Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson -- "Rock with You" (1980)

My personal memories of Michael Jackson:

1) Sitting in the back of my camp bus with a bunch of kids singing "The Love You Save" over and over to the AM radio.

2) Watching the Jackson Five cartoon series on Saturday mornings.

3) Finding it hard to believe he'd have such a huge hit with a song about a mouse from a horror movie ("Ben").

4) Watching NBC-TV's "Motown 25 Special" where he moonwalked his way across the stage and blew the world's minds.

5) Always inserting "I Want You Back" on every one of my early 80's party tapes. Motown made a resurgence in when New Wave was in full force.

6) Although Thriller sold a bazillion copies, I always thought the one before it, Off The Wall, was better. Less theatrical, more gritty. Who could top the bass intro and whirling arrangement of the opening "Wanna Be Starting Something?"

That came very close to my favorite, "Rock With You," written by Rod Temperton. Just that little snare drum snap to attention intro, and you had to go dancing with Michael. Great vocal overdubs, chord combos, hiking up a half key, and you didn't have to moonwalk. Rolled up my blazer sleeves and got taken in.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Worst Music Videos" blog up now

In the great musical video wasteland, there have been millions of dollars spent to sell songs which were truly ill-conceived, dated, and laughable.

Road kill on the MTV Highway. is dedicated to all those videos. So bad, you had to look.

The first two videos are primo examples:

1) Frank Stallone's "Far From Over" (1983)
2) The Fat Boys w/The Beach Boys' "Wipeout" (1987)

If you have any suggested videos that make you cringe or shake your head, please send them to We'll eventually be doing a Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Yes -- "Into The Lens"/"Tempus Fugit" (1980)

Rock bands have replaced their lead singers with extremely mixed success, from total bombs (Gary Cherone in Van Halen, Ray Wilson in Genesis) to rare success (Brian Johnson in AC/DC, Sammy Hagar in Van Halen). Lead singers are so front and center that replacing one is a huge risk based on if the fans buy it or not.

Prog rock poster boys Yes did one of the strangest switches -- not because it lasted one album... not because it was the only one througth 19 studio albums -- but because after the new lead singer left the band, he came back three years later to produce their biggest hit song, with the original lead singer intact (Jon Anderson).

Anderson left Yes with heralded keyboardist Rick Wakeman in tow after the Tormato album. Anderson's falsetto was so incredibly distinct and identifiable with the band's sound, that replacing him would appear to be impossible. Yet, the unlikely replacement was Trevor Horn from the New Wave band The Buggles, best known for their iconic "Video Killed The Radio Star." Horn was the complete package too, bringing along his keyboardist Geoff Downes.

While we all know Horn now as one of the most influential and successful record producers of the 80's and 90's, back then, he was best known for his wide glasses and fronting his one-hit wonder band. Horn's vocals sounded remarkably like Anderson's except in a slightly lower register. Not only that, the resulting Drama album sounded like the band had not missed an unsually metered beat.

I like to call Drama the "fluke album" that worked, criminally overlooked compared to Yes' heralded first heyday of "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout" to their later second wind with "Owner of A Lonely Heart" and "Love Will Find A Way."

Lightening up on the sci-fi lyrics, probably because of Horn replacing Anderson as a songwriter as well, the best two songs were "Into The Lens" and "Tempus Fugit," two epic tangles of storming Steve Howe guitars, Chris Howe's racetrack bass, epic openings, complex meters and especially with the former song, a strong melancholy melody. As with all Yes albums, you really had to listen, put on headphones ideally, and absorb all the fine little strokes of these fine musicians.

These two tracks hold up just as well as any of Yes' "greatest hits," yet they are brushed under the rug as if they never existed. Yet, they were a fascinating part of this band's history. As a matter of fact, if this collaboration lasted more than one album, it would have made an interesting alternative history for this pioneering band.

Yet, after the Drama tour, Horn and Downes retreated back into the Buggles, weirdly enough, and released a New Wave pop version of "Into The Lens" retitled "I Am A Camera" the following year. That flopped, the band dissolved, and in 1983, Horn emerged as the producer of Yes' colossal comeback album, 90215 with "Owner Of A Lonely Heart."

To mark this unusual detour for Yes, here are three videos: 1) The official (and unfortunately a bit grainy) "Into The Lens" 8-minute video, which is rather entertaining watching all these characters squashed a bit on stage, switching instruments, performing this prog rock epic; 2) The official "Tempus Fugit" video, with the vocoder "Yes, yes!" and reminiscent of the band's good old days, with plenty of split screens; and 3) The Buggles' "I Am A Camera," just to hear how they redid "Into The Lens" as a pop single.