Nothing Compares 2 U” to number one on the US Alternative Rock Singles chart. The other singles, “I Am Stretch on Your Grave” and “Three Babies,” both critical emotional high-points of the album, failed to garner much of any success on the singles chart. Yet, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got made Sinead O’Connor a major superstar. Now, what the mainstream public never realized was how outspoken Miss O’Connor was. This woman was a survivor of abuse, both sexually and as a child. If she were just arriving on the scene in today’s #MeToo movement, O’Connor would be considered an advocate. However, in the early 1990s, what she had to say was controversial. No longer was the public interested in her musical ability. Unfortunately, the machine was ready to tear her apart. She was the first celebrity to speak of child sexual abuse that was occurring in the Catholic Church, something that the general public was not prepared to accept as truth. In retrospect, we should have been listening to her, as this subject could have been dealt with a whole ten to fifteen years earlier. Instead, the public vilified O’Connor, a broken individual who was ready to fight back.

And fight she did. First, she received four Grammy nominations in 1991. In protest, O’Connor withdrew her name from the competition. Then, in 1991, O’Connor refused to perform during a concert in New Jersey after the US National Anthem was played, causing Frank Sinatra to cock-off that he was going to kick her ass. Of course, Saturday Night Live parodied both incidences. Then, in her most infamous move, O’Connor was the musical guest on the 3 October 1992 episode of SNL. While singing an a cappella version of “War” by Bob Marley, she got to the word “evil” in the song, picked up a photograph of Pope John Paul II. At the end of the song, O’Connor tore the photograph into pieces and said, “Fight the real enemy!” Then, Sinead threw the pieces at the camera. Lorne Michaels, the creator of SNL, banned O’Connor permanently from ever coming back to the show and has never allowed the song to be seen again on television here in the States.

Afterwards, the backlash was quick and loud. Later, O’Connor was scheduled to perform at Bob Dylan’s huge birthday concert at Madison Square Garden, during which she was booed off the stage by the crowd. There are photographs of a crying O’Connor in the arms of former military veteran and country icon Kris Kristofferson consoling her. To me, it showed both how fragile this woman was and how understanding this army vet could be in a moment of American jingoism. After those moments, essentially the musical career of Sinead O’Connor was over.

4.7 SO on SNL

Now, nearly thirty years later, we can all see, in hindsight, just how correct Sinead O’Connor was with her stances. First, do we really need award shows to validate artists? Okay, maybe. But, do we really need the National Anthem played before concerts and sporting events here in the States? I really don’t think so. The original intent of that was to unify people during World War II, not some jingoistic gesture to appease people who like to sexually assault our flag. Hell, I back the athletes who protest during the National Anthem, as that is what the USA is about. The flag represents the country, not the military. My brother and his wife are retired military people, and they understand the whole thing! And, like I wrote earlier, Sinead was correct about the priests, cardinals and others within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church covering up the sexual abuse of children being committed by other priests.

Unfortunately, controversial circumstances ended Sinead O’Connor’s musical career right in its prime. Honestly, who knows if she would have survived the whole grunge era? But, she should have had the chance. This woman made the ultimate sacrifice of her career to express her beliefs. For her music AND her stances, Sinead O’Connor should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, ending her exile and her current use as a footnote in rock history. Sinead O’Connor was a pioneer!

 

My 50 Favorite Songs by R.E.M.

4.16 bingo-hand-job

Hello again! It seems that I am continuing My Unhealthy Tour 2019 with a bout of sinusitis and environmental allergies thanks to the effects of a so-called nonexistent bout of climate change. I’d prefer to get back to my healthier ways, but it’s not looking too promising at this point. I guess that’s the perils of being an old fart with a chronic health condition, but I’m not about to get into a bitch session. It’s during these times that I turn to my music collection for solace, though Game of Thrones has been an obsession lately as my wife and I are going back through the past seasons to see if we can figure out just who that damned Night King is.

Well, if you didn’t know, this past Saturday was Record Store Day, and I hope everyone went out to support their local independent store to do a little bin diving for some treasures or to pick up the latest RSD special vinyl release, as my grownup boys and I did. Although I failed to complete my RSD release collection of Cheap Trick’s Rarities & Oddities series with Volume 3 (damn you Cheap Trick Records!!!), I did pick up a long sought version of a bootleg of Bingo Hand Job’s Sanitized for Your Protection: Live at the Borderline 1991, which was actually R.E.M. performing an acoustic set before they became worldwide superstars upon the release of their huge Out of Time album.

4.16 REM

You see, I fell in love with R.E.M. back in the late Spring of 1983, when I bought a 7-inch single of their first IRS Records release called “Radio Free Europe,” which I still have today and is worth a pretty penny. That single influenced me to purchase their debut album Murmur later that summer, and my musical tastes entered my college rock/alternative rock phase from which I have never recovered, nor want to. Besides Prince, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Cheap Trick, they were the first artist to speak to me and further influenced my tastes in music. And, with Prince, they were the artists who spoke to my generation, which was neither truly Boomer nor Gen X. I would argue that, like my father’s generation who bridged the Greatest Generation and the Boomers, that those of us born between 1958 and 1964 are a transitional generation.

Anyway, R.E.M. may not have caught on explicitly with many of my peers, but Gen X did latch onto them. They brought the whole independent artist streak to the masses here in the States, and I personally was so thankful when they began to garner airplay on classic rock radio in the late-Eighties because I was so damn tired of the hair metal bands dominating airplay at the time. But, I was so disappointed that other artist such as The Replacements, Pixies, The Smiths, The Cure, among others, were blocked from joining them in the mainstream at the time. That line that Boomer radio programmers drew in the sand killed radio, though I find it hilarious today to hear those very bands getting airplay today on those very same classic rock radio stations who wouldn’t touch the “alternative” bands because they were pushing the boundaries of rock, much like The Doors, Hendrix, Zeppelin and all the others did when the Boomers were younger. It is my belief that the Boomers killed the radio star here in the States in the late-Eighties and early-Nineties with their arrogance. But, that’s another story altogether for another time.

4.16 REM 1987

Today, I want to celebrate R.E.M.’s brilliance that truly continued even after drummer Bill Berry decided to take an early retirement. This band, which also included lead singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills, had the foresight to split any royalties four-ways, because Buck said that’s what caused bands to break up. These four men were the perfect foils for each other, with Stipe manning the artistic side, Buck countering with the walking jukebox knowledge, Berry laying down the rock steady beat and Mills, whom Eddie Vedder described as “the band’s secret weapon,” delivering a fluid bass with counterpoint vocals of an angel. Together, they were able to meld disparate influences, with obvious early reference points being The Byrds, The Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, with the subtle starting points of Johnny Cash, Aerosmith and fellow Athens, Georgia, post-punk rockers Pylon, to create something of a Southern Gothic country, borderline folk, totally rocking, proto-grunge sound that had never been heard before. Much like Prince was doing at the same moment in time, R.E.M. was changing rock from the college nerd side of life. Additionally, R.E.M. predated, paved the way for, and in many ways, predicted artists from Camper Van Beethoven, the Meat Puppets and Gin Blossoms to Hootie & the Blowfish, the Decemberists and even Nirvana (just give a listen to Document and then tell me I’m wrong!).

Yes, I do live in the past in many ways. I have tired of the Adele/Sam Smith over-emoting over non-melodic music sound and much of the non-Kendrick Lamar hip hop music that’s being released now. I have never been so disappointed with a season of Saturday Night Live‘s set of musical guests as I have been this year. Maybe, this is just a transition period to what the next form of music will be, I don’t know. But, at some point something has to give. And, hopefully, the kids making the music of the future will look back to some of the artists of our past, much as the Boomers did in the UK as they dug into the Blues only to create the rock music of the mid-Sixties that kept paying dividends through the early part of the twenty-first century. And, when my grandchildren discover my music collection in their fathers’ collections, maybe their friends will dive into my records and CDs to discover a little band from Athens, Georgia, who rocked their grandfather’s world and start their own bands. And, then maybe those kids will tell two friends, and they will tell two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on, until their is a new rock revolution.

4.16 REM Unplugged

Then again, this could be all for not. But, at least, those grandchildren would inherit a great musical library that they could dust off for some musical snobs in the future. So, after combing through my extensive R.E.M. collection, here are my choices for the 50 R.E.M. songs that I think are their best. By no means am I a R.E.M. expert, but I do have a pretty good grasp of the band. Sorry, there are no B-sides or oddities listed, even though I do have them. When it comes to everyone but Prince, there’s a pretty good reason that the song was not on an official album. I have listed them in alphabetical order, mainly because at one time or another, each one of these songs were my favorite R.E.M. song – EVER!

  1. “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” (Reckoning)
  2. “7 Chinese Bros.” (Reckoning)
  3. “At My Most Beautiful” (Up)
  4. “Begin the Begin” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  5. “Belong” (Out of Time)
  6. “Can’t Get There from Here” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
  7. “Country Feedback” (Out of Time)
  8. “Crush with Eyeliner” (Monster)
  9. “Cuyahoga” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  10. “Daysleeper” (Up)
  11. “Disturbance at the Heron House” (Document)
  12. “Drive” (Automatic for the People)
  13. “Driver 8” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
  14. “E-Bow the Letter” (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
  15. “Electrolite” (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
  16. “Everybody Hurts” (Automatic for the People)
  17. “Exhuming McCarthy” (Document)
  18. “Fall on Me” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  19. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (Fables of the Reconstruction)
  20. “Finest Worksong” (Document)
  21. “Gardening at Night” (Chronic Town)
  22. “Harborcoat” (Reckoning)
  23. “I Believe” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  24. “Imitation of Life” (Reveal)
  25. “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” (Document)
  26. “Losing My Religion” (Out of Time)
  27. “Low” (Out of Time)
  28. “Man on the Moon” (Automatic for the People)
  29. “Near Wild Heaven” (Out of Time)
  30. “Nightswimming” (Automatic for the People)
  31. “Oddfellows Local 151” (Document)
  32. “Orange Crush” (Green)
  33. “Perfect Circle” (Murmur)
  34. “Pop Song 89” (Green)
  35. “Radio Free Europe” (Murmur)
  36. “Shiny Happy People” (Out of Time)
  37. “So. Central Rain” (Reckoning)
  38. “Stand” (Green)
  39. “Standing Still” (Murmur)
  40. “Star 69” (Monster)
  41. “Superman” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  42. “Supernatural Superserious” (Accelerate)
  43. “Swan Swan H” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  44. “Talk About the Passion” (Murmur)
  45. “The One I Love” (Document)
  46. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” (Automatic for the People)
  47. “These Days” (Life’s Rich Pageant)
  48. “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” (Monster)
  49. “World Leader Pretend” (Green)
  50. “You Are Everything” (Green)

Photo of REM and Michael STIPE and Mike MILLS and Peter BUCK and Bill BERRY