Category Archives: Music Review

B-52’s Roam into Cosmic Santa Barbara

B52s_AG_3Keith_144“We didn’t have a goal of what we wanted to sound like when we started out,” says Keith Strickland, the multi-instrumentalist behind some of the B-52’s‘ biggest hits. “We just knew we wanted it to be fun.” And fun is an understatement when it comes to this Athens, Georgia-based band’s music and lively concert performances. Their music is infectious; it compels the audience to dance. It’s most often the sound of unbridled joy, yet at times anger and frustration seep through. While the band wore their punk influences, and was labeled “New Wave” in the 1980’s and 90’s, their sound was different than so many acts that emerged in the decade, and it has stood the test of time. “We didn’t really consider ourselves punk, but we knew that we were going to be a part of that. We didn’t really call ourselves “New Wave.” I remember we got called that when we started playing the clubs in New York” said Strickland.

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This is one of the blessed acts whose perfect debut album established an identity for each member and for the songs that would follow through the next decade. The lineup would not change into the mid 80s – Cindy Wilson & Kate Pierson on lead vocals (Kate adding keyboards) joined Fred Schneider who was a type of lead vocalist; a raconteur, mascot and all around party starter. Ricky Wilson (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Keith Strickland rounded out the five-piece band. Every member of the group was unique, each bringing their talents and fresh attitude to their dance extravaganza.

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B52s_Debut_CoverReleased in 1979 and simply titled The B-52s, the debut album included tracks the band played consistently in concert over the last 40 years, including the demands-you-dance “Rock Lobster” and the slightly sinister “Planet Claire.” On the latter, Cindy Wilson established herself as the true lead single of the band. Though mates Fred and Kate both have led many of the B-52s hit songs, it’s Cindy whose voice is so joyous, yet at times so haunting. Though the lyrics are often playful and childish, the way Cindy delivers them can break your heart. “Why don’t you dance with me, I’m not no Limburger!” indeed.

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In 1980, Wild Planet continued the party started as night fell on the 70s. It was followed in 1982 by their most experimental, artful album Mesopotamia, made with The Talking Head’s genius David Byrne. Though creative differences kept this from being a full-length release, it sports Cindy’s absolute greatest vocal work on the sweet and sour “Loveland.” Finally, 1983’s Whammy firmly established the band as one of the best from the fertile period of the early 80s.

A tragic turn of events unfolded when Cindy’s brother, guitarist Ricky Wilson contracted and passed from the then-incurable insidious disease AIDS in 1985. The assembled potpourri Bouncing off the Satellites was released in 1986 and the band went on hiatus without a supporting tour.

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Their inevitable return to form, Cosmic Thing (1989) will be remembered by many as their best effort, closing the 80s with a well-rounded collection of songs that punctuate every aspect of their sound. Songs like the contagious “June Bug,” and mature “Dry County” snuck in between mainstays like “Love Shack.” “Channel Z,” and “Roam.” The album was an instant hit, reaching the top 10 in the US & UK and number one in Australia and New Zealand. Strickland sums it up with “There was something magical about that album, how it all came together. We sequenced it in a way that we felt told a story. I don’t know if anybody’s ever noticed it, but one song leads into the other in a nice way. It tells a story from beginning to end.” The album brought the 1980s to an ecstatic close.

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The tour for Cosmic Thinglasted from July 1989 into 1990, ushering in a new decade that would see Cindy take a second break from the band. The US dates kicked off with three wild nights at the San Francisco Fillmore the 28ththrough 30th that July 1989, and ended with several dates “down under.”

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Somehow I never had the chance to catch the B-52s live until their excellent January 7 1990 performance at the Santa Barbara Events Center at UCSB. It was everything one would hope. Lacking just a bit of the edge from the band’s early days, the rejuvenated band nonetheless gave exceptionally spirited performances, tearing through a succession of hits, keeping the tempo fairly even with clear, pitch-perfect vocals and Fred’s call-response brilliance coloring it all. The near-perfect set list was finally captured on a live CD now included with the re-release of Cosmic Thing. The tracks played in Santa Barbara were:

  1. Cosmic Thing
  2. Bushfire
  3. Give Me Back My Man
  4. Lava(Private Idaho at Fillmore)
  5. Dry County
  6. Dance This Mess Around
  7. Private Idaho(Lava at Fillmore – so the two switched order)
  8. Strobe Light
  9. Mesopotamia
  10. Junebug
  11. Summer of Love
  12. Roam
  13. Love Shack
  14. Planet Claire(Party Out of Bounds at Fillmore)
  15. Rock Lobster
  16. Whammy Kiss(not played at the Fillmore)
  17. Channel Z

B52s_Live83_Cindy_300dpiThe B-52s continue to tour at the time of this writing, playing list of songs that do not stray far from the Cosmic Thingset, the height of their popularity. The B-52s deserve a place at the top rung of 1980s acts, emblematic as they were of the ability of new wave music to bring light colors to salve the darkness.

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Simple Minds, Brilliant Things

SimpleMinds2019 SITR CoverSimple Minds hail from Scotland, the most successful musical export from that land during the 80s, with five number one albums in the UK.  The long time leaders of the band, Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitars) take a rather unique approach to music, poetry and stagecraft. The band’s music has gone through several evolutions, which range from the first four art-rock/krautrock inspired albums, to the transitional fifth 1983’s New Gold Dream, to the follow up rock heavy Sparkle in the Rainin 1984. The pinnacle of their early more experimental work are the pair of “EP” records Sister Feelings Call and Sons of Fascination both dropped in 1981 without a release in the states.

Released in 1982,New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) would be the first record available in the states without paying the import fees. after the band signed with A&M records. This landmark record had a production draped in layers of lush, romantic synth, and echoes of Roxy Music, Japan, and Duran Duran. It’s a gorgeous record that pinned the band’s profile to the New Romantic movement.

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This incarnation of their sound while popular lasted just a moment, as the next release, Sparkle in the Rain (1984), went to #1 in the UK, even as it was a big turn in the road for Simple Minds. In contrast to New Gold Dream and to extent earlier efforts, Sparkle In The Rain presented a muscular, aggressive version of the band, a demanding wall of sound produced by Steve Lillywhite, who had been at the helm for U2, Peter Gabriel, Siouxsie and the Banshees and others.  The stadium rock sheen led one fan called it right – “art school rock with fantastic bombast.”

Sparkle In The Rain begins with a spoken count in for opening track “Up On The Catwalk”  (1,2, 1-2-3-4) followed by the crack of drummer Mel Gaynor’s snare in time with Mick McNeil’s ringing piano chords on his new Yamaha Grand. It’s a fantastic way to start the album – a powerful song with lyrics about hypocrisy in Britain, constructed from a riff and a promise that “I will be there” instead of a chorus, delivered with urgency by lead singer Jim Kerr.  Throughout the record, guitarist Charlie Burchill’s adds rhythms, serpentine licks and washes of color to each track, often begging the attentive listener to wonder how he is achieving the sound.  Again on this album as with their back catalog, bassist Derek Forbes, one of the absolute best players in that era, drives many of the tracks with his propulsive, creative leads – demonstrated by just a cursory listen to the hit “Waterfront” or “Kick Inside of Me”, the latter including fierce vocals from Jim that sounds as if he is actually shaking off fearful ghosts:

And we steal the world and live to survive
Shake out the ghosts and turn around
In spite of me, shake up the ghosts inside of me

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Now full time drummer Mel Gaynor smacks his snare with what seems like Herculean might – and when he runs the toms from top to bottom its like the roar of approaching thunder.  This coupled with Derek’s monster bass leads, establish the bottom end of the sound, and part of said wall, through which it often seems the bits of piano, synth and guitar emerge, shine, then fade back into the mix. Jim’s vocals work in and around the music structured more often than not in a scat-like rather than verse-chorus-verse form, something that made this band unique among peers. All of these elements combine to create the brilliant things found herein.

There is a re-mastered version of this landmark album in a box set format. It includes the original album re-mastered in stereo and various surround sound mixes by prog wizard Steve Wilson, an audio recording of a live concert from the era, a few videos, live performances from the BBC and various TV shows, a beautiful re-print of the concert program for the tour, and a complete background on the album, with track by track liner notes.

Part of the set presents a live concert from early in the tour, recorded at Barrowland Glasgow on February 28, 1984.  It’s an excellent document that captures the band on their home turf and in their prime.  Called the “Tour du monde”, the tour to support Sparkle… included a seven-night residency at the Hammersmith Odeon. It was the last tour of that period booked primarily in the smaller theaters.  I caught it at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco on a night that cemented their vaulted place in my heart. The recording herein is a potent reminder of the band’s live prowess at this time. After this tour, the next album Once Upon A Timetook the band to stadiums where much of the subtlety found here was lost for a time.

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To fully appreciate the allure of this band, they must be seen in concert, and there are several worthy performances captured to cement their place in history. On this set there are three videos, followed by television appearances of the same tracks – “Waterfront,” “Speed You Love To Me,” and “Up On The Catwalk.”  The latter two live videos, though truncated by credits, are taken from a performance on the Oxford Road Show at the end of January 1984, just before the album was released.  Of all the television and live concert appearances of the band at the time, this is one of the greatest – as the two tracks are played faithfully to studio versions, allowing us to be witness to just how their sound was achieved, certainly answering the question, “just what is Charlie playing!”

Only carp about the DVD is that it should have included the film taken at Westfalenhalle, Dortmund on 24 June 1984.  This is excellent footage of the band still available on Youtube that would have rounded out the box set: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkanFaSJXIU&feature=youtu.be

Because Sparkle in the Rain sits in their catalog between the romantic New Gold Dream, and the subsequent more commercial smash Once Upon A Time, it might escape the attention it deserves. In fact, booklet liner notes suggest the album promised that greater things were to come from the band. Perhaps these comments make the best argument for a re-evaluation of this work, and the box set treatment with engineering from Steve Wilson. Before deciding for yourself, check out this set in all of its grandeur.

(photos by the incomparable Armando Gallo)

 

 

 

Paula Frazer’s Best Yet – What Is And Was

PaulaFrazer2017_CoverSome artists labor in relative obscurity for good reason –either they are painfully shy, not promoted well, or their work just does not fit the times or the zeitgeist of the day. But there are others who are less known than they should be – sometimes so unknown that it’s somewhat criminal, and neglectful of us to allow such indifference in this interconnected world. Now, let me say, Paula Frazer might not like this characterization, but she is absolutely one of the most talented singer-songwriters in the world – the best of her kind that I’ve ever come across. And my wife does her hair in San Francisco.

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Really, I’ve sat and talked to Paula while her hair is done, and a less assuming person you will never meet. I truly think she believes she is a “average.” Yet, What Is And Was, by Paula Frazer and Tarnation is truly a masterpiece, something that seems otherworldly in it’s perfection. Songs like opener “Between the Lines” and the follow up title track sneak up on you with beguiling simplicity that unfolds into complex mastery. To realize all this, get the LP or download, and read the lyrics, check the instrumentation. This is as good as it gets.

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While Paula writes all the songs, the members of Tarnation also make this record awesome by their work. Jacob Aranda on guitar and vocals, is a key player – he is a tremendous singer-songwriter on his own accord with albums to prove it – ones that are also well worth collecting. Jacob adds electric guitar solos to the acoustic mix that make use of the tremolo arm, much as Chris Isaak before. It’s all Jacob’s own though, and it is all inspired playing. Many additional collaborators join Paula on keys, drums, vocals, pedal steel, and guitar. But as a sign of her prodigy-like status and talent, Paula writes, sings, and plays guitar, wood flute, bass, xylophone, drums, and percussion. Is that an octupple threat?

Lyrics to “Followed You There” reprinted by permission © Paula Frazer:

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New High Recordings released the album in 2017, but I got my copy from Paula’s garage. She would say, “yeah it’s okay, check it out.” I would say, bring a hanky and some ready ears –it’s unbelievably great music, and my new favorite album.

NHR describes Paula well here:
https://newhighrecordings.com/paula-frazer/

PaulaFrazer2017_RedRecordThe vinyl LP is recommended, and it comes in a red platter that adds to the album’s mystique. You can also download the album from basecamp, naming your own price. Don’t be stingy. She and her band are well worth full price!

On Red Vinyl or download
https://newhighrecs.bandcamp.com/album/what-is-and-was

What Is And Was
Paula Frazer and Tarnation
All songs written by Paula Frazer – Tarnation Music Publishing, BMI
© & (p) 2017 Paula Frazer
NewHighRecordings.com

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part III, the End of the Enz

As we learned in part II of this 3 part series, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil joined the band for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk was raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

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Where we left off, this marvelous act had released a two-fer-of ear candy – True Colors (1981), and Waiata (1981). The two albums that came next will forever go down in the cannon of proggy-new-wave music as absolutely perfect records based every possible measure.

Split Enz Vol_III Time&TideCover_72dpiTime and Tide was recorded in 1981 and released in 1982; the third number 1 album Split Enz brought to ANZ. Tim’s opener to side 1, “Dirty Creatures” (also written by Neil and Nigel) and accompanying video were instant classics for new wavers of the 80’s. “Pioneer/Six Months in a Leaky Boat” grace side 2 and similarly nail every newly minted model in the new wave genre, while being a bit of a sea shanty at the same time! Said to be somewhat autobiographical, the Creatures/Six Months tracks were instant Tim Finn-led classics. In between, Tim’s “Never Ceases to Amaze Me,” and “Small World” cap a brilliant collection from this tenor wonderkind.

The pair of Finn brothers are credited with “Lost for Words,” quite possibly the greatest Enz song on record. Great lyric: “I can’t relate, to your vicious excuses, the damage has all been done, and talking is useless….” Now listen to the bass/drum beats of the verse/chorus and in particular the middle section, while Eddie plays a haunting set of chords that chill, leading back to the verse “I’m looking for words, I give it all I got, And I’m lost for words, you don’t even listen – its’ all been said before so I’ll just turn and walk away.”

Neil is not to be outdone on this classic Enz record. He checks in with “Hello Sandy Allen,” (the world’s tallest woman) and my favorite early Neil track, “Take a Walk.” The lilt of his upbeat guitar, the happy yet seriously dramatic sound of Eddie’s piano thrill as Neil sings:

I could take a walk again
Up a mountain to a stream
Standing on the open rock
Looking out over the sea
Funny when we move ahead
Never worry what we leave behind
Remember what a friend of mine said
You gotta be kind

Truer words…..

Now, before the band composition “Make Sense Of It” which closes the record, the brothers each pen a classic seemingly autobiographical two-fer – Tim’s “Haul Away” (“at 21 I was thirsting for experience and my brain was about to burst”) and Neil’s more haunting, dramatic reading, “Log Cabin Fever:”

It’s cold out hear the wind howl down the chimney
Wish I could just cry out to someone, help
But we live in isolation of the cruelest kind
Scared to show our colours to the world

Time to break away from my condition
Rejoin the human race, see what I’m missing
Try to face the day my private passion
Is eating me away

It’s well worth mentioning at this point that Noel Crombie (drums) and Nigel Griggs (bass) have honed their fine skills to the point that every song is anchored and embellished with their work. Many of the most effective parts they play are based on a kind of aboriginal tribal sound, a compelling combination of tones that will move even the most jaded listener. They teach a master class at the low end.

Split Enz Vol_III Live VHSThat any tour dates from the Time and Tide tour were caught on video is a miracle. It was getting more common by the early 80’s to capture bands on video, but we have many examples to share of groups that have paltry little to show in terms of live in concert documentation.

The live show is taken from an evening in Canada at Hamilton Place in 1982. While to date only available on VHS and YouTube, hopes remain that a proper restoration will come to light for those who never saw the band in their prime.

 

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Split Enz Vol_III ConflictingCover_72dpiThe final recording to feature the classic 1980-1983 lineup of Split Enz follows Time and Tide. Marred by a lack of basic PR — hampered by mistakes made by Mushroom Records, they do only a short tour for this record upon its release in 1983. Instead, Tim releases his first solo album, a beautiful work titled Escapade, and the band, essentially, spontaneously dissolves. This time though, Tim’s outside work allow more focus on Neil, who pens 6 of the tracks on this final brothers-together album Conflicting Emotions. Importantly, Neil’s work includes the ode to his newborn son, Liam, called “Our Day.” Considered by this ardent fan as Neil’s greatest lyrical achievement (with unbelievable band backing) the singer /multi-instrumentalist /songwriter pens the greatest cautionary welcome to a child, still in the womb, ever attempted:

Let our love create another life
It’s growing even as we speak
He don’t know what’s waiting for him here
Suspended in his dream sleep
His mother’s all around him
His father’s just a sound to him, singing gently
We have promised him a future
So I’m hoping that tomorrow
Is, was, and will ever be

And we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

There’s a face that I will come to love
That I have never seen before
There’s a brain that’s absolutely free
From any kind of conscious thought
You are me, and you are she
It won’t be long ’til we meet
And I’ll be going on a journey
In a flimsy paper boat upon a stormy sea

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
The old age is near the end
The new one’s just begun

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

I’m shaking like a leaf
Wound up like a spring tonight
You say this ain’t no place for children
Oh God, I hope that what we’ve done is right
Am I vain to feel as if the world
Owes anything at all to me
Searching, burning, tossing and turning
Desperately

And so we’re waiting now
Waiting for our child to come
Can’t imagine what the future holds
Just hoping there is one

Yes we’re waiting now
For something burning far away
Tear the old age down for good
Welcome the young one

Hear this my son, I promise you the best that we can do
We love, we love, we love, we love, we love, we love you…

© Neil Finn / Split Enz

(I hope sincerely that Neil does not mind the reprint here – I do not like to do this, but I talked to Liam about this song, and he shared that it was truly written for him, and it’s just one of the best lyrics written ever, ever, ever, period (peace Neil)).

Neil Finn just nails everything he does on Conflicting Emotions, including opener “Straight Old Line” (also objectively, the best video of the band) “Message To My Girl” (which sent hearts a flutter all over the world), and “No Mischief” followed by “The Devil You Know.” At this point it’s clear — and fortunate, Neil is ready to lead the band, and eventually form his own, Crowded House.

Tim contributes stellar tracks once again, “Working Up An Appetite,” “I Wake Up Every Night” ” (ode to dance lover – this time he do want to dance!), “Conflicting Emotions,” (their most spacey, proggy cut of the band’s catalog and an overt vocal display of vibrotechnics (my word)) and the absolutely gorgeous, heart rending finale “Bon Voyage.” Any listener who by this time does not understand why Tim is one of this earth’s greatest ever tenors, is frankly deaf.

Yes there is some controversy over this album, ignore it, the greatest art we have in this world is marred by controversy, and this is no exception. But, it does mark the point where Tim leaves the band he had started way back in the 70’s, just after Conflicting Emotions, the band’s finest hour.

Photos of the Conflicting Emotions Tour © 1983 Graeme Plenter:
http://www.rockvizion.net/artists/splitenz.html

Split Enz Vol_III See Ya RoundNeil bats “clean up” in 1984 with a collection of songs that were B-sides (“Kia Kaha (Ever Be Strong)”), or were destined for the first Crowded House release (“I Walk Away”). “This Is Massive” is credited to new drummer, and future CH skins maestro Paul Hester. Titled See Ya ‘Round the final album caused more than a few dry eyes to tear up, as it represented the Enz of an era (I can’t help myself). It’s a great album in it’s own right, and while Neil was reportedly uncomfortable going it alone as to Finn family members, it does not show in the results. Tim returned for an “Enz With A Bang” tour, an Australasian outing that once again missed the UK, Europe, and North America – Tim sings his first solo hit, “Fraction Too Much Friction” as part of the long set list and over and out it was. The live album taken from the tour is fantastic.

Split Enz Vol_III Big CanoeAs fair readers will know, to round out the period from 1977-1987, Tim released his second solo album, the masterwork Big Canoe in 1986 and Neil released the first Crowded House album also in 1986. It’s important to state here clearly that Tim’s Big Canoe is a critically overlooked work —  it’s at once accessible, complex, multi-layered music that has to be heard on a proper stereo, hopefully with a small bit of dance floor, waiting near by.

 

The rest is history, including reunions, Tim joining the House for Woodface (1991) and the Finn brothers very special first album together and alone, Finn (1995).

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So many of my friends who were drunk on the elixir of “prog rock” did not “get” Split Enz, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening as they did to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them! How an album like Time and Tide could only make it to 58 on the U.S. Billboard charts and penultimate album Conflicting Emotions lagging at 137 shows just how clueless we were in the states as to this legendary band. I blame, in part, Mushroom records, and the unfair fate of so many of our greatest artists. Nonetheless these men went on to great success and all is well in our very very small world (it’s not a very big house for a large family!).

Fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – for the Waiata tour — an amazingly fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. Check it out, along with Tim’s and Neil’s post 1984 work, along with the rest of the individual band members, who together and apart continued to labor in relative obscurity.

 

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era Part II, the Hard Act To Follow

Split Enz Vol_II Band2My next book will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

As we learned in part I, Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, for their 1977 album Dizrythmia. While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was still recording decidedly-not-punk music, while making quiet preparations to draw the world into their loving circle.

The band, now a bit more honed, recorded and released their final album from the formative years, Frenzy (1979). By now, punk has splintered into a dozen branches of far more interesting music, goth, ska, Burundi/jungle/island themed rock, and…”the” new wave. Standout track “I See Red” leads to the Split Enz 1980’s work, refining and honing what it means to be an “art rock” band, sometimes almost “prog rock” yet be danceable, fun, and truly what we came to call the “new wave.”

Split Enz Vol_II True ColorsIndeed 1980’s True Colors was a complete revelation. Less makeup, soon to be none little circus atmosphere, save stage craft and coordinated brightly colored suits (classy yeah!) just serious new wave music designed perfectly to make everyone love the Enz, and love them us smart ones did. Kicking off with their first big hit “I Got You” a Neil Finn composition and lead vocal, an ANZ #1, this was now music to be reckoned with. Add to that, follow up Tim Finn rocker “Shark Attack” and you are talking one fine album! Now take the standout ballad, “I Hope I Never”- if you can really, really listen to those lyrics, and Tim’s yearning, soulful voice singing,…

“I hope I never, I hope I never have to seeeeeeee you again”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMBoDtz1ooY

Split Enz Vol_II Tim Finn

…and not wrest a tear from your eye, you are, as I like to joke to non-criers frequently, “made of stone.” It’s one of the most beautiful songs of the 1980’s and it’s important to note, because by this point keys player Eddie Raynor who graces this one with synth strings and amazing grand piano, is really giving the 70’s proggers a run. Really. Tim kicks off “side 2” with “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” indeed. Neil “fights back” with “Missing Person” sung together with Tim, initially intended to be the first single (really?). Now, spin the next one, and to me the one that shows how ready this band is for stardom.  “Poor Boy” is another Tim Finn gem – take the bass/drum sync of Nigel and Malcolm, expertly pinning down the track on the bottom end, the spacy-synth – “she speaks to me with ultra-high frequency” and Neil’s tightly wound guitar licks…. Gonna listen till I grow old, for sure, yes, please – this music stands the test of time. Those of you who know these songs can follow this chain of thought, this unadulterated affection for the band. The rest of you hit the Spotify, Apple Music, or disks and study up!

Split Enz Vol_II WaiataIt’s tempting to categorize 1981’s Corroboree/Waiata as a sequel to True Colors. Not so. Here is the track list of the most important songs – can you even believe the first “side” of the LP is so perfectly arranged, and “side 2” does not, in any way let up? It may be their most perfect “non proggy” album, refining as it did the definition of new wave music, for the (much much) better.

All songs written by Tim Finn, except where noted. Side one:

  1. “Hard Act to Follow” – 3:17
  2. One Step Ahead” (Neil Finn) – 2:52
  3. I Don’t Wanna Dance” – 3:34
  4. “Iris” (N. Finn) – 2:50
  5. “Wail” (Eddie Rayner) – 2:49
  6. “Clumsy” – 3:29

Side two:

  1. History Never Repeats” (N. Finn) – 3:00
  2. “Walking Through the Ruins” – 4:15
  3. “Ships” (N. Finn) – 3:01
  4. “Ghost Girl” – 4:26
  5. “Albert of India” (Rayner) – 4:03

Just “Hard Act” “One Step” and “I Don’t Wanna Dance” would make a successful album. The third is the most new wave of the new wavers, so danceable, so much vibrato, so much tenor/falsetto – Neil’s guitar, Eddies synth patch, bass/drums all building the story of the boy who is too het to dance, without his sweetheart. On record, this is now one unbelievably great band. Follow up tracks “Iris” “Wail” (not my favorite) “Clumsy” complete side 1. Side two cracks open with “History” then “Walking” later “Ghost Girl” which is better than it has any possible right to be – are you kidding? “Don’t get too close boys to the ghost girl, she’s already haunting you” the clever lyrics seem so easy, so natural for them, both brothers always and to this day make it sound so easy – but just try to turn a simple phrase like that with just the right musical backdrop – art indeed.

So many of my progger friends just did not get this music, while I frankly and gladly left them in the dust listening to 80s era Yes/Genesis. What a loss for them.

Split Enz Vol_II Band

So fair readers, this is seriously awesome music you need to hear – again as fresh today as the day it was released. And, it was the first and only time I was privileged to see the band, in the gym of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo – an amazing fun, artful show that sold me forever on this important, influential band. I remember the band in good spirits, “talking the piss” out of each other, Tim doing push ups, Neil generally appearing a bit more dignified, and all of the musicianship being plainly stellar, with Eddie standing out even live with those amazing ivories. Check it out. Part III soon.

 

The Beginning and the Enz of an Era — The Early Years

SplitEnz_Beginning

My next book Rockin’ Fog City, will be about the era from 1977-1987 when music changed for the better, we danced a lot more, and new heroes were born. The intro will expose the “glam” and “quirky rock” phase of the 1970’s, which ran from approximately 1972 – 1977, leading directly to the decade that followed. During that time as fair readers will know, we loved the Bowie, the New York Dolls, Roxy Music, T-Rex, and… wait for it…. Split Enz, the Beatles from “down under.”

Split Enz was formed by singer/songwriter Tim Finn, in 1973, along with Phil Judd (guitars). They released a couple of albums with Tim and Paul at the helm, The band in costume, makeup and with Tim in front, the voice of an tenor angel, and moves a-quirky, all of which accented the music. Sometimes called “art rock” sometimes alternative, with elements of vaudeville, Split Enz of that early era was a strange brew of “music hall”, “performance art”, and just-plain-fun music, making them maybe the earliest progenitors of what became “new wave” music. As smart music lovers know, in 1977, Tim’s younger brother Neil, joined the band, and history was made.

SplitEnz_MentalNotes_72dpiSplit Enz released their first album Mental Notes in 1975, and Second Thoughts in 1976, Recorded in London, their second effort is the first really listenable Enz album in this writer’s humble opinion. The record included several reworked songs from their debut, and some new bits. Contained in the result is a lot of what made this band great and what also makes anything the Finn brothers have done since, exceptional. Check out “Sweet Dreams” from that album for evidence of their supremacy. Check out the cast members – Ti

SplitEnz_SecodThoughts_172dpim & Phil, joined by Jonathan Chunn (bass), Noel Crombie (percussion), Emlyn Crowther (drums), Robert Fillies (Sax/Trumpet), maestro Edward Rayner (keys) and assorted luminaries. Get this all, who engineered this album… Rhett Davies (Supertramp anyone?), and who produced it… none other than Roxy Music guitarist Phil
Manzanera! The Enz had opened for Roxy Music on their first Australian tour, and had decamped from New Zealand to Australia to build their fan base. Phil was intrigued, and arranged their travel to London to record this gem. Second Thoughts were thunk, and the group’s fortunes grew from there.

SplitEnz_Dispythia_72dpiEnter younger brother Neil Finn in 1977 for follow up Dizrythmia (1977). Anyone ever have “jet lag” will get the title’s reference and applicability to the band’s experience at the time. At first, Neil plays into the vaudeville, circus atmosphere. Phil & Mike are there but abut to be gone from the band, as Neil takes over on guitar, and new permanent member Nigel Griggs on bass. They have the first “bigger” hit, “My Mistake.” While punk is raging in Britain (Sex Pistols) and pop-punk in the states (Ramones), Split Enz was making quiet preparations to draw us into their loving circle.

Check out Tim’s performance of Dizryhmia’s “Charlie” in London
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlnJPVE-gdY

Split Enz V_1 Tim Finn

Fast forward if you must to the 6 minute mark of this video, though who does not have 6 minutes to watch the whole thing? At 6 minutes, Eddie takes center stage musically, features his amazingly beautiful grand piano chops, as Tim sings, “Sunlight, halo, you look wonderful, darling Charlie…, pale and deathly still… for heaven’s sake wake up….Charlie”

Clearly the songwriting partnership of brothers Neil and Tim was kicking into gear, as you notice the touching lyrics, Tim’s delivery, and Neil’s blooming chops on guitar, soon to be co-writer-lead-vocalist as well.

SplitEnz_Frenzy_172dpiFinally, catch the follow up – forth album Frenzy, the first to really push Neil to the fore, with his growing skills on guitar, vocals, and songwriting. Tim wrote most songs, and there are some gems. “I See Red” indeed!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKj4upY1VYI

 

Split Enz V_1 Band Frenzy

But, it’s still a bit of a distance to what was to come next, a honed down version of the band, ready to record 4 absolutely exceptional albums, starting with 1980’s masterpiece True Colors and ending with 1983’s absolute masterwork, and unjustly ignored diamond Conflicting Emotions (1983).

If you are not aware of the pedigree and history of Split Enz, you should be, my friends. But… be warned, while the first four albums, covered here, ending with Frenzy, may excite your eyes (see the videos) it might not be candy for your ears. It’s a tad quirky to say the least, while Tim and the band were finding their way to stardom.

Split Enz V_II NeilFinn_Portrait_cAG_144dpi

 

Bad Company Lives Live!

badcompanylive_cover_72dpiBad Company is one of the most important rock bands of the 1970s. They topped a hard rock core with silky smooth yet gritty production values, hooks galore, and pedigree in each musician. They are a band I had to, regrettably leave out of my upcoming book Rockin’ the City of Angels. The omission is due in large part to a few issues – most importantly that the book is a celebration of the outstanding concerts of the ‘70s including classic rock and prog bands, and I did not get to see them in concert until recently. I could not find any footage nor official live albums of the band during that decade. That last excuse has just been remedied with the release of an outstanding double-CD set of Bad Company Live in concert 1977 and 1979.

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The release is exceptional in every important way. The first set, recorded in 1977 at The Summit, Houston Texas, May 23, 1977 captures the band tearing through 15 tracks over 76 minutes, starting off with the title track from that year’s album Burnin’ Sky (1977) and ending with the mega-hit “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Label mates Led Zeppelin played the same venue just two days earlier, and this show similarly brims with crackling intensity. The second set is just two minutes longer with the same number tracks, taken from the Empire Pool, Wembley Arena in London March 9, 1979, where they did three shows to 12,000 fans each night, just a week before the release of Desolation Angels (1979) considered by most to be their last strong album. The set list begins with the title track of their debut, Bad Company (1974), and ends with another hit “Can’t Get Enough.” In between quite a number of the “then new” tracks are included, most notably “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy.” In addition a cover of the Hendrix breakout hit “Hey Joe” was taken from the Capital Center, Washington DC, also in ’79.

Overall, the sets are edited so that there are only two tunes repeated between the 1977 to 1979 shows – just “Shooting Star” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” appear on both discs, smartly leaving buyers with a generous helping of 28 songs performed live. Most importantly, these sets sound fantastic. There are no overdubs made to either show, a fact noted on the promo sticker. Fans of the band know how unnecessary sonic tinkering would have been, as the original four-piece Bad Company lineup was known as a non-nonsense powerhouse in concert. My book designer Tilman Reitzle saw the show in ’79 and told me the band was the most rehearsed, professional group he had ever seen, able to be precise while still keeping the energy and excitement at the highest level. Between-song chatter was kept to a minimum, and you can now hear the remarkable economy and precision of their delivery on this set. It comes from the rock-steady beat of drummer Simon Kirke (ex-Free), to the baddest fretless bass from Boz Burrell (coming off a stint with King Crimson), amped guitar riffs from Mick Ralphs (ex-Mott The Hoople), and pitch perfect vocals from Paul Rogers (also ex-Free), certainly one of the genre’s most talented, dependable vocalists, not to mention his capable chops on piano and guitar, which helped to round out the band’s sound.

The booklet, authored by David Clayton is informative, if a bit shy on photos of the guys on stage and off. Having said that, the shots that are included, by Brannon Tommey, Bruce Kessler, Alan Perry, and Aubrey Powell are fantastic. There are also snaps of memorabilia – mostly ads for the shows, tickets and backstage passes. The booklet includes a background with lots of information about their progress in studio and the extensive, sometimes punishing touring schedule. Clayton puzzles as to how these tapes remained untouched in the vault for 40 years, something we can all agree on. He also provides this, a favorite quote about the band: “guys wanted to be them and girls wanted to be with them.”

It’s said that manager Peter Grant’s belief that live audio and film recordings took away from the impetus to see his bands live contributed to the unavailability of these artifacts from Bad Company. Grant also managed Led Zeppelin who released limited and rather poor live audio and filmed material during the decade, something that has also been rectified in years since. Fans can now rejoice that at least on the audio front this has been corrected with this superb new CD release. Add it to your collection, and hang on for video that hopefully one day will follow…

badcompanylive2016_rogers_144dpi
Paul Rogers, still rockin’ today

p.s.

Best videos I’ve located from the 1970s are almost exclusively from television appearances:

Feel Like Makin’ Love:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeZqjZ_kvLY

Can’t Get Enough:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p9mzYB–uI