Thursday, June 26, 2008

Totally 80's

Crustodio and I are gearing up for our "college buddies" reunion, which is a week from today. This will be the third time we've gotten together with the same crew since 2000. In 2004 we spent a long weekend on a houseboat on Lake Mead. That was really cool, but actually ended up being more of an adventure than we had planned for. This year, we are all about comfort and ease, so we are staying at our buddy Brad's large house in L.A.

In preparation, I've been working on expanding my already large 80's music collection. I've been searching for digital versions of a few albums in my collection that I only have on vinyl. I think I have pretty good taste in music, and I obsessively keep up with all the new hip stuff. Actually, a co-worker tried to turn me on to the Fleet Foxes last week, but I had to smugly remind him that I had already tried to fob them off on him the week before. But, the stuff that's been trickling in lately is definitely not hip or current and probably not that "good" either - but I love it anyway.

First was The Knife Feels Like Justice, the first solo album from the Stray Cats' Brian Setzer. This 1986 album was a surprising move away from rockabilly to a more roots-rock sound. It was produced by Don Gehman, who was the hot rootsy guitar rock producer of the day, also responsible for John Mellencamp's Scarecrow and R.E.M.'s Lifes Rich Pageant. The first half (or "side 1" as we used to say back in the day) of the record is absolutely solid, but the second half kind of peters out.

Next up was Joe Jackson's Big World album. I was a big Joe fan for the start of his career, but I felt that this was his last really good album. I think I got the next 2, but they were pretty disappointing. Big World was recorded live before an audience that not only didn't know the material, but were asked to refrain from applause! Ah, Joe, always up to something new. Still, it paid off, since it has a really unique feel and some great songs.

Originally it was released as a 3-sided album - there were 2 records, but side 4 was blank. I guess he had too much good stuff for one record and not enough for a true double album. That's one of the curses of the CD age. Everybody thinks they need to fill up 74 minutes of music. Hey rockers, guess what? You DO NOT have that much good material. All the great double albums of the past easily fit on one disc now, and even with those classics there's still filler. I'd rather have a solid 35 minute record, than a hit or miss hour long snoozefest. So, thank you R.E.M. for bringing brevity back.

This reminds me of my one Joe Jackson anecdote, which I will have to tell in a different post or this will never get done. So stay tuned for that one.

Third to arrive was the Tubes' Love Bomb. This was the last album recorded with the original line up, and their second with Todd Rundgren as producer. I can't wholeheartedly recommend this album, as it is pretty dated sounding and has the sort of lame Philly soul/keyboard cheese that Rundgren brought to his own wretched solo albums. Also, lead singer Fee Waybill was apparently feuding with some of the other band members and he doesn't sing lead on all the tracks, much to their detriment. Still, it is a pretty cool record for one reason. Side 2 is a seamless string of music which incorporates 9 different songs, including reprises, much like side 2 of Abbey Road. They are linked together by the drums, which basically play straight through for 25 minutes. Yah for Prairie Prince! Some of the songs are full-length and some are snippets, including a goof where they play "Wooly Bully" in one channel and "Theme from A Summer Place" in the other. Amazingly, it works. So, not a great one, but still enjoyable.

Last night I finally got the last one: Steady Nerves by Graham Parker & the Shot. Like Big World, this one still stands up, though it's slightly marred by bad 80's production. Parker's career has had many ups and downs and lots of record label fights. This was the start of his second classic period, soon to be followed up by the excellent Mona Lisa's Sister. He was still working with Brinsley Schwartz from the Rumour, but for this album he came up with a new backing band name. He never used the Shot again, and I think he's billed himself as a solo act since. In any case, this is by far his most catchy and poppy record, yet his lyrics are as biting as ever. A great combination. It also features his only Top 40 hit, "Wake Up (Next to You)".

The interesting thing has been how my brain responds to this music. Most of this stuff I really haven't heard for 20 years and not at all since my iTunes revolution of 2002. On the first listen it 's like discovering it all over again, but by the third listen it's like my brain finally catches up and I'm sort of sick of it. I think I'm overdosing on this 80's stuff. By the time I get back from the reunion I won't want to listen to any of this shit again for a year.

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