Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Robert Palmer’

Step back to 1980 – Part 4

April 26th, 2012 5 comments

I have a few specific memories of the final quarter of 1980, but one stands out, as it probably does for most western teenagers growing up in 1980. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long while, just the previous evening, when Lennon was still alive. That bitterly cold morning at school my fellow Beatles fan Thorsten and I were greeted by our more cynical mates with “congratulations” on the death of John Lennon. For Thorsten and me, and probably millions others, the next few months were our generation”s version of Beatlemania. I quickly completed my collection of Beatles LPs, buying a few on a post-Christmas holiday in Greece, and the US releases on Japanese pressings.

 

Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary.mp3
I had been a bit of a Robert Palmer fan, so I was quite excited by Johnny & Mary, a song that bought into the nascent New Wave Zeitgeist, with its liberal use of the synth and Palmer”s cool lyrics. Remember that Visage, Human League and Ultravox had not yet had their synth-based hits; these would come in 1981. So Johnny And Mary sounded quite exciting at the time. Moreover, the song has no chorus, which was rare in 1980 (and still is), and the vocals are delivered in a laconic monotone, which was also unusual in pop. On strength of Johnny & Mary, Palmers Clues album made it on to my Christmas wishlist of LPs. And when I opened my gifts at Christmas, it was among them. Listening to it I had the sinking feeling one gets when the lead single is the only really good track on an LP. Palmer totally lost me a few years later with his Addicted To Love, a song with an over-praised sexist video which I still despise.

Kate Bush ““ Army Dreamers.mp3
Kate Bush”s Never For Ever album was also in that bunch of Christmas present LPs. I loved lead single Babooshka, with its sound of breaking glass that was created by a synthesizer, but I had real affection for Army Dreamers, a song that didn”t get as much attention as Babooshka. Of course, I had recorded both off the radio. I was politically engaged, and naturally opposed to all things military (I didn”t even like war movies), so an anti-martial song appealed to me, especially one with an unusual waltz tempo. I didn”t know the promo video for the song yet, but it seems to have made quite an impact at the time. It is indeed striking. That thing she does with her eyes is particularly good. (HERE)    *

Bots ““ Sieben Tage Lang.mp3
Bots was a Dutch folk-rock group of the left-wing protest song variety. Their Sieben Tage Lang was a hit, of sorts, in West Germany in 1980, a cover of their Dutch original from 1976 which in turn was based on the traditional Breton drinking song Son ar Chistr which in 1971 was a minor hit for the harpist Alan Stivell. The drum beat is martial, and the lyrics offer a vision of socialist revolution.

The German lyrics were co-written by the investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, who by reputation is Germany”s equivalent of Michael Moore, but without the populist polemic. Wallraff made a name for himself in the 1970s by infiltrating the mass-circulation Bild daily newspaper, a reactionary rag that trades in sensation, gossip, tits and sports. It would not be unfair to say that Bild“s ethics, at least in the 1970s and “80s, were on the level of those now exposed in Rupert Murdoch”s media empire; perhaps even worse. The newspaper cheerfully destroyed lives with lies. It was widely called “das Lügenblatt” (the rag of lies). Wallraff exposed all that.

Co-writing the German lyrics with Wallraff was one Lerryn, the pseudonym of leftist songwriter and manager Dieter Dehm. After the reunification of Germany it was alleged that Dehm had reported to East Germany”s secret service, the Stasi, on the activities of another leftist songwriter, Wolf Biermann (stepfather of Nina Hagen), before the communist regime expelled Biermann from the GDR. Dehm denies having spied for the Stasi.

Paul Simon – Late In The Evening (YouTube live clip)
Paul Simon”s One Trick Pony LP was another Christmas present LP which I had wanted on strength of a great lead single and never really enjoyed. Which means that the album title is quite ironic itself “” it had only one trick. Ah, but what a trick. It has a casual drug reference, which didn”t get the song banned! The fantastic Latin horn part was arranged by Dave Grusin, who did the instrumental score for the soundtrack for The Graduate, which Simon & Garfunkel had significantly contributed to.  And check out the exquisite drumming by Steve Gadd. Then there are the masterful percussions of Ralph MacDonald, who died in December, and the guitar work of the late Eric Gale. And on backing vocals is Lani Groves, who sang the opening verse of Stevie Wonder”s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Jim Gilstrap. (The MP3 file was found and zapped before the post was even up. Hence the YouTube clip.)

Air Supply – All Out Of Love.mp3
I always stress that in this series, the songs are chosen because they have the power to transport me back to the time when they came out, not because I endorse them. This one can in an instance recreate in me that nagging teenage feeling in the stomach, the desire for romance, and the smell of my bedroom. I don”t really want to endorse the song; on the contrary, I want to hate it as the spineless power ballad it really is. And still ““ and I don”t know if it is the nostalgia for an unhappy youth or my advancing age ““ listening to it as I”m writing this, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I”ll play it again. But then, I have previously publicly defended Chicago”s If You Leave Me Now, an act that has earned me some derision, so I might as well confess my (no longer) secret affection for wimpy power ballads.

Karat – Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn.mp3
On my family”s periodic visits to East Germany, I would try and satisfy my record-buying impulse by purchasing albums by local rock bands. It was also a good way of spending East German marks, which was quite challenge in a country which did not go in for quality consumer goods. You couldn”t even buy a replica Dynamo Dresden football shirt (just as you couldn”t buy a Dukla Prague away shirt in Czechoslovakia; though you could do so from western mail order companies). And that”s how I came to own LPs by the likes of City and the Puhdys. I never really listened to them. But the biggest East German band, Karat, had passed me by until they suddenly had a hit in West Germany with Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn (You”ll have to cross seven bridges). The rather lovely prog-rock ballad, originally released in East Germany in 1978, was covered by Peter Maffay, one of West Germany”s biggest stars who styled himself (and still does) as a bit of an outlaw. Maffay had the bigger hit with it, but in the slipstream of his version”s success, Karat”s original received much radio airplay (by East German law they were not allowed to appear on West German TV). I preferred the Karat version.

David Bowie – Up The Hill Backwards.mp3
Here”s another Christmas present album, which made my wishlist on strength of Ashes To Ashes and the even more fabulous Fashion. Unlike the LPs by Palmer and Simon, I liked the Scary Monsters LP a lot, and I particularly loved Up The Hill Backwards with its anthemic vocals, Robert Fripp”s crazy guitars and the staccato drumming. Bruce Springsteen”s piano man Roy Bittan did ivory tinkling duty here, as he did on Ashes To Ashes and Teenage Wildlife, and the album”s co-producer, Tony Visconti played the acoustic guitar. Up The Hill Backwards was released as the album”s fourth single in Britain. It stalled at #32, not entirely surprisingly, because it is not really commercial.

.

More Stepping Back

.

Step back to 1978 – Part 3

March 24th, 2011 10 comments

By the second half of 1978 I was clearly done with punk “” much like the rest of the civilised world. Now the word was Grease, even if You”re The One That I Want became unbearably overplayed. Other than a really great roadtrip holiday, the latter part of 1978 seems to have been quite uneventful for me: I cannot remember anything interesting at all happening other than playing football in ankle-deep snow in winter.

John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air.mp3
I knew this track by the Australian singer who prompted two popes to adopt his name in 1978 for quite a while before the event I associate it most with: a summer holiday in what was then East-Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Love Is In The Air was on a K-Tel type sampler cassette we played ad nauseam on that road trip in a Volkswagen camper, mainly because we didn”t have much else with us by way of musical entertainment. The tape also included J.J. Cale”s Cocaine, Eric Clapton”s Lay Down Sally, and Eruption”s cover of I Can”t Stand The Rain. I think the latter might have followed Love Is In The Air, because when Young”s song ends, I expect to hear the opening synth notes from the Eruption number. It could be that we gave that tape away to an East German family we met in Prague, with whom we struck up a friendship that extended beyond the holiday (I met the daughter again last year, for the first time in 29 years). To East Germans, all forms of Western media were like golddust. On our later visits to our friends, I”d smuggle Bravo magazines over the border, and act that was regarded as quite audacious, indeed almost heroic.  Love Is In The Air was also the first song I ever sung at a karaoke.

Clout – Substitute.mp3
In this series I have reported on my barely pubescent crushes on Agnetha of ABBA and Debbie Harry of Blondie. They were joined by another blonde in the form of the Glenda Hyam, the keyboard player of South African girl group Clout. The thing is, I turned out have a greater preference for darker women (not that I am inclined to discriminate on the basis of excessive pheomelanin). Alas, Glenda soon left the group, to be replaced by two much less fanciable but more hirsute blokes (who would later joined Johnny Clegg in Juluka). The dudes, no less curly than the rest of Clout, turned up for the follow-up hit Save Me, which will feature in the course of this series. Substitute, a great unrequited love number, is a cover version of a song by the Righteous Brothers. If anyone has the original, I”d be most grateful to receive it.

Supermax – Love Machine.mp3
Austrian disco, long before Falco! Goodness, this played everywhere in Germany, and at the time I hated it. Now I actually like it. Imagine Pink Floyd going disco (in which case the lyrics, with gems like “I am a love machine in town, the best you can get 50 miles around”, would need to be read ironically). Long-haired, moustachoid Kurt Hauenstein”s band was multi-racial (though not as predominantly black as the single cover would lead us to believe), and as such it became the first international multi-racial band to tour South Africa in 1981. It was a thankless venture. The apartheid authorities were not exactly pleased at the racial mixing ““ just imagine the potential of miscegenation among these degenerate disco hippies! ““ especially since the Austrians were also playing in the “homeland” of Venda, which is so off the beaten track that it probably has not seen any international music acts since. And the international artistic community failed to see the humour in anybody touring apartheid South Africa, racial diversity notwithstanding. Even if just a few years earlier the likes of Percy Sledge and George Benson had done exactly that.

Umberto Tozzi – Tu.mp3
A year earlier, Umberto Tozzi had enjoyed a big hit with Ti Amo. I liked that song very much. In 1978, Tozzi had a hit with Tu. By then I was wary of Italian balladeers whose schlock lent themselves to German covers by Schlager singers with an excess of blow-dried hair. Oddly, I don”t recall this being turned into a Schlager. Perhaps the absence of a chorus deterred the Schlager industry. Or perhaps they didn”t know how to translate “ba-badda-darm” into German. A year later, Tozzi released Gloria, which in 1984 became, much to my astonishment, a hit for Laura Branagan. I must confess that I do have a bit of a weakness for the Italian San Remo festival kind of songs.

Robert Palmer – Best Of Both Worlds.mp3
Much as I liked the song back then, it”s a bit of a mess, with its cod-Reggae beat and aggressively out-of-tune vocals. It was a fair hit in Europe, I think, but didn”t even dent the Top 75 in Britain. I think what I found most attractive about it are the minor notes 2:12 into the song. A year later Palmer had a bigger hit with Bad Case Of Loving You. At the bumper car rink at the local Rummel (as a travelling funfair is known in German) that year, the ticket-booth DJ held a name-the-artist competition when Bad Case Of Loving You came on. The prize was something like tokens for five free rides. Trouble was, I was already driving in a bumper car. To my frustration, nobody knew the answer, which I did. I called the answer out to my younger brother, but all I got in return was a deaf “heh?”. Of course, he wasn”t the idiot in that situation. I was. Obviously I should have abandoned my single ride in order to get five freebies ““ and the satisfaction of strutting to cash in my free rides knowing the answer to a tough question none of the assembled ignoramuses knew. File under “Regrets, I”ve had a few”.

Nina Hagen Band – TV-Glotzer.mp3
I must be honest: I don”t like Nina Hagen”s obnoxious vocals much. I bought this single (the cover of which seems to have been used for every Hagen release around that time) because it seemed the rebellious thing to do. There simply was very little of this kind of thing in German music at the time. The indictment of consumerism and the public”s passive, indeed mindless, acceptance of it appealed to my nascent leftist tendencies (translated lyrics are here). The consumerism must have been striking to Hagen, who had come from East-Germany only two years earlier after her singer stepfather, Wolf Biermann, was expelled by the communist regime. Backed by what would become the Neue Deutsche Welle band Spliff, TV Glotzer is a cover of The Tubes” far superior White Punks On Dope.  So Hagen and especially TV Glotzer were hugely influential in the rise of the German new wave movement.

Status Quo – Again And Again.mp3
For the first three years of my record-buying career, I bought loads of Status Quo records. Then I went off them, righteously repudiating the Quo. By the time I was a young adult, I joined the consensus that they were rather ridiculous and easily spoofed cliché mongering two-chord wonders. What utter foolishness! What deprivation did I subject myself to? No good case can be made for Status Quo being rock & roll”s equivalent of Dietrich Buxtehude, but, damn it, for pure energy and fun it”s hard to beat songs like Again And Again. Denims on, strike pose standing with legs apart (position of mirror optional), engage air guitar, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imaginary fellow guitarist rocking forward and backward, jump in the air with final chord, look in panic at doors and windows to ensure that they were shut…

Olivia Newton-John – A Little More Love.mp3
Livvy”s career was stuttering to a bit of a halt before her appearance in Grease. On strength of that movie I bought her Totally Hot album, which contained rather too much disco-pop and too little by way of quality ballads, such as the wonderful Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease. It really set the scene for the later Physical, the opening chord for the ghastly “80s. A Little More Love is one of those songs that suffers from a lack of direction. It”s not clear whether it”s supposed to be a West Coast rock number or a disco track. The pedestrian verses call to mind a b-side recorded under duress by Linda Ronstadt, but the glorious chorus sounds like it was written by the Bee Gees in their pomp, even though the song”s composer was John Farrar (who also wrote Hopelessly Devoted To You and You”re The One That I Want). As much as I hate Physical, I was pleased to see Newton-John appear on Glee last year; not as the sweet individual of her doubtless merited reputation, but as a bitch who outdoes the wonderfully ruthless Sue Sylvester.

Al Stewart – Song On The Radio.mp3
I had ended 1977 by buying singles by Harpo and The Runaways. I ended the following year by buying an Al Stewart album. I was staying with family friends in another city for a week or so over New Year”s Eve. They were quite different from my family. To begin with, they were communists. Not communists of the variety that had beards (even the men), carried Mao”s pocketbook and a displayed velvet poster of Che Guevara. These were proper activists, registered members of the German Communist Party, the DKP, and as critical of the corruption of communism in the East as they were of the capitalist society in the West. Communists of the ilk of Nina Hagen’s stepfather Biermann. I never adopted their politics, but I was influenced by them to see the word in a different way. So I was with them when I bought Al Stewart”s Time Passages album. When I asked them to play it, they appeared less than keen; much as I would feel if a 12-year-old asked me to put on their latest favourite record by what I would presume to be an autotuned muppet or derivative emo goon. When they finally relented, they liked what they heard and even asked if they could tape the LP (buying it would just have given profits to owners of the means of production, of course). I felt great validation that adults of intellectual character would like the music I bought.

.

More Stepping Back