Friday, May 30, 2008

Tasmin Archer -- "Sleeping Satellite" (1992)

Did you ever hear a song somewhere that made you stop and say, wow, what a voice... and what a song?

That was the case with Tasmin Archer, when I bought one of those various artist compilation discs on a London trip. I've got a bunch of these at home, all stuffed with UK Top 40 and indie label hits at the time of their release.

I had no idea who Tasmin Archer was, but when this song came on right after Annie Lennox's "Walking On Broken Glass," I was like wow, let me play that again. And I did... many times over. "Sleeping Satellite" barely scratched the surface of anything resembling a hit in the States, it made a brief blip and was then gone, so it became my song to put on friends' mix tapes and turn them on. In the UK, "Sleeping Satellite" went right to #1.

The first thing that grabbed me was this nearly cold opening right on the song's dramatic chorus with a forcefully strummed minor chord on an acoustic guitar and startling lyrics sung by an equally strident female voice and nothing else:

I blame you for the moonlit sky
and the dream that died
with the eagle's flight.
I blame you for the moonlit nights
when I wonder why
are the seas still dry?
Don't blame this sleeping satellite...

In an example of a singer/songwriter matched with an arrangement that matches her vocal command, "Sleeping Satellite" then just gallops with a breezy snare, piano and lightly chorused guitar. And it's not until the end of the second verse when Archer really lets the bottom drop in her voice with guttural declaration:

Did we fly to the moon too soon?
Did we squander the chance?
In the rush of the race
in the reason we chase is lost in romance
and still we try
to justify the waste
for a taste of man's.. greatest adventure.

And it's on those "greatest adventure" words where she powers it up like a chainsaw and you know you are heading into an emotional ride, a really great song.

With every subsequent chorus, more instruments come into the mix, the beat picks up slightly, the drums, guitars and keyboards increasing in volume and urgency, a handclap blending with the beat after the break, and a simple slightly detuned organ notes gliding around.

I found a copy of Archer's debut album, Great Expectations, released on EMI, and I noticed on the cover that she was an attractive black woman singing rock. Of course, my initial thought was "here's another Tracey Chapman." Except where Chapman's sound was raw, dark and based in blues and protest music, Archer was much smoother and carried by London's top studio musicians. Unfortunately, nothing else on the album could match the impact of "Sleeping Satellite."

Online, there are two different "official" videos for "Sleeping Satellite": the hokey somewhat gothic-visualed British version (I don't know what they could have possibly been thinking) with the song's original mix; and the completely different US version, which is fairly better and a different mix (with a noticeable electric guitar solo at the end).

There are also numerous cover versions done by various artists from European countries, including a very slow "quiet storm" acoustic version by some Barcelona band, and a remix to a hip hop drumbeat!

I'm going to spare you the UK video, and give you Archer's live performance on "Top of The Pops," followed by a really beautifully done anime cartoon using "Kingdom Hearts" clips done to the song (excellent acoustics too). Listen to this second one in how the drums get pushed up front when Archer finishes the second verse -- that's how to mix and arrange a song!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The 17 best song openings of the 60's and 70's

I first suggested this concept a few years ago to Blender magazine's editor in chief when we worked together. And like most story ideas I gave them, they ignored it. But I didn't forget it and that's why we have blogs like this, so we can do it. Except I'm just focusing on two decades the 60's and 70's.

Here's how I define the criteria for this list: it's an introduction that signals something is about to come, a true curtain raiser. It's not a riff -- if I wanted to do a list of great riffs, that would be something else. I wanted to single out openings that were not the song's main riffs.

1) The Beach Boys -- "California Girls." This was the first song I thought about when I devised this concept. I used it during the opening credits for a California family trip video I made because the opening has distinct sections that could be timed. "California Girls" unfolds like a slowly growing flower, dual guitars in unison playing the melody as the saxophone section blares louder and louder, the tingles of the cymbal rides, surrounded in Brian Wilson's amazing wall of sound reverb.

2) Michael Jackson -- "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." This is like a bottle under pressure ready to pop. To the steady rhythm of an egg shaker, it seems like an electric bass and synth bass blended together in a rather short, sharp pattern. Jackson does a famous under his breath cosmic mumble: "You know I was, I was wondering if we should keep on. Because the force it's got a lot of power. And it makes me feel like... It make me feel like ...WOOOOOOOO!" From my favorite Jackson album, Off The Wall.

3) Average White Band -- "Pick Up The Pieces." A true call to get up onto the dance floor, eight seconds of Hamish Stuart's suspended rhythm guitar chord, the bass starting on one note and up an octave, a mashy organ chord fading up, and a tambourine sizzling through it all. An intro to one of the greatest hit instrumentals of all time.

4) The Beatles -- "A Hard Day's Night." One three-second ringing electric guitar chord from George Harrison's Rickenbacker. That'll get your attention. I always thought it was the one-hit strum of a typically-tuned open guitar (EADGBE). Except a couple of years ago, Guitar Player magazine devoted a whole page to what that opening chord really is. It's an F chord with an added G note on top. And Paul's bass is in there somewhere with a D note. Supposedly, George Martin's got a piano note in there as well.

5) Bruce Springsteen -- "Tenth Avenue Freezeout." The Boss has had many terrific song intros -- "Thunder Road" would be right on top of that list -- but if there's one song that had an intro that stood apart from the rest of the song, it's this one from Born To Run. Legend has it that nobody was happy with the song's horn arrangement until guitarist "Miami" Steve Van Zandt, a true connoisseur of everything great that's rock and soul, basically hummed the arrangement he heard in his head to the horn playing Brecker Brothers. The intro was a three chord R&B fanfare done in time to the ride cymbal, then Max Weinberg's snare powering up like a motorboat, kicking it into glorious life.

6) Edwin Starr -- "War." A five second drum roll that gets louder and louder, clearly meant to represent the military, perhaps "Taps." Then Starr and the singers launch cold into their "War" chorus. Startling and dramatic for one of 1970's most socially-conscious Motown hits.

7) The Fifth Dimension -- "Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In." The epitome of 60's orchestrated pop, this massive hit was the collaboration of producer Bones Howe and the top LA studio musicians and arrangers of the time (I'm thinking of the infamous "Wrecking Crew" with drummer Hal Blaine). Taking hippie culture and making it mass market acceptable for the radio, the song opens with a spacey three note pattern played on flutes and piccolos with a triangle ringing, high strings fading in and then the tuned timpani's booming out that beat, a hi hat on every other beat. The whole opening evoked some kind of out of body travel experience ("When the moon is in the seventh house...").

8) The Rolling Stones -- "Honky Tonk Women." You knew exactly what was coming from the mere distinguishable unaccompanied taps on the cowbell, followed by the thunderous entry of Charlie Watts' drums. I must have worn this 45 down to a pulp and played it for my grandmother, who said she "liked the beat" (a line she must have copped from "American Bandstand").

9) Earth, Wind & Fire -- "In The Stone." This group was at its commercial peak when they released the I Am album, which opened with this song. Of all the songs on this list, this is probably the most full-blown, something you'd picture smoke bombs and fireworks going off, the famous EWF horns, strings, hand percussion -- this sounds like a damn overture for one of the finest dance tunes the band ever did. I'm already envisioning using it for my family's bar mitzvah entrance next March.

10) Billy Joel -- "Piano Man"/"The Stranger." Although this first song is considered a classic, but far from one of my favorites of his, Joel was always a witty jokester. So to begin his autobiographical tale of a lounge piano player, he plays two schmaltzy chords and accompanying overdone dramatic notes, the kinds you would hear in just about any nightclub. Joel went for an even more cinematic effect with the second tune, low Em piano chords and slow sizzling cymbal beats accompanying a heavily-reverbed whistle, evoking the lonely man image of the song.

11) The Hollies -- "Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress." I saw a guy playing this electric guitar intro note per note at the Guitar Center in Carle Place about two years ago and thought I should go home and teach myself that one. This is a virtuoso solo electric guitar piece that has nothing to do with the song that follows it except it just sounds so cool and heck if I know why it's even there. It's an arpeggioed Em-G pattern with two thunderous tom slams at the end of each go 'round, and then into the E major boogie of the song with the nearly un-decipherable lyrics.

12) Arthur Conley -- "Sweet Soul Music." Who would have thought that the main motif from "The Magnificent Seven" on horns could translate into one of the great soul music intro's of the 60's? And what a great song, name checking southern soul greats like Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, and James Brown.

13) Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons -- "Let's Hang On." The sung intro to this hit reminds me of a lot of old 40's songs, such as the so-called "American songbook" of Cole Porter and Irving Berlin, which had sung mini-intros that had no resemblance to the rest of the song. It's like that kind of throwback to those days and damn if it works: "There ain't no good in our goodby-in'... True love takes a lot of tryin'... oh I'm cryin'."

14) The Doors -- "Light My Fire." I don't know who thought of the idea of piecing together the chord progressions of John Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things" and turning it into a Bach-sounding canticle roaring into one of rock's psychedelic classics, but it worked all too well.

15) Jimi Hendrix -- "Foxey Lady." I'm not the world's biggest Hendrix
fan, but how can I not appreciate a searing growing feedback buzz coming in from the distance as this song's intro. He was the first to do this on a hit single, and it represented him perfectly.

16) Aerosmith -- "Sweet Emotion." It took a lot of imagination to do a pretty lengthy spaced-out intro like this before Joey Kramer's snare intro bumps into this hard rock classic. Shakers, a guitar talk box, funky bass -- it's all groove with no drums, but it gives you plenty of time to anticipate the roaring guitars about to come.

17) The Sweet -- "Ballroom Blitz"/"Fox On The Run." I can't believe I almost left these two out. "Ballroom Blitz" has a truly insane kick-off, with a hard-pounding snare march and kick back beat, and Brian Connolly calling out each member of the band: "Are you ready, Steve?" "Ah hah." "Andy?" "Yeah!" "Mick?" "OK." "All right, fellas. Let's go-o-o-o-o!" I mean, what the hell was that? And "Fox On The Run" with its analog synth going out of control, its cutoff opening wider and wider until it blows its top. You have to credit the brilliant producer Mike Chapman for those memorable beginnings and songs themselves.


Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airman -- "Hot Rod Lincoln." How can you not love a song that starts with the singer alone babbling out one cool line from the end of it?

Boz Scaggs -- "Lido Shuffle." Jeff Porcaro's confident fast shuffle to David Hungate's one note bass playing 16ths. Sometimes the simplest things just work.

The 80's

When I get to best song openings of the 80's down the line, I'm 100% sure that Prince's "Dearly beloved" monologue for "Let's Go Crazy" is going to top the list.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Simple Minds -- "Alive and Kicking" (1985)

One of the most distinct "anthem" rock groups of the 80's, Simple Minds were sort of the Scottish version of their Irish neighbors U2, full of epic visions, powerful band musicianship and a very charismatic lead singer named Jim Kerr.

By the time the Once Upon A Time album came out, Simple Minds had recorded six records already with a number of English producers (like the ever present Steve Lillywhite) and some fantastic songs on them. The hit single written for them by Keith Forsey for the film The Breakfast Club, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" took them straight to #1 everywhere.

So now that the world knew about Simple Minds, it was time to deliver with Once Upon A Time, except they used the entirely American production team of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain. And boy, did they make a difference.

While Iovine is better known now as the top executive at Interscope Records and their rap empire, for most of the 80's, he was one of the top rock engineers and producers. Iovine had a personal hand in the production of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' Damn The Torpedoes and Hard Promises, Patti Smith's Easter, Dire Straits' Making Movies, Stevie Nicks' The Wild Heart, U2's Under A Blood Red Sky and Rattle & Hum, and The Pretenders' Get Close. In other words, some of the most powerful rock albums of that decade.

While I'm sure Iovine became very rich when he tossed being a producer to become a rap music record company executive, it has always been personally disappointing to me that he didn't continue making great rock records.

For decades, Clearmountain has been one of the premier rock mixers, and has turned the knobs for Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, INXS, Bryan Adams, Chic, Roxy Music, Bon Jovi and Crowded House. So you can only imagine what an album would sound like when Iovine and Clearmountain team up together. They did not disappoint.

While there was little to improve the sheer force of Jim Kerr's vocals except to continue to soak it in reverbs and delays and bring it up even more up front, this record had crunch. Iovine brought his trademark drum sound wizardry, so even during the low volume first verse of "Alive and Kicking," the snare hits with a hard crack on each backbeat. This was one big sounding album, meant for the arenas Simple Minds was destined to perform at.

I've always believed "Alive and Kicking" to be one of the craftiest rock anthem arrangements, although I wouldn't have minded it going on for longer than 4:30. It starts at that simmering level, with a Jupiter or Oberheim synth pad changing chords over the kick drum marching in time, that snare pounding on the two and four. From there, the drum picks up with more motion and echoed distorted guitar notes, and the prominent gospel vocals of Robin Clark. It was a brilliant touch, as she sort of functions as a "Greek chorus" to Kerr's hymn to eternal love.

What you gonna do when things go wrong?
What you gonna do when it all cracks up?
What you gonna do when the love burns down?
What you gonna do when the flames go up?
Who is gonna come and turn the tide?
Whats it gonna take to make a dream survive?
Whose got the touch to calm the storm inside?
Whose gonna save you?

Alive and kicking
Stay until your love is, alive and kicking
Stay until your love is, until your love is, alive and kicking.

When reach a climax at the end of the second chorus, the song stops for a second, then a brief Yamaha piano break by itself, and then into that low kick and synth pad pattern, singer Clark getting wilder with wordless gospel vocal, the drums getting faster until the whole thing explodes with the chorus repeated over and over, and what became a surefire 80's sign, singalong words mimicking the countermelody. In this case, Kerr leading everybody in: "Pa-pa-da-da-da, pa-pa-da-da-da, whoa-oo-ooo, whoa-oo-oo."

If you are looking at this song's arrangement like a chart, it's low, gets a little faster, building up louder, stops, back to low again, picks up speed and volume and finally ka-boom!

U2 seems to unfairly get the lion's share of "great rock anthems," but Simple Minds had an impressive number int heir arsenal.

"Alive and Kicking" was played nightly at the Club Med disco on Turks & Caicos when I went down there in 1985 with some single friends (including a fellow who called himself "Herbie The Human Grouper") to expand our social horizons. The DJ had phenomenal taste to crank this over the system, so we could do our arm waving Jim Kerr impressions.

In the late 80's, living next to me in a Briarwood, Queens apartment building was this short muscular Italian gay guy who had a stereo system that could power New Jersey. I thought my system was pretty good, but this guy was seriously into high-end equipment and "specs." Periodically, I would bring over an album or CD because I knew he'd like it as well as the production. It was a no-brainer to bring over the Once Upon A Time album and tell him to drop the needle on "Alive and Kicking," sit on his living room couch and take it all in.

Below is the official "Alive and Kicking" video, with the band getting all cosmic and nuts overlooking some tall cliffs and beautiful vistas. Then, Simple Minds performing it at the 1995 Glastonbury Festival, followed by a 2002 version with an orchestra and full complement of female background singers.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Paul & Linda McCartney -- "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" (1971)

This is my favorite McCartney solo single, right back at the earliest stage of his solo career. I remember it having such an impact on me when I first heard it, wanting to hear it over and over again on the FM radio because of its wonderful soundscape and overdubs.

Technically, the single was credited to "Paul & Linda McCartney," truly a thumbed nose at the critics who thought his wife was a mere hanger-on. Although I'd be hard pressed to see what her contributions where.

McCartney always had this penchant for merging two or three song parts into one. With the Beatles, it came full force on side two of Abbey Road, where "You Never Give Me Your Money, " "Sun King," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Polythene Pam," and "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" all blended effortlessly into one suite. His most famous single, "Band On The Run" was like three song fragments in one... and there are countless examples on many of his albums with Wings and without them.

I often wondered if he consciously planned them this way or they were all originally song odds and ends that he just surgically stitched together to make one really good one. Why hasn't anybody asked him this?

Much like I mistakenly thought the Rolling Stones recorded all their 60's hits in England (it was in Chicago and Los Angeles), I found out many years later that McCartney recorded "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey" at the RCA Studios in Manhattan with some of the city's best studio musicians. It's a miracle that none of the slickness and precision of "studio cats" or a "New York City" sound seeped into this record.

McCartney threw every one of his musical production tricks into this song -- peculiar English-sounding character sketches, megaphone vocals (a la "Yellow Submarine"), sound effects, strange babble, and a good deal of whimsy.

The first "Uncle Albert" part is the better half, starting cold on McCartney's vocal, afloat on swirling Am7-D chords, with the bass remaining on the A note, then cooling down to a Gm7-C, Caug, and then D. The cellos and violas glide underneath, brushing against their strings.

We're so sorry, Uncle Albert
We're so sorry if we caused you any pain.
We're so sorry, Uncle Albert

But there's no one left at home
And I believe I'm gonna rain (cue breaking rainstorm sound effects!)

As much as this first half sort of slogs along, the melody and multi-layered production are so widescreen, you are caught up in all the layers and layers. It isn't long before McCartney grabs his megaphone, with a little spittle first, lots of "ah-ah-ah, Uncle Albert" overdubs...

We're so sorry, Uncle Albert
But we haven't done a bloody thing all day.
We're so sorry, Uncle Albert
But the kettle's on the boil and we're so easily called away.

Then it's one of those expertly spliced table edits to a solo piano pounding out C chords, and then the only song in rock history that combines a sea chantey with power chords. This is where the song gets kind of silly, with one of those McCartney nonsense choruses that clearly sounded good when he was making them up, but really make no damn sense at all:

Hands across the water (water)
Heads across the sky.
Hands across the water (water)
Heads across the sky.

I was 14 when I not only bought the single and played it repeatedly on my phonograph, but I paid for the sheet music. In retrospect, it was not the most difficult song to figure out, but I had to dissect it any way I could. As these were the waning days of my piano lessons, I basically forced my senior aged teacher, a little old Italian lady, to play the song straight from the sheet music, even though she didn't know it from a hole in the wall. I remember she was doing the "sea chantey" instrumental horn part of the second half, pointing out the "legato" symbol over the notes.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Bread -- "Make It With You" (1970)

Along with America and Chicago, Bread were the poster boys of 70's soft rock. Not one of their hits didn't fit the description of slow to mid-tempo ballad in a major key, accompanied by boyish-looking singer/songwriter David Gates' trademark falsetto.

Bread was a very schizo band, though, composed of four gentlemen who had experienced some success as songwriters and studio musicians. On one hand, you had Gates, whose love songs were smash hits, and James Griffin and Robb Royer, whose songs never hit the charts. No wonder Royer left the band after a few albums. By the time the mid-70's rolled around, Bread's Greatest Hits album was bought like hotcakes by everybody I knew and that's where we all got to hear some Griffin/Royer tunes for the first time -- they were not as sappy but they didn't have that Gates falsetto that everybody seemed to be addicted to.

Needless to say, that greatest hits album was required makeout music through much of the early to mid part of that decade. If a guy owned a copy of that record, it was for one purpose and one purpose only. And it wasn't for air guitar practice either.

Strangely enough, when Bread was rolling through the 70's, there was not much of a stigma attached to owning their records. They looked like four typical Southern California dudes of the time, with porno-movie mustaches, bell bottoms and denim shirts. While they were not critics' favorites, of course, it wasn't like going out a buying a Celine Dion record now.

"Make It With You" was really the template for all those big hits to come: major chords, warm blended acoustic and electric guitars, non-obtrusive orchestration, and Gates singing about love, love, love. Even the song title has a whole 70's vibe to it... "I wanna make it with you?"

The song breezes by on the Emaj7-F#m7 chords, which always ring very full on guitars. Even in the beginning, while the chords are strummed on acoustic, another guitarist does upstrokes across an electric guitar's bridge.

Hey have you ever tried,
Really reaching out for the other side?
I may be climbing on rainbows
But, baby here goes.

Dreams they're for those who sleep,
Life is for us to keep,
And if you're wond'ring
What this song is leading to.

I want to make it with you
I really think that we can make it girl.

Oooh, baby, with a love song like this, there was no way those guys from Bread were gonna lose with the girls.

While Gates was taking all these slushy hits to the bank, two of the other guys were still busy session musicians. Bassist and keyboardist Larry Knechtel played on a zillion hits, but his most famous performance was probably the magnificent piano on Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (I even think he was given a credit on the 45). Drummer Mike Botts joined Linda Ronstadt for her huge run of smashes in the 70's while being a very popular gun for hire.

Here is Bread in 1977 doing "Make It With You" on the ever-lovin' "Midnight Special" TV show, when they had regrouped to put out one last album, Lost Without Your Love. Even the segment's direction slobbers all over Gates and nearly ignores everybody else in the band.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Malo -- Suavecito (1972)

Why did Carlos Santana become the five-decade legend and Latin Rock pioneer, while his brother Jorge's band just squeak out this one marvelous classic?

Was Carlos' material that much more superior? Was the marketplace only taking one Santana at a time?

In the magical early 70's, when artists were not manufactured from reality TV shows, MTV didn't exist and FM radio was not the playground of consultants and publicly-traded corporations, could a song like this make the Top 40. Looking back, there were so many songs that you could consider flukes, both good and bad, but they became hot numbers because the radio business was different and the public was still absorbing an art form in its early years.

I am not familiar with any of Malo's other material other than "Suavecito" and there's not much rock to it, but plenty of "Latin." We're talking about a mambo, for God's sake, that topped the Billboard chart in 1972! There were no high-up-the-fretboard guitar antics, but tons of guiros, timbales, bongos, congas and shakers. Oh, and that joyful Latin trumpet like a Mongo Santamaria workout.

"Suavecito" was a mid-tempo romantic song, a really out of this world swooner.

Never, I never meet a girl like you in my life
I never, no, no, yeah
I never meet a girl like you in my life

The way that you hold me in the night
The way that you make things go right
Whenever you're in my arms
Girl, you're filling me with all your charms

Suavecito, mi Linda
The feelin' I have inside for you
Suavecito, mi Linda

The feelin', the feelin' that I have inside for you
'Cause ever since the day I met you
I knew you that you were my dream come true
But I think I've found that day
Gonna make you mine in every way

The group-sung "la-la-laaa-la-la-la" hook that is heard throughout "Suavecito" was lifted by Sugar Ray for their 1999 "Every Morning" hit. I once pointed that out to my former staff, since they had never heard of "Suavecito" but they certainly knew the Santana surname.

Enjoy these two clips of "Suavecito" -- 1) a live 1972 performance from the TV show "Rollin'" which shows what a large band Malo was... note the host's mispronunciation of Jorge's name... you may think that's Jorge Santana singing the song up front with his timbales, but that's song composer Richard Bean (Santana was a guitarist), and 2) a homemade video of the full 6-minute version of the song.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Bells -- "Stay Awhile" (1971)

Once a year, an early 70's piece of fluff comes on the radio that causes such personal revulsion and such disbelief in its inanity, that I will actually listen to the whole thing in very much the way people check out car crashes on the side of the highway. It's a rarely-played song that happened to play this morning over XM Radio's 70's channel on my drive to the train station. I had to remind myself that this song actually was a hit.

And that song is The Bells' "Stay Awhile."

This is not one of those things that is "so bad, it's good." It's just bad.

"Stay Awhile" was one of the bigger soft rock horndog hits at the time, a duet of a girl and a boy having the most sensitive caring sex of their lives. Sylvia's "Pillow Talk" was probably even steamier," but it at least had slightly more redeeming value (just slightly).

When "Stay Awhile" comes on, you feel like you should be lighting scented candles, hanging posters of kittens and sunsets on the walls, and popping the bottle of wine you've been hiding in the fridge. It's all soft acoustic guitar arpeggios, piano chords, fizzy cymbal rolls, finger chimes, and light drums with a rimshot keeping the beat. As a matter of fact, the volume level of the whole song is defiantly low, like it was made to be played when seducing the chick in the dorm room next door.

The girl starts first, whispering in the most come hither voice made for phone porn you've heard on a song, and you're half expecting her to break into a giggle. Every syllable is clearly enunciated and the ending "s" is held slightly for effect (notably on "creeps" and "peeps").

Into my room he creeps,
Without making a sound.
Into my dreams he peeps,
With his hair all long and hanging down

How he makes me quiver,
How he makes me smile.
With all this love I have to give him,
I guess I'm gonna stay with him awhile.

Then it's the boy's turn and this was nothing macho about this. He sings just as softly, describing the babe that just entered his bedroom with nerve-wracking anticipation.

She brushes the curls from my eyes,
She drops her robe on the floor.
And she reaches for the light on the bureau.
And the darkness is her pillow once more.

How she makes me quiver,
How she makes me smile.
With all this love I have to give her,
I guess I'm gonna stay with her awhile.

Then there's the harmonica solo.

The couple sing the chorus a few more times together, it slows down and the girl sighs and whispers "I guess I'm gonna stay" just as the final chord fades.

You can throw up now.

Monday, May 5, 2008

The Thompson Twins -- "The Gap" (1984)

One of the more commercially successful artists of the New Wave era, the Thompson Twins were at the right place and the right time: off-kilter band name (named after characters in the Tintin cartoon), bi-racial personnel, funky feathered hair, a push to the dance floor, and a tremendous knack for writing great pop songs.

At the time, which Sirius Satellite Radio now likes to call "the first wave of alternative music," if you could combine commercial instincts with an eccentric twist and a dance beat, you had a damn good chance to succeed.

The Thompson Twins' sound was based on two strong elements: analog synths, and lots and lots of percussion -- not just drums, but hand percussion of all kinds, which added an international flavor. They worked with producer Alex Sadkin down at Compass Point Studios in the Bahamas, home to other beat-heavy artists like Duran Duran, Grace Jones, and Robert Palmer.

While Arista Records had momentary success with their other New Wave act, Haircut 100, the Thompson Twins had several worldwide hits, spawning all kinds of 12" singles, and a few greatest hits albums. The threesome came right from central casting: a good looking white guy with a droning voice (Tom Bailey), a curly blonde woman who often dressed in downtown fashion and a big cap (Allanah Currie) banging away on electronic drums, and a black bass player/percussionist who, for some reason, didn't seem to say much at all (Joe Leeway). Not surprisingly, Leeway left the band not long after they peaked with this Into The Gap album.

While "The Gap" was not as monsterous a hit as either "Doctor! Doctor!" or "Hold Me Now," but it held special meaning in the summer of 1986 when I was helping run a house in Fire Island. Rampant socializing and togetherness in a house dubbed "Obsession" across from Flynn's dockside bar and restaurant in the Ocean Bay Park section, the residents took this song as a kind of theme song. Every weekend night, you could find them on top of couches, tables and ledges, often with weird hats and cheesy fake plastic guitars, turning "Into The Gap" in a ritualistic dance, much like the way everybody knows how to do the Hokey Pokey, Electric Slide and Chicken Dance (not that I endorse those last obnoxious two).

With an Egyptian synth motif, syncopated hand claps, a convenient slave ship "uhhh," a gated vocoder riff opening on the beat ("I-I-I-I!"), jingles, jangles, bongos, tambourine shakes, and middle Eastern exotica, I can vividly picture this sunburned group of boyfriend and girlfriend hunter singing along:

East is east (four claps), west is west (four claps),
Two diff'rent colors on the map.
We say break the line (four claps), chew the fat (four claps),
Keep moving out into the gap!

Other than those fond memories, that's pretty much all the Thompson Twins are also these days, unfortunately.

Below, the Thompson Twins open a 1985 San Diego concert with "Into The Gap." As you can see, the guys were huge and had a really fun stage show. Makes you wish you could have been there.