Educating Peter # 58

July 28, 2013

Michael has thrown two songs my way this week. They’re both from the movie St. Elmo’s Fire, and Michael told me to choose one.

Well, I’m going to be difficult and comment on both of ’em.

Full Disclosure: I’ve never seen St. Elmo’s Fire, so all I have to go by with these two songs is the sounds they make. I don’t have any inkling of how they relate to whatever’s in the movie. As a result, I have absolutely no emotional attachment to either song.

Full Disclosure, Part 2: I never saw any of those American teen-angst movies in the 1980s (e.g., The Outsiders, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, St. Elmo’s Fire, Pretty In Pink etc.). I was the right age (i.e., a teenager), but not the right temperament (i.e., I wasn’t interested). I did see Valley Girl. But that’s all.

I am, however, hideously familiar with a fair amount of the songs from those movies, due to them being played over and over again on the radio and television back then.

John Parr – “St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) (1985)

0:00-0:18 – You can tell immediately that this was recorded in the mid-’80s, at the height of the period for the Top 40 where the sound of real musical instruments appeared to be anathema to the commercial music industry. This is one of the reasons I loathe the music of the ’80s. In this introduction, the only thing that sounds remotely real to me is the hi-hat in the right channel, but even that sounds more processed than a hi-hat needs to be.

0:18-0:34 – Ugh. John Parr has started singing, and he’s competing with so much electronica (i.e., synthesized sounds) in the mix that he has to remove all subtlety from his performance. He’s belting it out. (Admittedly, he’s not bellowing in the way Tom Jones does, but there’s a distinct lack of finesse in Mr. Parr’s vocals.)

That’s something I can say about popular music in the mid-’80s: it wasn’t big on subtlety.

By the way, David Foster wrote both the songs on offer today. When John Parr started singing, it instantly brought me back to something I saw when I was finding links to the artists and songs. In the Wikipedia entry for David Foster, it quoted Rolling Stone magazine from 1985 describing Foster’s music as “bombastic pop kitsch“. I think that describes perfectly what I’m hearing.

0:34-0:43 – I like the vocal melody.

0:43-0:45 – That’s a horrible thing to do to an electric guitar.

0:46-0:49 – I thought it was funny when Jack sang the deep-and-meaningful line “You know you can’t quit until it’s won” very earnestly and it was immediately followed by the ‘brap’ of a synthesized trumpet.

0:55-0:58 – And when Jack intones in all seriousness, “Only you can do what must be done”, it’s followed by the horrible thing the producer does to the guitar.

This is one way-over-produced song.

And those lyrics…

The more I’m listening to the lyrics, the more I’m thinking that, instead of being placed in a teen-angst movie, this song would be better suited for a fist-pumping feel-good film – something like Rocky.

I must admit that I really don’t want to hear the rest of this song. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve heard enough. I know I haven’t gotten as far as the chorus, but I know how that goes (thanks to its inescapability on the radio in the 1980s).

However, I must put my personal complaints aside and persevere.

1:00-1:04 – At least it has that tune I like.

1:07-1:09 – John is shouting a bit louder now (“And you’re trying to break free!”), and I know what that means. There’s a dramatic pause, and…

1:10-1:27 – The chorus.

It’s catchy, I’ll give it that. But John is shouting so much now that I’m surprised he doesn’t have a sore throat.

Trivia: The two notes of the synthesized trumpet at 1:21-1:22 sounds to me like it’s blowing a raspberry.

1:28-1:30 – The sound that John makes here at the end of the chorus is… um… ah… I don’t quite know how to put this delicately, so I’m just going to have to come right out and say it. John sounds like he’s sitting on the toilet, and he’s constipated, and having a hard time.

Unfortunately, I’m now picturing John Parr sitting on the toilet in a state of distress. (With the record producer on the other side of the door, saying “That sounds great, John!”)

Note to John Parr: If you ever get to read this, John, I’d like to sincerely apologise for the previous two paragraphs. They were uncalled for.

1:31-1:30 – Back to the verse.

Why on Earth was that dive-bombing sound (1:33-1:35) put in the song? What purpose did it serve?

And what made that tinkly series of notes from 1:35-1:36? Was that some sort of keyboard?

I’m alarmed that the producer managed to find a way to put even more sounds in this song. For this verse he’s added a ghastly – or more accurately, ghostly – guitar that has had virtually all its frequencies removed except for the very top ones. That is an incredibly trebly guitar. (You can hear it at 1:37-1:38, 1:40-1:42 etc.)

From 1:41-1:44 is a background singer who sounds like Michael McDonald. I don’t think it is Michael McDonald, just someone who’s trying to sound like him.

1:53-2:01 – It’s the tune I like.

2:01-2:27 – And the chorus I don’t need to hear again. I’ve heard it more than enough thank you.

2:27-3:06 – Ah, that was a slight surprise. This is the middle eight (which wasn’t a surprise at all), but what was unexpected was the chorus preceding it. At 2:19 the chorus went into double-chorus mode, but when the chorus repeated itself it last only half a chorus. In other words, it was a chorus-and-a-half. Odd. Anyway, now we’re in the middle eight.

In this (rather long) middle eight are the lyrics, “Just once in his life / A man has his time” (2:49-2:55). Oh dear, this is one earnest song.

Yep. Bombastic Pop Kitsch.

3:06-4:12 – This is the chorus repeated, and then the song fades out. As the song fades, John offers the appropriate vocal exclamations, all delivered at maximum volume (e.g., “BURNIN’!”, “BURNIN’ IN ME!” etc.)

I do hope Mr. Parr’s constipation clears up.

***

David Foster – “Love Theme From St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

0:00-0:15 – What’s going on here? This is supposed to be a love theme, and instead of strings – a real, actual string section – it’s all played on a synthesizer. What gives? Oh, that’s right. It’s the mid-’80s. I forgot.

0:15-0:31 – A piano plays the theme, and my first thought? Richard Clayderman. (Specifically this.)

0:31-0:33 – Oh no, it’s that “ice crystal” synthesizer sound.

This music is now reminding me of a track by ABBA called “Crazy World“.

0:46-1:00 – Yuk. Mid-’80s drums.

1:00-1:01 – And double yuk for that horrid synthesizer tom-tom fill. What’s wrong with using real tom-toms? Oh yeah. The mid-’80s.

1:17-1:28 – This is the next part of the song, and I can’t think of anything – positive or negative – to say about it.

This is not my kind of easy listening. Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, James Last et al – Yes. David Foster – No.

1:28-1:43 – Another part of the song. I don’t know if this a repeat of something played earlier in the track, because my mind has turned to mush.

1:43-2:13 – A saxophone solo. Of course.

2:13-3:31 – The rest of the track. Mush.

I’m glad the whole thing was only three-and-a-half minutes long.


Educating Peter # 57

July 21, 2013

This week Michael has reached into his bag of ’80s songs and pulled out “Please Stand By” by The Shivvers, a Milwaukee power pop band. (I know they’re a power pop band from Milwaukee because their compilation album is rather helpfully called Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop: 1979-1982.)

Before I listen to the song, I feel compelled to comment on the band name. I think it’s dreadful. I can think of two reasons the band wanted to call themselves The Shivvers:

1. It’s normally so cold in Milwaukee that it doesn’t do justice to the temperature by simply saying it gives you “the shivers” – it gives you “the shivvers”.

…or…

2. It has something to do with “shiv“, the word used for a weapon used in prison. Maybe the band considered themselves so tough that they went around shivving people – because they’re “shivvers”.

But whatever the reason, I think the band name is dreadful.

By the way, Michael reminded me that I posted a song by The Shivvers ages and ages ago. It was their version of Eric Carmen‘s “Hey Deanie“, and I posted it as part of a “Hey Deanie” extravaganza. (The post contained five versions of the song.)

OK. Now for “Please Stand By”…

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981)

0:00-0:12 – Oh yeah. I like this introduction.

0:12-0:24 – This verse, not so much. It’s all a bit too staccato for my liking – especially the 2/4 bar (at 0:17) dividing the verse in two.

I’m afraid this verse is way too jumpy for me. It reminds me of one of the skinny-tie dance moves popular back in the day: pogoing. Now I’m picturing a lot of people pogoing in a sweaty venue, with this song being played very loudly.

0:24-0:30 – Wow. That part of the song passed by very quickly. Was it the chorus? I’m not sure, but I like how the last part of it (0:27-0:30) harked back to the introduction.

0:30-0:42 – Another verse. Pogo, pogo, pogo, pogo…

I do like the little fancy guitar frill at 0:40-0:41, though.

0:42-0:54 – The chorus again. I think.

Ding!

My brain just notified me of this:

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981) (excerpt)

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (excerpt)

0:54-1:06 – A key change, which means one thing: the middle eight.

Boy oh boy that was a short middle eight. This band doesn’t mess about with anything lengthy. Considering the brevity of this song, instead of “The Shivvers” I think it’d be more suitable to call them “The Brevities”.

This song’s probably going to finish sooner than I imagine, so I think I’d better start pay attention.

The singer is a little flat.

1:06-1:19 – Here’s another verse, and the singer is still singing a little flat.

I liked the guitarist’s frilly bit at 1:17-1:18. Unfortunately, it was obscured by the singer’s “please, please…”.

1:19-1:40 – And another chorus. This song is whizzing by.

“I want, a girl, to call, my own…”

Oh, here’s something different. The band are extending the end of this chorus (from 1:28). Fair enough. But I don’t hear the extension doing anything for the song except making it longer.

1:40-1:53 – Ah, here’s another middle eight. It sounds like it was shipped in from another song. (Or, putting it another way: it sounds like it belongs in another song.)

1:53-2:21 – A guitar solo. In two parts.

The first part is melodic, and I like how the guitarist made the effort to play something with a melody, instead of just a pile of phrases he’s learnt over the years.

After all that melodic playing, the guitarist chucks in a weird, fast thing (2:06-2:07).

And after the weird, fast thing, it’s the second part of the solo, where the guitarist goes into a different style of playing, with some bent notes (unfortunately, there’s a badly bent note at 2:12), and a couple of semi-successful attempts at pinching notes (2:14-2:16).

All in all, I enjoyed the solo.

2:21-2:33 – Another verse. And the singer sounds as she if she’s getting a cold. (Must be that Milwaukee weather.)

2:33-2:46 – And another chorus. Where did that acoustic guitar come from?

2:46-2:58 – Here’s another extension of the chorus, but this time with tricky singing.

Ding!

The Shivvers – “Please Stand By” (1981) (excerpt 2)

The Cars – “Just What Needed (1978) (excerpt)

2:58-3:13 – Yet another extension of the chorus, but a little different from the previous one. This one features a really flat note from the singer (3:01). It made me wince.

***

I didn’t mind “Please Stand By”.

Oh, and here are the full versions of the songs that were excerpted earlier in the post:

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (stereo)

Or, if you’re a ’50s purist:

Bobby Darin – “Dream Lover (1959) (mono)

The Cars – “Just What Needed (1978)


Educating Peter # 56

July 14, 2013

This week Michael has sent me a song from 1985 called “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)”, by British band Red Box. It’s not a cover of this.

Michael chose it because the chorus was “so addictive”. We’ll see about that.

Red Box – “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo) (1985)

0:00-0:11 – Synthesizer set to “Ice Crystals”. No thanks.

0:11-0:28 – Wow, that’s a simple-minded tune. And I don’t mean it sounds like Simple Minds. I mean it’s more like something you’d hear in a playground.

0:28-0:39 – Those quiet drums remind me of this:

Puffy – “Thank You (2003)

0:39-0:44 – “Men on fire pray for rain.” I dare say they would.

0:44-0:49 – “Who are madmen, who is sane?” That’s a tricky one.

0:49-0:50 – That’s a cute little tune from the synthesizer.

0:50-0:53 – I think this is the chorus.

0:53-0:56 – Whoah! Where did all those people come from?

0:56-1:01 – OK. Now the drums are playing a regular beat instead of that dreamy, half-time stuff it was doing up until here.

I’ve only just noticed all the percussion going in this part of the song. I think it’s well done, and enhancing the track.

1:01-1:21 – Ah. This is the chorus.

Oo-er. A little metaphorical light bulb has gone off in my mind. I’ve heard this song before. None of this song sounded familiar until that chorus bounded into my mind saying, “Remember this catchy, catchy thing?”, to which my brain replied “I do indeed”.

I haven’t heard this song in aaaaages. I don’t think I’ve heard it since it was played on the radio in 1985 and did whatever it did on the charts here in Australia. (I have no idea what this song did on the charts in Australia.)

Enough reminiscing.

What is that sound at 1:12? Did a human make that sound, or was someone fiddling about with a synthesizer?

1:21-2:00 – And now we’re in the next verse. I was surprised at how abrupt that transition was.

The choir has decide to join in during this verse, with a little “Yeah yeah” (1:26), followed by all the singers cheerfully echoing the lead singer’s “Are we shouting, ever heard?” (1:27-1:31). In response to all the singers: yes, I can hear you loud and clear. I also had no problem hearing you all shouted, “Well, can we have a say?” (1:52-1:54).

2:00-2:42 – Here’s the second chorus, and I’m afraid the opening line (“From the very, very young to the very, very old…”) is getting stuck in my head. I don’t really want it stuck in my head.

By the way, this song’s combination of being catchy and not sounding like other songs on the charts in 1985 reminds me of another song from 1985 that was both catchy and unusual. Pardon me as I have a little break from “Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)” to listen to The Dream Academy‘s “Life In A Northern Town“:

OK. Now it’s back to the Red Box song.

2:42-2:52 – A little instrumental interlude that reminds me of “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983).

2:52-2:58 – More of the instrumental interlude, but with some frisky drums that lead into…

2:58-3:41 – Another chorus.

“From the very, very young to the very, very old…”

That is now stuck in my head.

3:41-4:16 – An elaborate (lead-singer-less) verse. I thought the band were going pummel me with extra choruses, to really ram that tune into my head so it wouldn’t go away.

And the song faded out.

I must admit that the experience of hearing that song again was nowhere near as distressing as I thought it was going to be.

Thanks, Michael, for reminding me of a song that nobody seems to be interested in playing anywhere in public* anymore.

(*Radio, television, shopping malls etc.)


Educating Peter # 55

July 7, 2013

This will be the fourth week in a row that Michael has suggested a song released in 1980. I think Michael likes the music of 1980.

Anyway, this week’s song is “I’ll Take Her Out Tonight”, and it’s by the Tremblers, a band fronted by Peter Noone (he of Herman’s Hermits).

Tremblers – “I’ll Be Taking Her Out Tonight (1980)

0:00-0:06 – Standard power pop eighth-note “chk-chk-chk-chk” guitar playing to start the song.

When a skinny-tie song starts with chk-chk-chk-chk, it doesn’t usually remind me of anything in particular (it’s a ubiquitous power pop technique, especially in skinny-tie power pop), but this time it’s reminded me of a specific song. It’s reminded me of this:

Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray – “The Time Warp (1975)

0:06-0:09 – Wow. When Mr. Noone started singing “I’ll be taking her out tonight…”, I thought it was a girl singing that.

0:09-0:20 – Peter Noone is not a girl.

The more I’m listening to it, the more Peter’s voice in this song sounds like Cheap Trick‘s Robin Zander singing very, very high.

0:20-0:45 – Up until now I’d only ever heard Peter Noone’s singing in Herman’s Hermits, so his vocals in this song are a bit of a shock. He’s fully embraced skinny-tie power pop.

I’m not minding Peter “I’m not a Hermit anymore!” Noone’s vocal delivery. It suits the music on offer here – although I could have done without Peter suddenly dipping his voice an octave lower than the preceding notes in “…and she won’t give you the TIME of day” (0:25-0:28).

And that’s a very skinny-tie vocal delivery of “SHE AIN’T GIV-IN’ nothin’ away” (0:28-0:31). You can hear the frustration in the voice that you hear in other skinny-tie songs that deal with the subject of frustrated love. (And by “other” I mean “almost all”. Singers in skinny-tie songs sure do have a lot of trouble with their prospective partners.)

0:45-0:57 – I’m not entirely sure that Peter is singing the correct notes in that ascending line (“But I could not stop myself…”, 0:46-0:47).

But Peter’s doing a very good job at sounding like a skinny-tie power-pop singer.

By the way, from 0:51-0:56 Peter sings a very odd line:

“And I would not let those guys try to talk me out of her.”

Just what does “…talk me out of her” mean? Does it mean he’s in her (I don’t want to picture that), and “those guys” are talking to him – while he’s in her (I don’t want to picture that either)?

This sounds like something I’d prefer not to analyse in any way. Next part of the song please.

0:57-0:59 – Shudder. Peter Noone whispering loudly is not something I’d like to hear too often. (I’d actually like to hear it not at all.)

1:04-1:05 – Ugh. He did it again.

1:09-1:25 – Boy oh boy that’s some high singing.

As far as skinny-tie choruses go, I think this is absolutely ordinary.

1:25-2:02 – Now it’s the second verse. More of the same.

2:02-2:03 – Please stop doing that.

2:08-2:09 – No, really. It’s horrible.

2:15-2:42 – Another chorus, then repeated with some extra-insistent drumming.

A guitar in the right channel at the end of the repeat is doing a two-note thing (2:40-2:42), and it reminds me of those old sirens that went “wee woo wee woo wee woo wee woo…”.

2:15-2:42 – This is the end part of the song, and it’s basically a repeat of the introduction. But what on Earth is that sound at 2:51-2:52? And is that a gunshot to end the song (2:53-2:55)? This is weird.

Or, more accurately, that was weird – because I’ve finished listening to the song.

And I don’t intend listening to it again.


Educating Peter # 54

June 30, 2013

Where does Michael finds these songs?

This week it’s “Can’t Get Close”, a 1980 track by Canadian skinny-tie band The Cry. I haven’t heard it yet, but I’m fairly confident that it’s going to be a skinny-tie song because of this:

I see skinny ties.

Technical Note Before We Get To The Song:

I’ve discovered that the version of “Can’t Get Close” that Michael supplied is in mono. (I had a quick listen.) I found a stereo version, and it was tagged as “remastered”, but it sounds awful. I’m going to listen to the mono version.

The Song:

The Cry – “Can’t Get Close (1980) (mono)

The Cry – “Can’t Get Close (1980) (stereo)

0:00-0:13 – This is the introduction, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the song. It’s all a bit anonymous-sounding to me.

But it has prompted me to ask a question I don’t usually ask in day-to-day life: Is that a flanged bass?

0:13-0:38 – Yep. It’s a skinny-tie song. An Elvis Costello-inspired skinny-tie song. And I must apologise for the amount of hyphens in the previous two sentences. Sorry about that.

This is sung well enough, and played well enough, but it’s not igniting any flames of excitement in me. I can, however, imagine this going over well in a live situation (i.e., at a gig).

0:38-0:50 – This chorus would definitely be well received at a gig. It has a shout-along quality that sweaty, inebriated audiences can yell at the top of their lungs.

By the way, the vocal melody of the chorus reminds me of the chorus of Johnny O’Keefe‘s “She’s My Baby” (1960):

(0:29-0:33)

Also by the way: This song deals with a chap who’s in a state of extreme irritation because he “can’t get close” to his potential romantic partner. Why are so many power pop songs concerned with frustrated love? There aren’t that many frustrated singers in The World of Power Pop, are there?

And one more thing: the last couple of bars of the chorus (from 0:47-0:50) reminds me a lot of the end of the chorus in The Rolling Stones‘ “Get Off Of My Cloud” (1965)…

(0:51-0:56)

Because of this, I think the chorus of “Can’t Get Close” is going to be followed by the verse of “Get Off Of My Cloud”.

0:50-1:15 – The singer sure sounds agitated in this verse.

1:15-1:27 – Time to shout along again: CAN’T! GET! CLOSE!.

1:27-1:40 – This is a repeat of the introduction. Coming as it does after the second chorus, my spider senses are telling me there’s going to be either a middle eight or a guitar solo appearing very shortly.

1:40-2:04 – It’s a middle eight.

2:04-2:17 – Here’s the chorus again. SHE’S! MY! BABY!…

2:17-2:29 – A repeat of the chorus. SHE’S! MY! BABY!…

2:29-2:58 – And a variation on the chorus. The big difference (which isn’t all that big) is the background vocals. There’s an elongated “action” (first time from 2:34-2:35).

And that’s about it for the song.

***

It’s a three-minute blast of skiny-tie-ness. (And there I go with the hyphens again.)

Hopefully, the singer finally found the “action” he was looking for. And I’d also like him to relax sometime.


Educating Peter # 53

June 23, 2013

This week’s suggestion by Michael is a slightly contentious one.

As you may or may not know, the Educating Peter series is dedicated exclusively to songs from the 1980s. (Other decades need not apply.) When Michael handed over this week’s song, “Bring It Back” by April Dancer, he didn’t know exactly when the song was released. He thought there was a chance it was from the late-’70s, thereby making it ineligible. Unfortunately, Michael wasn’t able to find out what year the song was released. It wasn’t in the MP3 tag, or in all the usual places that have that kind of information (e.g., Discogs, 45Cat etc.). However, I found this page at the Shotgun Solution blog which featured two other April Dancer songs. (MusicStack had the same information.) Those songs were both recorded in 1980. Given that the band was definitely active (and recording) in 1980, I’m going to go with 1980 for the recording date of “Bring It Back”.

Weird Sidenote

When I went looking for any images of April Dancer, I found quite a lot of dancers called April, but no photos of the band (except for the one I found).

In amongst all those photos of dancers called April was this:

Who’d have thought there was a character called April Dancer?

Apparently, Stefanie Powers played April Dancer in an episode of The Girl From U.N.C.L.E..

Although I found that bit of Girl From U.N.C.L.E. information weird, I was stunned when I saw this

I don’t know about you, but that causes me to go…

“??????????????????????????????????????”

April Dancer – “Bring It Back” (1980)

0:00-0:04 – I’m sure it’s real, but I have to ask: Is this a drum machine?

0:04-0:19 – Nope. Those drums are real. It’s just a poor recording.

0:19-0:35 – Poor recording quality notwithstanding, this is a pleasant song (so far). I’m also finding it undistinguished. What I’m hearing isn’t sticking out as anything more or less what I’ve heard plenty of times before.

0:35-0:44 – The first line of this part of the song starts with “People say…”. Every time – and I do mean every single time – I hear anyone in a song sing “People say…” I automatically think of Smokey Robinson singing “People say I’m the life of the party…“. Every time.

0:44-1:09 – Pleasant. And utterly unremarkable.

Although I can say one thing about the singer: From 0:44-0:47, the singer sings his line faster than the tempo of the song. It sounds like he wanted the song to be faster than it was.

1:09-1:26 – This is the chorus. I can’t really say much else about it than “This is the chorus”.

I don’t like the tunes in the chorus anywhere near as much as the band seems to.

Incidentally, considering how mild this song is, I think the raucous guitar at the end of the chorus (1:24-1:26) belongs in another song.

I must say that I’m not enjoying criticising this song at all. It feels mean-spirited of me, because the band sounds as if it believes with all its heart that this song is great. You can hear their enthusiasm for it in every bar. And here I am, tearing it down in a petty and pointless way.

But I’m just not feeling what the band evidently felt when they recorded it.

1:26-1:50 – The next verse. It’s pleasant. I’m sure the guys in the band are very nice.

1:50-2:06 – The next chorus.

2:06-2:17 – The middle eight, and I actually don’t mind it.

2:17-2:25 – A little instrumental break.

2:25-2:40 – A subdued chorus that builds up to the proper chorus.

2:40-3:24 – This is the chorus, repeated until the song finishes.

Unlike the (for me) unremarkability of the rest of the song, this section gets a little strange. I’ll itemise the strangeness:

1. Just before 2:55, the drummer hits a cymbal too soon. It’s in the left channel.
2. At 2:56 is the oddest utterance of the phrase “Bring it back” I have ever heard.
3. At 2:57 someone else utters the phrase “Bring it back”, but it’s in such a way (breathy and whispery) that I thought it was creepy.
4. At 3:03 and 3:04 is the same sequence of spoken “Bring it back”s, but the breathy/whispery one here is even creepier than the first time.
5. At 3:05 (and at 3:08) there is what I think is a guitar playing an upward scale. It’s strange.
6. At 3:09 the guitar starts a solo, only to have the song finish eight seconds later. That is one short guitar solo.

***

Well, that was “Bring It Back” by April Dancer.


Educating Peter # 52

June 16, 2013

I’m both surprised and pleased (in equal amounts) that the weekly series of songs from the 1980s you and I know as Educating Peter has been going one year. A year.

I’d like to thank my friend Michael for supplying all those songs over the past 12 months. I’m mighty glad that a year ago he responded to a statement I made about the music of the ’80s being the most loathsome in history. Michael responded in a constructive way: by hurling his favourite ’80s songs at me.

To celebrate the startling longevity of this series, Michael is going to have a rest from suggesting songs. (Sit back and relax, young Michael.)

I’m going to choose this week’s music.

For week 52 of Educating Peter, I’m going to play you a birthday song from the ’80s.

Actually, I’m going to play you two.

Concrete Blonde – “Happy Birthday (1989)

I’m a bit of a fan of Concrete Blonde (“God Is A Bullet” is one of one of my favourite songs of the ’80s), so I was glad that they had a song I could play to celebrate one year of Educating Peter.

Admittedly, if you listen to the lyrics of “Happy Birthday” you’ll realise it’s not the most celebratory of songs. But it’s Concrete Blonde, and the song’s called “Happy Birthday”, and that’s good enough for me.

The Sugarcubes – “Birthday (1988)

Indescribable.

Incomprehensible.

I love it.

***

“Eek!” Moment of Realisation

It’s just occurred to me that because I chose the songs this week, this particular post may seem a tad self-congratulatory. Sorry about that. I’ll try to be more humble next week when Michael comes back with a song that he’s chosen.


Educating Peter # 51

June 9, 2013

This week’s song is something called “A Girl (La La La)” by Artful Dodger.

The band and title don’t look terribly familiar, so I think I’ll be going on an another musical adventure courtesy of Michael.

Artful Dodger – “A Girl (La La La)” (1980)

0:00-0:15 – Well, that wasn’t how I thought this song was going to start. I thought it was going to be a straight-ahead power-poppin’ / rockin’ / boogyin’ kind of thing. OK. Maybe this is a ballad. I hope not.

Not-Terribly-Noteworthy Thing I Noticed: The singer’s quiet – and weird – “Yeah” at 0:04.

0:15-0:31 – Hang on – I know this song. When the singing started, I recognised it immediately. I recognised it as being the song with the singer who sounds uncannily like Rod Stewart during his time in The Faces.

Slight Digression: Back in 1979, when I was a wee lad of 18, there was an ad on Australian TV for a brand of drink called Claytons. It was a non-alcoholic drink that pretended to be an alcoholic one. The ad line for Claytons was “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. When I’m listening to Artful Dodger, I want to call them The Claytons Faces.

Inescapable Faces comparisons notwithstanding, I’d like to officially state that I like this song (so far). It has a very strong melody that I’m enjoying a lot, and I think the playing suits the melody.

I think it’s a solid power pop song. I like it.

0:31-0:46 – I don’t think this guitar part is anything worth writing home about. I doesn’t do much for me at all.

0:46-1:03 – Back to the main melody. That’s better. Sing it, Rod.

1:03-1:17 – And the guitar part one more time. Nothing to see here, folks.

1:17-1:34 – And back to the main melody again. The band is not afraid to use this melody repeatedly (more than you’d ordinarily expect in a pop song). But that’s understandable, because it’s a darn-tootin’ melody.

Nice little strangulated note from the singer at 1:31.

1:34-2:13 – Hmm. Here we go again with the guitar part. It’s been ages since I last heard this song (probably in 1980 when it was first played on Australian radio), so I’m having trouble remembering how this song went. I’m beginning to think it’s going to consist entirely of the main melody and the guitar part, taking turns. (“OK, I’ve sung my bit, now you play your guitar. After that, I’ll sing again, and then when I’ve finished you play your guitar again. Let’s just keep doing that.”)

I’ve just notice that the guitar part here is slightly different to the other ones. This one has a distortion sound that I think is awful. (It sounds like a very small amplifier that’s been overdriven way beyond its capacity to give a decent sound when overdriven.) And the guitarist is playing a lot longer this time.

2:13-2:21 – The band has gone all quiet here, presumably to break the monotony of the previous two minutes.

2:21-2:29 – Here’s where the “(La La La)” part of the song’s title comes into play, as the singer dispenses with the lyrics and simply sings “la la la la la la, la la la la la…”. The band really doesn’t mind pummelling the listener with that tune. It’s a good thing that tune can withstand relentless flogging.

2:29-3:43 – The rest of this song (all one minute and 14 seconds of it) is nothing more than a big singalong of the main tune. This band is fearless. To base a entire power pop song on nothing more than one tune is a fairly brave thing for a band to do. As far as I can tell, power pop fans usually like a much higher quotient of tunes per song in their music.

But Artful Dodger have one good tune, and are happy to play that one good tune over and over again.

***

Thanks for the song this week, Michael. I enjoyed it – but if it went on for another minute, I probably would have ended up thoroughly sick of that tune.


Educating Peter # 50

June 2, 2013

I must offer a full and frank admission regarding this week’s suggestion by Michael:

I know it.

This week’s song is the bouncy “You’re A Friend Of Mine” by Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne, from smack bang in the middle of the ’80s. I remember it from when it climbed up the charts in Australia (i.e., the country I live in).

I could simply sum up this week’s instalment of Educating Peter by saying “This song is bouncy” and leave it at that. But I made a solemn vow to myself to listen to the songs Michael sends me, analyse them as lazily best I can, and tell Michael why I loathe dislike tolerate them.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

Clarence Clemons and Jackson Browne – “You’re A Friend Of Mine (1985)

0:00-0:05 – That is possibly the most ’80s-sounding electric guitar sound ever recorded. It’s the archetype of what electric guitars sounded like in pop songs throughout the ’80s. Putting it charitably, I’d call it “crystalline”. Putting in uncharitably, I’d say “I can hear the treble, but where’s the rest of the guitar sound? And why is there all that echo on it?”

0:05-0:25 – But now the song is in full bounce mode, and as far as I remember it remains so for the rest of the song.

Wow. As I’m listening to this introduction I’m thinking: “This is so ’80s. It’s so… generic.” It reminds me not just of every song in 1985, but of every US Top 40 song released in the 1980s. It also reminds me of pastel colours, shoulder pads, perms etc. etc.

0:25-0:35 – First up, it’s Clarence singing his part. I must admit that I think that’s not a very good voice. It leads me to the thought that Clarence has recorded a song not because of his talents as a vocalist, but because he was so well loved at the time. (cf. Starr, R. circa 1964-1970.)

0:35-0:47 – Now here’s the usually plaintive Jackson Browne, doing his best to be a cheerful partner in a vocal duet.

Speaking of Jackson Browne, I just remembered a fabulous quote by Elvis Costello that I can’t repeat here because it’s terribly rude. (You can read it here. On that page, just search for the opening sentence: “Two types of rock ‘n’ roll had become bankrupt to me”.)

Jackson’s singing is OK, but he still sounds a little sad. (“You’re – sniff – my best pal. I’ll always – sob – be by your side, buddy. Sigh“)

0:47-0:51 – This bit, where the angelic backing singers sing “Oh, you can depend on me”, is my favourite part of the song. I think it’s gorgeous.

0:51-0:57 – But then Clarence and Jackson come in, singing together like a couple of drunks in a bar. (“OVER AND OVER! OVER AND OVER!”)

0:57-1:01 – Ah, those angelic voices again (“Know that I intend to be”)…

1:01-1:12 – “THE ONE WHO ALWAYS MAKES YOU LAUGH UNTIL YOU CRY!”

1:12-1:22 – Clarence and Jackson together: “Years may come and go / Here’s one thing I know”. I like that bit.

Production Query: Who turned up the bass guitar here?

1:22-1:32 – This, I think, is the hook of the chorus. “All my life, you’re a friend of mine.” It’s catchy, and it has the phrase “You’re a friend of mine” in it. It’s gotta be the chorus hook.

One thing I like about it, apart from its catchiness, is that Clarence is bellowing out his vocals and almost drowning out Jackson’s voice. It makes Jackson sound nowhere near as sad as he could without someone like Clarence bellowing in his ear. (Assuming they were in the recording studio at the same time, recording their vocals together.)

1:32-1:42 – Even when he’s singing about how great his friend is, Jackson still sound so melancholy. Cheer up, Jackson – you have a great friend!

1:42-1:54 – Here’s Clarence again. That’s a pretty impressive falsetto (at 1:44). But directly after that (at 1:46), Clarence sings the word “cool” flat. However, he manages to turn “cool” into a three-syllable word. That’s not easy. (Unless you’re contestant on a TV singing competition who can transform any simple word into a 97-syllable extravaganza.)

1:54-1:58 – Yum.

1:58-2:04 – “OVER AND OVER! OVER AND OVER!”

2:04-2:08 – Yum.

2:08-2:14 – Roar, Clarence, roar!

2:14-2:20 – Be melancholy, Jackson, be melancholy!

2:20-2:40 – Yep. I like the chorus. Although the more I’m hearing that drum beat, the more I’m thinking of Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.

2:40-3:02 – One Clarence Clemons saxophone solo. This is purely a personal taste kind of thing, but I have to say that I don’t like what Clarence played to begin his solo (2:40-2:42). Clarence swoops up to a note (with a little trill on the way up), and then he swoops down on another note. I’m sure it was a bit of showing off by Clarence, but I wasn’t keen on the musical result. The rest of the solo was fine, but it was much simpler than I thought it was going to be. It centred around only a few notes, didn’t stray very far, and gave me the (no doubt) false impression that Clarence Clemons is not a great player. According to pretty much everyone who worked with him, Clarence Clemons was a great player. The only reason I can think of for Clarence playing a relatively simple solo is the presence of a producer saying something like, “Hey, Clarence – when you get to your solo, keep it simple. Keep it Top 40.”

3:02-3:27Love those voices.

And I’m now used to the shouting, and Clarence bellowing, and the beat reminding me of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”.

3:27-3:57 – Still like the chorus. But I still think the whole song is terribly generic.

By the way, at 3:46 there’s an unbelievably weird falsetto note from Jackson Browne. (It sounds more like he’s being strangled, rather than singing a note.) I don’t know what possessed Jackson to sing that there, or the producer deciding to keep that in. It sure is weird. And I’m hoping Jackson doesn’t try to sing falsetto again. Anywhere.

3:57-4:20 – The fade-out, accompanied by Clarence playing another solo.

***

Okey dokey. As for what I thought of “You’re A Friend Of Mine” as a song from the 1980s that Michael suggested, all I can say is… it certainly was.


Educating Peter # 49

May 26, 2013

This week’s attempt by Michael to persuade me that the music of the Eighties wasn’t all that bad (I think it was) is “Hey Girl” by Expressos. I had a quick look on the Internet for some information about it to see what I was up against, and all signs point to it being a skinny-tie song. That’s fine by me. Being a skinny-tie song, it’ll only last a couple of minutes. (I’m not a huge fan of skinny-tie power pop, but I will say this in its favour: the songs are mercifully short.)

Expressos – “Hey Girl” (1980)

0:00-0:07 – This is a chirpy way to start the song. I like it. And it reminds me of a bit of Billy Swan‘s fabulous “I Can Help“:

Expressos – “Hey Girl” (1980) (excerpt)

Billy Swan – “I Can Help (1974) (excerpt)

I love that song.

But I must wrench myself away from “I Can Help” and concentrate on the song Michael sent me.

0:07-0:13 – The chirpy introduction is out of the way, and we’re already into the verse.

Major announcement: I like this part of the verse very much. Thank you, Michael.

0:13-0:22 – Grrr. The band had to go and bring the momentum of the first half verse to a grinding halt by inserting the ubiquitous “Be My Baby” drum beat. Why, band, why?

Nice choice of chord at 0:20, though.

0:22-0:28 – OK. Here’s the chorus, and I like it. I don’t know why the drummer decided to add the Buddy Holly-ish drum rolling to the chorus (from 0:25-0:28). I thought the chorus didn’t need it at all. Maybe the drummer just likes Buddy Holly-ish drum rolls.

0:28-0:35 – And back to the “Be My Baby” drum beat. I’m starting to get confused now. Did I just hear the chorus a moment ago? And if so, was that the shortest chorus (6 seconds) I’ve ever heard? Or is the bit I’m listening to at the moment (actually, I paused the song so I could type what I’m typing now) also part of the chorus?

The song structure so far is a little squirrelly. I’m not entirely sure what’s what in the verse / chorus department so far. I’m enjoying it, though, because each section of the song is short, and also not emphatically one thing or the other (as in: “This is the chorus and it goes for exactly eight bars”).

It’s certainly different from yer standard song structure, and I’m having fun being disoriented by a skinny-tie song. (They’re usually much more predictable than this.)

0:35-0:42 – What’s this bit of the song? Is it something that leads up to the real chorus?

I like this part of the song, whatever it is. But I could have done without the singer’s dodgy high notes at 0:41-0:42.

0:42-0:56 – Ah, so this is the chorus. Righty-o. I have my bearings now.

0:56-1:02 – And this is the guitar solo. It’s pretty much a Regulation Issue Skinny-Tie Guitar Solo, in that it simply plays the vocal melody with a few embellishments. Nonetheless, I like it. (It was short.)

1:02-1:38 – A return to the weirdness of the multiple short sections that make up the, er… whatever part of the song this is.

That’s odd. At 1:12 the singer hit a flat note (on “heart”).

1:38-1:51 – Another guitar solo, but this time it’s a proper guitar solo, not just a playing-the-vocal-melody one.

By the way, near the end of the solo the guitarist plays fast runs, and they remind me of the fast runs played by Mark Knopfler in Dire Straits‘ “Sultans Of Swing“:

Expressos – “Hey Girl” (1980) (excerpt)

Dire Straits – “Sultans Of Swing (1978) (excerpt)

1:51-2:05 – Another chorus, and this time I’m really noticing the 1950s influences.

2:05-2:08 – A couple of bars after the chorus, and then…

2:08-2:21 – …a return of the Billy Swan introduction (see above) with some extra vocals, leading into…

2:21-2:28 – …ending the song with those Buddy Holly-esque drum rolls.

***

Overall, I can quite comfortably say that I found “Hey Girl” to be an enjoyable little ditty.

Didn’t mind it at all.

***

As a bonus, here are the full versions of those songs I excerpted earlier:

Billy Swan – “I Can Help (1974) (radio edit – 2:58)

Billy Swan – “I Can Help (1974) (album version – 4:02)

Dire Straits – “Sultans Of Swing (1978)