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Step back to 1980 – Part 3

January 25th, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

There isn”t much I remember specifically about the late summer and autumn of 1980. We holidayed in Czechoslovakia and Austria, I despised school, my granny died, and I read English football magazines to brush up on my English skills. But I recall the vibe of that time, and these songs help conjure it.

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Kelly Marie – Feels Like I’m In Love.mp3
Here”s a great bit of trivia: Feels Like I”m In Love was written by Ray Dorset, the mutton-chopped frontman of Mungo Jerry, specifically for Elvis Presley. Alas, before Dorset could pitch the song to Elvis, the rhinestoned king died. But imagine Elvis singing Feels Like I”m In Love; with a different arrangement and perhaps slowed down a bit. Sounds like a hit to me. Of course, English disco starlet Kelly Marie also enjoyed a hit with it, a UK #1, and quite rightly so: it”s a very good song. I remember it being hugely popular at the funfair; when I hear it I smell candyfloss, sugar-roasted almonds and Bratwurst.

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Randy Newman – The Story Of A Rock And Roll Band.mp3
This is the bit where the threads of an American songwriter of wit and style and German football meet. Randy Newman was so much a fan of the Electric Light Orchestra that he penned a tribute to the band. The lyrics are, by Newman”s standards, fairly artless, but in his own way, Newman manages to recreate the ELO sound in an affectionate homage, while still sounding like Randy Newman.  Turn To Stone seems to Randy”s favourite ELO song, though he does recognise other worthy contenders. I was so taken by Newman”s tribute that I bought the LP, with its crap cover pic.

At the same time, my favourite football player ““ and when you”re 14, a favourite player is a semi-deity ““ was the diminutive but brilliant winger Pierre Littbarski, who played for my favourite club. Sporting exploits aside (and, at 20, he was not a star yet in 1980), there are three things I remember about Littbarski: he was a chocaholic, he supported the conservative CDU (boo!), and he was a huge ELO fan.

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Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3
Looking back, it seems that by now I was more into LPs than I was into singles. I bought Joan Armatrading”s  Me, Myself, I album on strength of its title track, with that abrasive guitar riff and Chris Spedding”s wonderful guitar solo , Cape Town-born Anton Fig”s thumping drums, the tempo changes and the catchy chorus. I still like the album a lot: All The Way From America, Feeling In My Heart (For You), and especially Turn Out The Lights remain great songs. At this point I had not yet become a Springsteen fan, though that was going to happen fairly soon. But the presence of Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons on the album would have been an added bonus. It also featured Paul Shaffer, David Letterman”s annoying houseband leader, on keyboards. At one point, all of those who appeared on the song were members of the houseband, having met while recording with Joan Armatrading.

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Styx – Boat On The River.mp3
Yeah, I know it came out in 1979, but Boat On The River didn”t get much airplay on German radio until 1980. In fact, on our local station at least, this was bigger than the megahit from the same album, Babe. Perhaps it reminded the playlist compilers of those Slavic-sounding Schlager hits that were in vogue a decade earlier. I bought the Cornerstones LP, but I don”t think I ever listened to it in full, other than Boat On The River and Babe.

In past instalments of this series, I described how my grandmother bought me my first single (see HERE) and how she helped finance my fast-growing singles collection. The Styx and Armatrading albums were the final music acquisitions she funded. She had actually given me the money to buy new trainers. But instead of purchasing the medium range shoes my budget allowed for, I decided to go for a bargain (still cool: yellow Pumas with a black stripe), and use the difference to buy the two LPs. My mom was not impressed with me. My grandmother died a few weeks later at the age of 85.

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The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3
Liking The Police in the West Germany of 1980 was the mature and cool choice. Many of my friends loved AC/DC (good) and Kiss (meh). And a few sung the praises of Gerry Rafferty, even though his City To City album, released two years earlier, was quite ancient. But mention that you like The Police, and people would respect you, much like the neighbourhood respected the teenage Henry Hill in GoodFellas. Soon The Police became really massive and I had to abandon them, but when they released their Zenyatta Mondatta album in 1980, I played it to death.  I also played it to my stepfather when we were wallpapering my room, seeing as he had enjoyed the music of Bob Seger which I had introduced him to. He assured me that he liked the album. Looking back, I think he was lying.

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Diana Ross – My Old Piano.mp3
Upside Down had already been a hit, but it was this track that turned me on to Diana Ross, whom I had hitherto regarded, in my unformed ways, as part of the musical wallpaper, the sort of star who is a star because she is a star. Well, it wasn”t really Ms Ross whom I loved this song for, but the production. It”s a great, catchy number, with the sort of funky bass and cool strings you”d associate with a Nile Rogers and Bernie Edwards production. And then there was the fantastic piano and guitar solo; I presume Rogers did the guitar part, and I guess the piano solo was either by Raymond Jones or Andy Schwartz.

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Nick Mackenzie – Hello Good Morning.mp3
This is a terrible song. And when I think of 1980 it sticks in my head like the fumes from the gas released by a decomposing body that sticks on the clothes of your favourite CSI agent. Personally, I think they are all rubbish, none more so that sunglasses juggling fool from the Miami franchise, though I have a theory that David Caruso might play him with a bit of wink, creating a sardonic self-parody to offset the stink of the preposterous scripts; rather unlike Lieutenant Dan over in New York, who seems to play his equally preposterous role with a straight bat. But I digress. So, yeah, Nick Mackenzie was, as his name fails to suggest, from the Netherlands where apparently he was alternately known as Henk van Broekhoven and Nick van der Broeke, which might be a pun on his surname involving the Dutch word for trousers. And that is pretty much all you need to know as you decide whether Hello Good Morning is any good. Take his name or my word for it: it isn”t.

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  1. Douglas
    January 25th, 2012 at 17:38 | #1

    Another handful of music trivia facts to store in my brain. Thanks again Dude!

  2. Matt S.
    January 25th, 2012 at 17:56 | #2

    Randy Newman was a king of musical dry wit, sarcasm and parody. There is always more than meets the ear. It’s a common misconception that “The Story of a Rock and Roll Band” is a tribute to ELO when it’s actually quite the opposite. While he might have respected Jeff Lynne’s musicianship (Lynne would produce a song for him a couple decades later), “Band” was a poke at ELO becoming over commercialized in the late 1970s after starting from earnest artistic roots. The tune comes from an album criticizing music as a whole becoming overtly “corporate” at the time. To further make the point, the album cover you dislike visually sets the mood with an apparent KISS face painted corporate rock and roller or music executive sitting down to a contract, and with an album title “Born Again” and songs like “It’s the Money I Love”…well, you get the idea. After all these years, I’m sorry that what you thought was a salute was instead a major jab. Intersting thought: After writing tons of tunes for highly commercial cartoons (Toy Story, etc.), an argument can be made that it was Newman who eventually sold out.

  3. halfhearteddude
    January 25th, 2012 at 23:36 | #3

    Oh, that’s even better. As I’ve said before, I loved Discovery, but I was never a big ELO fan. Or, as you might have guessed, a great fan of face paint. The Kiss connection totally passed me by.

  4. KellyP
    January 26th, 2012 at 02:53 | #4

    Oooh, I love that Kelly Marie song, but the version I was familiar with first was the scream-y jubilant 18th Dye cover–totally worth tracking down.

  5. HW
    January 26th, 2012 at 08:24 | #5

    Great explanation Matt S, and your last sentence is particularly pertinent to my comment – as AMD may be aware on South African television we have an Engen commercial (‘Friends’) – where the singer’s mimicry of Randy Newman’s voice makes me want to get hold of RN & punch him for eternity. Not fair on the great songwriter, I know. Or is it?

  6. Rhod
    January 29th, 2012 at 02:59 | #6

    Any Randy Newman is good Randy Newman.

    regards

    Rhod

  7. February 2nd, 2012 at 11:14 | #7

    A third Randy Newman angle: when I was young I took the song literally. Later on, having heard more of his stuff, I saw it as a typical Newman ‘write a song in a persona’ lyric – in this case he’s writing about ELO from the point of view of a dumb fan attempting to write a song about his favourite band. Hence clunking lines like ‘Almost my favourite is Turn to Stone’.

    I love the album – I know it’s not everybody’s favourite, and Newman’s casual nastiness doesn’t make you warm to him. But songs like ‘It’s Money’ and ‘Half a Man’ are great rock tracks of their ilk – shame they sort of disappeared.

  8. February 2nd, 2012 at 13:28 | #8

    interesting – first of all to get triggered by the explanation about Randy being an ELO fan (I’m one myself, Out of the Blue to me is one of the quintessential seventies albums), then by reading the comments and learning even more about the track.

    Curious as hell to hear what it sounds like.

    keep up the good work, halfhearteddude!

  9. Paolo
    February 17th, 2012 at 22:41 | #9

    Hi Dude, thank you for posting the Randy Newman song… I’m an ELO fan, and I didn’t know ‘The Story of a Rock’n’Roll Band’. Although I don’t think it’s a great song, it’s nevertheless fun to listen to!

    Thank you for all your work on this blog!

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