Thursday, July 18, 2013

One hit wonders: T’Pau “Heart and Soul”

Hailing from Shroshire, T’Pau became a one hit wonder with the song, “Heart and Soul”, which peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts in 1987 after being featured in a commercial for Pepe Jeans. The group was going to call itself Talking America but then changed to T’Pau, a name lifted from a Star Trek episode called “Amok Time”. In this episode, T’Pau was a Vulcan priestess played by Celia Lovsky (Soylent Green). Trekkers will no doubt recall that T’Pau was the first person Spock would salute with his famous “V” hand gesture. I doubt Celia was aware that a British pop band would adopt her character’s name, or that the elaborate costume that she was wearing would sell for $45,000 at auction forty years later.

The song owes its origins to the JX3P keyboard, which was top of the line at the time. One of the band’s guitarists, Ron Rogers programmed the unforgettable bass riff and everything else flowed from that. When I first saw the video, I thought the band was fronted by a pair of red-headed twins: one who liked to wear her hair down and rap, and the other who liked to wear her hair up and sing. But that is not the case – there was only one female lead singer, the amazing Carol Decker.

T’Pau actually went on to have several more big hits in the UK, but never again in the US. I don’t quite understand why. Carol Decker has an incredible voice and lead guitarist Dean Howard, who played with Deep Purple, brought solid rock credentials to punch up their pop sound. Maybe things would have been different if Decker accepted a role to play Don Johnson’s wife on this hit show Miami Vice, which would have inevitably led to a duet. Check out their 1993 compilation, “Heart and Soul – The Very Best of T’Pau” for an excellent retrospective of this underrated band.

Here is a 2011 acoustic performance by Decker, singing their biggest UK hit, "China In Your Hand":

Monday, July 8, 2013

Safe Sax in the '80s

There was no other decade that loved on the saxophone than the ‘80s! In this series, we present the evidence…

Made famous by the hit TV show "Family Ties", one-hit wonder Billy Vera took this tune to the top spot on the charts in 1987. The ripping sax solo was played by Jerry Peterson, who also lent his talents to the likes of Barbara Streisand, Linda Ronstadt, Smokey Robinson, and many others.

Let's refresh our memory of those classic "Family Ties" moments that featured the song of love birds Alex P. Keaton and his girlfriend, Ellen. As most of you probably know, Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan (who played Ellen) actually had an off-screen romance that led to a long and happy marriage. I wonder if they played this song at their wedding?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

One hit wonder: Nena "99 Red Balloons"

"99 Luftballons", or "99 Red Balloons" as we know it here in America, rapidly floated up the charts to the #2 position in 1983. Hitting #1 in many other countries, this anti-war song gained worldwide popularity and made the German band Nena a household name, at least for a little while. The band never had another hit in the US. The guitarist for Nena, Carlo Karges, was inspired when he saw balloons released during a Rolling Stones concert in West Berlin. What would happen if they were mistaken for missiles or some other unidentified flying weapon if they floated over the Berlin wall? Is it possible these harmless balloons could prompt nuclear war?

The song has a reference to Star Trek's Captain Kirk. Do you know another song that references a famed starship Captain? The answer is below.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Back for More: A Tale of Two Queensryches

In this ongoing series, we catch up with artists who made their mark in the 80s. Many of them are still alive and kicking!

Queensryche is a progressive hard rock band that formed in 1982 and pounded out some classics in the genre throughout the 80s. They hit their stride and broke through to the mainstream as the decade closed with the phenomenally successful record, “Empire”. Never able to surpass this summit, the band has slowly slipped down the mountain into near obscurity where only the most dedicated fans dared to tread. There have been some moments of genius in those years and a fairly well-received sequel to their landmark “Operation: Mindcrime” epic, but the flashes of brilliance have been too few and far between for most. The band imploded in 2012 for reasons that are still coming to light, but the result was lead singer Geoff Tate leaving to form his own version of Queensryche. Meanwhile, most of the other founding members continued by replacing Tate with Todd La Torre (Crimson Glory) and calling themselves Queensryche. There’s plenty material available online if you want to read the dirt about the split resulting in two Queensryches – we’re just here to voice our take on their music.

Queensryche “Frequency Unknown”

First out of the gate was Geoff Tate’s Queensryche with their album “Frequency Unknown”. The first song showcased off the record as a single was “Cold”, which pretty much sums up the reception that greeted “Frequency Unknown”. The record was trashed for bland songs and a horrible mix, the latter of which Tate quickly moved to address. It also didn’t bode well that some of the musicians working with Tate bailed due to artistic differences. Listening to the record, Tate largely continues the sound of recent efforts by the band – in other words, gloomy and lumbering. If you enjoyed Queensryche for the last decade or so, this record should satisfy somewhat, but there is nothing here that comes close to the 80’s material. The record was a chore to listen to, but I did find some elements of “Cold” and “Everything” enjoyable. 

Queensryche “Queensryche”

Todd La Torre’s Queensryche begins their chapter with a self-titled record. As the record rips into a much more muscular single, “Where Dreams Go To Die”, three things are quickly evident: 1) La Torre is a dead-ringer for Tate, actually sounding more like a younger version of him. 2) This version of Queensryche is clearly more energized and inspired – the songs come at you hard and fast with blistering riffs and thunderous percussion. 3) There is a great deal more of the early Queensryche coming through in the songwriting, along with a heavier dose of the melodic elements that made “Empire” and some of the songs from “Hear in the Now Frontier” so great. In addition to the first single, some other great tracks include “Spore”, “Redemption”, and “Vindication”, some of the best songs I’ve heard out of Queensryche in a long time.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Covered in '80s

In this ongoing series, we highlight 80’s cover tunes or ‘80s songs that have been covered by other artists. Sometimes it’s a win-win: an 80’s song covered by another 80’s artist! Which version is your favorite?

Today the spotlight shines on the song "I Found Someone". Most of you will associate this tune with Cher, who took it to the top 10. The song appeared on her self-titled 1987 record and got a ton of airplay.

While no one took this song higher on the charts than Cher, she was not the first to cover it. Laura Branigan did a version of "I Found Someone", which came from her album, "Hold Me". Her version stalled at #90 on the charts in 1986.

Which brings us to the original writers of this song, Mark Mangold (of the grossly underrated band Touch, which was featured in our "You Were Robbed" post yesterday) and Michael Bolton. Bolton came full circle on this song by producing Cher's version. Here is Mangold's band Touch performing "I Found Someone":

And finally, Michael Bolton performing it:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

You Were Robbed – Touch

"You Were Robbed" features artists and bands that should have gotten much more recognition and fame than they did. Check them out now...better late than never!

The late 70s/early 80s AOR band Touch was an outgrowth of an earlier band called American Tears. Touch, led by Mark Mangold, released their self-titled debut in 1979 with their singles gracing rock radio as the decade transitioned. At the forefront of the AOR genre, the band oscillated between straight up melodic rock like Survivor or Journey to prog rock like Triumph or Styx. A little ahead of their time, the first single “Don’t You Know What Love Is” stalled at #69 on the Billboard charts.

Another classic cut off this immaculate debut record was “When The Spirit Moves You”:

“Yes – You Need To Rock N’ Roll” proved to be a great anthem for the band and fans alike:

To round out our sampling of “Touch”, give a listen to “Last Chance For Love”:

A great deal of turmoil between the band members and management prevented the formal release of the follow up record, “II”, which was produced by none other than Todd Rundgren. Fortunately, you can hear it today on sites like Spotify. Mangold would move on to become a respected songwriter, most famously for his collaboration with Michael Bolton to pen the hit “I Found Someone”. The debut by “Touch” didn't get the respect it deserved back in the day, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it now.