Thursday, March 26, 2009

England Dan & John Ford Coley -- "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" (1976)

Just a short post about one of the 70's soft rock classics from this duo, who cranked out a bunch of them.

Dan Seals, the "England Dan" half, just died of cancer at 61 years old. He was the brother of Jim Seals of another famous pair, Seals & Crofts. Not that I had any great connection to him, but I did feel sad because England Dan and John Ford Coley were just so representative of that soft rock era.

England Dan & John Ford Coley sold a bazillion records and really were not known individually, like most soft rock acts (quick, name all three guys in America).

"I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" was just so gosh darn earnest and sensitive ("We can go walking through a windy park/Take a drive along the beach?"), and the music just so catchy and compact, that it actually remained sort of a cult sing-along favorite for many years afterward. You can even find the song in karaoke bars.

Here, with Wolfman Jack doing the intro, are England Dan and John Ford Coley performing "I'd Really Love To See You Tonight" on the Midnight Special TV show. Rest in peace.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Replacements -- "I'll Be You" (1989)

Coming late to the dinner table again, like the Dictators, I didn't seriously listen to the Replacements until Don't Tell A Soul, which turned out to be the next to last for the band. Warner Brothers mailed me the CD since those were the days I was still at Radio City Music Hall and my connections with the record biz were at their height.

I paid attention to this record for two reasons: I saw R.E.M.'s engineer and co-producer Scott Litt produced this album, and I read about singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg's affection for Elton John. The band was already a longtime critics' favorite and there was a mystique with Westerberg ever since they named the high school after him in the dark comedy film "Heathers."

I listened to this album straight through many times because while the music could have easily matched the Rolling Stones at their swaggering Exile On Main Street best, the lyrics were touching, emotional, and self-deprecating. As I would continue discovering from his later solo albums, Westerberg was a master of the cutting phrase, eminently more quotable than most garage-influenced rock bands.

When the Replacement used this album as their bid for more commercial success, they chose a producer who balanced the previous "dirt" with far better recording techniques. Litt tamed Westerberg's vocal wildness while positioning the guitars distinctly and warming them up.

"I'll Be You" could rival any Jagger/Richards collaboration. Litt cleverly moves the crunchy guitar chords into their own ear space, placing them on the downbeat between words, perfectly positioned for air guitar. You're definitely not used to hearing power chords on that beat, but it works as a musical underline to me. If you love great sounding guitars, with a little Ian McLagen-ish boogie piano, this is definitely your song.

But the words... Westerberg never fails to make you think with his clever phrasing. The Replacements were one of the ultimate 80's cult bands, never selling more than those kinds of numbers. Don't Tell A Soul never quite pushed them over the top, despite the relative success of "I'll Be You." There was a weariness to these lyrics, "running their last race," yet a defiance because if it was "just a game," they were "bleedin' but not cut."

If it's a temporary lull
why'm I bored right outta my skull?
Man, I'm dressin' sharp an' feelin' dull.

Lonely, I guess that's where I'm from
If I was from Canada
then I'd best be called lonesome.

And if it's just a game
Then I'll break down just in case
Hurry up, we're runnin' in our last race.

Well, I laughed half the way to Tokyo
I dreamt I was Surfer Joe
An' what that means, I don't know.

A dream too tired to come true
Left a rebel without a clue
And I'm searching for somethin' to do.

And if it's just a game
Then we'll hold hands just the same
So what, we're bleeding but we ain't cut.

And I could purge my soul perhaps
For the imminent collapse.
Oh yeah, I'll tell you what we could do...
You be me for a while
I'll be you.

A dream too tired to get to (come true)
Left a rebel without a clue
Won't you tell me what I should do?

And if it's just a lull
why'm I bored right outta my skull?
Oh yeah, keep me from feeling so dull

And if it's just a game
Then we'll break down just in case
Then again, I'll tell you what we could do
You be me for a while...
You be me for a while...
I'll be you.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

New Order -- "60 MPH" (2001)

Isn't it crazy that this was the first New Order album I bought, after they put out like a dozen, right? It was one of those stars aligning kind of things because I bought it without hearing one song, but somehow I felt compelled to buy this one after reading reviews in the UK music magazines and I just felt I had to. Wouldn't the record industry love for me to have this urge more often?

I always loved some of New Order's classic singles like "True Faith," "Bizarre Love Triangle" and "Love Vigilantes," so I knew they program some terrific beats, shoved Peter Hook's electric bass front and center, and layer plenty of simple synth lines.

I call Get Ready "the album where New Order discovered electric guitar" because I had never heard them so prominently on any earlier album. Overdriven chords and arpeggios all over the place, and they fit in perfectly with their dance-driven music.

The one song that caught me immediately and I still can't get enough of is "60 MPH." If I could have sequenced this album, this would have been the lead track and first single. It has an actual intro of a solo analog chord waving through a filter sweep, attacked out of nowhere by the biggest, fattest guitar hook on the entire record, the drum machine practically flying off the beat.

This is the best, and maybe the only driving song New Order ever recorded. It speeds along so off the handle with a relentlessly unforgettable singalong chorus, that it really is made for loud accompaniment on the road.

I don't know if I told you,
But I'm seeking sanctuary.
You'd never guess the things that I do,
I've had the devil around for tea.

Don't you know that I'm here beside you?
Can't you see that I can't relax?
When I saw you in my rear view,
You could have stopped me in my tracks.

I'll be there for you when you want me to.
I'll stand by your side like I always do.
In the dead of night it'll be alright.
Because I'll be there for you when you want me to.

You could take me to an island.
Ride across a stormy sea.
We could worship pagan idols.
There together you and me.
Why don't you run over here and rescue me?
You could drive down in your car.
Why don't we both take a ride and turn that key,
We'll drive at sixty miles an hour.

I'll be there for you when you want me to
I'll stand by your side like I always do
In the dead of night it'll be alright
Because I'll be there for you when you want me to.

Tonight, I was playing the song with my son in the car and noticed that the relatively simple guitar solo (a rare New Order occurance) was also filtered from the beginning, starting sort of muffled and echo-ey and then sharp and high by the end. You don't know how many times I wish that the solo was a real cranked-up distorted frenzy because the chords are the perfect kind to solo over. But less is more with New Order -- not only is the solo cool and sedate, but all the other breaks are walls of synth chords, different from the ones used throughout the song, basically taking the whole thing to lift-off!

So here are two videos of this song made for the car: the official video, which of course features lots of cool driving shots cut with a dorky guy in a bear suit (!)... and then the band souping up the song live on Jool Holland's "Later" TV show. Man, what a performance. It's a good thing they discovered their electric guitars for this record because it makes a song like this even more exciting live . What I would give to see them reunite in concert here if it's anything like this segment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ultravox -- "Reap The Wild Wind" (1982)

Big hair, big synths -- it must be the 80's! Along with Spandau Ballet, Ultravox ushered in the New Romantics part of the New Wave era with their grand gestures, very image conscious appearances, dramatic song styles, and load and load and loads of synths!

After s handful of albums led by John Foxx, the band hit its pop stride when the charasmatic mustached singer/songwriter Midge Ure joined and took the spotlight. Never enjoying the commercial breakout that Spandau Ballet did in the US with their True album, Ultravox was very much a European confined phenomenon.

They coaxed Sir George Martin of Beatles fame into producing Quartet. Considering that outside of the Fab Four, he didn't produce many other acts (America, Jeff Beck), I'd consider this quite an accomplishment and an interesting match. With electronics their primary musical tool (and a live drummer - yay for them), you'd be hard pressed to find exactly what George Martin's touch was on the album.

Yet, this became their most commercially successful album. "Reap The Wild Wind" launched Quartet with its solo hi-hat and then a wash of those synths to a galloping beat. Ure's vocals eerily resemble David Bowie on this song, who had a tendency to croon his singing, along with the echoed whispers. "Reap The Wild Wind" sounds very wide and cinematic, romping quickly and repetitively, twisting and turning. As pioneered in a song like Gary Numan's "Cars," the multiple keyboard pads and strings dominated the melody with a huge hook of its own.

Reap the wild wind.
Reap the wild wind.
Reap the wild wind.

A finger points to show a scene. (Take my hand. Take my hand.)
Another face where mine had been. (Take my hand. Take my hand.)
Another footstep where I once walked. (Take my hand)
Take it all.

You take my hand and give me your friendship.
I'll take my time and send you my slow reply.
Give me an inch and I'll make the best of it.
Take all you want and leave all the rest to die.

Reap the wild wind.

A footprint haunts an empty floor. (Take my hand. Take my hand.)
A fading coat that I once wore. (Take my hand. Take my hand.)
Oh, desolation where I once lived.
I have seen in times gone by.
I have felt a different shadow on the wall,
A stranglehold on a certain feeling.

With Ultravox, Ure became a UK national treasure, eventually releasing successful solo albums, while in 1984, co-writing that holiday perennial, "Do They Know It's Christmas," even singing one of the lines. I saw him open an INXS concert at Radio City Music Hall in the late 80's and he stole the show, practically being begged to do multiple encores.