Category Archives: Sound Mines

Sound Mines: The Outfield “Taking My Chances”

The unfortunate thing about massively successful albums is there's songs on them that never see the light of day.

 

Stated another way, if these songs were written by another band or artist, they would have been released and became their signature song in an alternate parallel pop universe.

 

The Outfield had their breakthrough album with their 1985 debut Play Deep. And it was all about some girl named Josie after that.

 

The band have so many instantly recognizable songs: "Josie's on a vacation far away..." see what i mean? And from there, bassist Tony Lewis became known as the lead singer. But there was another singer in the band who you only heard in their signature harmonies, which we'll come back to in a moment.

 

But first: The pop world is still wondering, "Is this same "Josie" Steely Dan hung around in the 70's? Did Josie also attend Bard College with Walter Becker and Donald Fagen then do a semester in London?"

 

Play Deep was huge with 4 singles becoming radio mainstays: "Your Love" (AKA that tune about Josie), , "Say It Isn't So", "All The Love" and "Everytime You Cry."

 

Like Cheap Trick, The Outfield have so many interesting songs buried in their respective catalogs. Do yourself a favor and dig into their deeper tracks. You'll find veins of auditory ore that'll turn you into a more active fan of both bands. Okay I used to live near Robin Zander for those of you full disclosure purists.

 

The Outfield were a brilliant blend of power pop, new wave and pop rock with trademark crisp, clean positive vibes. A band from London and apparently not pissed off about anything when the prices of hotel rooms there alone are enough to piss off most tourists.

 

The vision behind The Outfield was guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter and yes, vocalist John Spinks. And it is John who is lead vocalist on our featured track here "Taking My Chances." John Spinks was a regular "jack" of all instruments like that Canadian Aldo Nova or that Prince guy you may have heard of.

 

For those fans who missed Canadian Musicians 102, Aldo Nova had a major hit with the tune "Fantasy" off his 1982 self titled debut Aldo Nova. You can now safely go back to your Rush, BTO, The Guess Who, Céline Dion, Bryan Adams and Corey Hart with or without OSHA approved sunglasses.

 

While main Outfield vocalist Tony Lewis showcased a high piercing positivity like Jon Anderson of Yes, John Spinks had a deeper introspective voice which made for a rich vocal blend with and classic counterpoint to Tony Lewis.

 

On top of that, John Spinks' guitar tone is among the happiest guitar tones I can think of. The matrimony of Lewis's soaring vocals and Spinks's guitar tone and style is something that often goes unnoticed and understated for why The Outfield have legions of fans outside the English speaking world.

 

Close your eyes (You Canadians take your sunglasses off) and imagine that "Taking My Chances" was the first tune you ever heard from a new band called The Outfield. You'll see that John Spinks could have fronted his own band as guitarist and lead singer:

Hey Rick Springfield did it. So did Bryan "Sandpaper Larynx" Adams. John Spinks easily could have done so too with all the demos he made that eventually became Play Deep. But The Outfield was a project he enjoyed with his pre–fame bandmates since the late 1970's, bassist/singer Tony Lewis and drummer Alan Jackman.

 

"Taking My Chances" reverses the traditional vocal order of The Outfield winning formula but it still works great. It also demonstrates how well John and Tony blended their vocal harmonies and could expertly weave in and around each other no matter who was the lead off hitter in the song.

 

It's this classic blend of high range and low range vocals which worked superbly for other successful acts generations a generation earlier like Hall & Oates and Kiss. Daryl Hall & John Oates and Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons gave the ear fix for high and lows plus the chorus blends of each. Coincidentally, The Outfield and Hall & Oates both had a hit song titled "Say It Isn't So."

 

This "Master Blend" also worked well for Journey although briefly. The Tony Lewis and John Spinks blend was also similar to Steve Perry and Gregg Rolie. the former vocalist for Santana and original Journey vocalist. Rolie has such a beautiful deep soulful voice, and is best known or singing "Black Magic Woman"  but gives stellar performances on tracks that have been largely unknown and forgotten which is  another story altogether.

 

For just 3 people, The Outfield packed a lot of power and wattage. Their incredibly full sounding choruses weaved from the tapestry of harmonizing between John and Tony gave songs their characteristic punch.

 

The Outfield wrote great pop music and weren't pretending to be anything they weren't. In fact, the same 3 bandmates which became the classic Outfield lineup took a hiatus in the late 70's because the Punk Movement was becoming more popular in England.

 

Instead of getting mohawks, bleaching their hair fluorescent orange, or piercing their nipples with nunchucks, John  Spinks, Tony Lewis and Alan Jackman took a long 7th inning stretch into the mid 80's when the music industry, now steadily dating it's new flame MTV, became more favorable to their original style of songwriting. The strange thing being, even though the English speaking world was all over British Pop/New Wave acts like Duran Duran and The Fixx, The Outfield were never as popular in their native England as they were in the United States.

 

What I've always enjoyed about The Outfield is the production quality of their songs is always crystal clear but never hospital sounding sterile. There's always a vibrance and energy to the music and instruments in the mix. The recording quality is always bright and shiny, it's like listening to sunlight reflecting off chrome. People just feel good listening to them, just like a simple Beach Boys song. And that's all the proof anyone's ears need.

 

Sadly the creator and songwriter of The Outfield, John Spinks died of liver cancer in 2014 at just 60 years of age.  Later in early 2016, liver cancer also claimed David Bowie. But John's legacy lives on as does his pleasantly hypnotic vocal tonality on this track which never made it out of the band's batting cage of potential hits.

 

"Taking My Chances" is great song that got overlooked because it was a track on a album filled with great pop songs. Play Deep quickly went triple platinum and continues to be a Must Have 80's album for new generations of fans.

 

Indeed The Outfield knocked it out of the park on their first album. They could have also hit more singles.

© Composer Yoga

Related Posts To Check Out:
Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”

Recommended:
Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”
Closet Singles: Hall & Oates “You’ll Never Learn”
Sound Mines: Bihlman Bros. “Dream”
Closet Singles: Devo “Later Is Now”
George Michael: The Careless Whisperer
Closet Singles: Billy Idol “Hole In The Wall”

 

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Sound Mines: Bihlman Bros. “Dream”

Do you dig Soundgarden?

 

Great, because they’re just aren’t as many Chris Cornells out there as Elvis impersonators.

 

But you’re in luck musically and vocally on a track called “Dream” by the Bihlman Bros., Jabo & Scot,  of Northern Michigan. Yes there’s other musicians from that part of the world besides Kid Rock.

 

“Dream” is the Bihlman Bros. Magnum Opus off their amazing 2006 album American Son. It’s an epic, their “The End” (The Doors) , “Free Bird” (Lynyrd Skynyrd), “Twilight Zone” (Golden Earring) and not simply because it clocks in at a longer length of over 8 minutes. It’s beautifully atmospheric and feels as if emerging piercingly from deeper realms musically. It’s a soundscape study in sonic golden slumbers.

 

The opening chordal work takes on the morning dreariness of Pink Floyd’s “Us And Them” yawning from a proggy bed of Pete Townshend flavored low end musical Moiré pattern like on “Who Are You.” The intro alternative guitar overdub riff is a tasty nod to what I always dug about Kim Thayil’s playing style ever since “Hands All Over” and “Loud Love.”

 

And I absolutely love the descending middle eastern flavored riff that follows Jabo Bihlman expertly channeling his inner Kim. That descending dalliance down the fretboard made me an instant convert. You’d think I would have built up immunity towards it since The Cult’s “She Sells Sanctuary” and Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” Nope. Some things forever remain crack pipes to our ears folks.

 

Jabo then follows Grunge up with a blues riff concocting a unique blend of sound stew for frequent flyer ears. So we journey from early 1970’s psychedelic England to 1990’s Seattle to the Middle East to the Mississippi River delta in under 2 minutes. And that’s what I love about music. Travel through time and space without a pat down or boarding pass.

 

On “Dream,” I was sold before I even heard the chorus.

 

And the song unwraps yet another surprise. During the chorus at 4:22, Jabo gets into Chris Cornell territory and it’s powerful. The dynamics of going from more laid back delicate singing to this gargantuan vocal declaration of freedom shouted from high on a plateau somewhere in the deserts of the Arizona in our minds.

 

This track triggered musical memories from when I first got Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger and it became my new favorite album. Guitarist Kim Thayil (who interestingly claims much influence from Devo—yes “Whip It” good Devo) became an influence on my playing with his melodic use of abrasion and dissonance. And tension and resolution are the deep breathing of music.

 

The structure and various parts of “Dream” are quite interesting to delve deeper into to after repeated listening. It’ll hit you on the first listen, but when you slap the ear microscope on it, it’s even more interesting:

What’s impressive and satisfying about “Dream” is it’s edgy blues which I absolutely dig (SRV anyone?) mixed in with the seasoning of other more contemporary stylings while done seamlessly within the songs. It’s unnoticeable and not harshly abrupt like many a Prog tune, but that audience has a much higher musical tolerance for the WTF Factor in songs (the “Hey who cares man, they’re playing in 11/8 now!” mentality).

 

“Dream” flows in and out of what some may encapsulate as specific isolated styles. It’s all stardust people. Fusion is good. It’s got hard rock, alternative, and contemporary metal leanings.

 

The Bihlman Bros. song “Dream” is an incandescent stream of consciousness kaleidoscopic exposition into our inner spheres. It’s a study in dynamics as well as genres of music. “Dream” is a Rock n Roll rhapsody of raw and refined. Visualization is something I was taught as a music student to evoke different moods, feelings and memories, and this tune goes around the world in 8 minutes.

 

Elvis left the building escorted by the Dream Police a few decades ago. But you can do some Rock Star continent hopping of your own and fly Takin’ Care Of Business class anytime you like with music, the best travel companion there is.

© Composer Yoga


Related Posts To Check Out:
Closet Singles: Bihlman Bros. “American Son”

Recommended:
Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”

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Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”

If you’re a fan of the classic Prince sound congealed with his backing band The Revolution, you’ll definitely appreciate this lesser known track off the Parade album.

 

Released in 1986, Parade was the 8th studio album by Prince and also the final one with The Revolution. Tracks like “Mountains” are prized audio real estate since his passing for fans to nostalgically travel back in time to the 1980’s on a purple motorcycle.

 

“Mountains” starts off with the familiar Linn LM–1 drum machine used in several earlier Prince hits like “1999” and “When Doves Cry.” This drum machine was also used by other artists in the early 80’s as it popped up on Billy Idol albums as well—Say for instance, if you’re going to be dancing with yourself, you’ll probably need a drum machine.

 

“Mountains” was written by Wendy & Lisa with Prince which demonstrates just how much The Revolution was the integral formula that produced the classic 80’s Prince sound which reached it’s commercial peak with Purple Rain.

 

Prince’s earlier solo records didn’t have the same “real world” orchestration as when he was backed by The Revolution. Being a multi–instrumentalist although impressive, it’s still ALL YOU playing every instrument and this can be perceived by other musicians and astute listeners. Having other musicians play and collaborate with adds an additive synergy one person cannot create by themselves alone.

 

Case in point, Steely Dan could have recorded everything (keys, bass, guitars) by Walter Becker & Donald Fagen and used an electronic drum machine. Instead they hired the best A–list studio musicians in the business which made all their albums sound all the more varied than if the two did everything by themselves. That’s how one band can turn into and sound like a handful of bands with the same 2 core members.

 

Thankfully Prince realized this after a few solo albums as well. That he could still record all by himself in his home studio and also with a band. Each has it’s pros and cons but having both puts more globs of color on a artist’s creative palette. Then there’s the blatant reality that if your’re going to play out and perform live, you cannot just be a studio band—you’ll have to have an actual band so you might as well have a group of other musicians to bounce ideas off.

 

Another thing is you can only overdub yourself so many times before it becomes overkill and listeners want to hear another biological entity vocalizing something—like that chimpanzee in the beginning of Michael Jackson’s “Off The Wall” for instance.

 

Outside of Freddie Mercury and Brad Delp of Boston, there’s not too many singers that still sound cool nuanced and interesting overdubbed 20 times. Having two or more vocalists creates tension and resolution within a song and having male and female vocalists adds another layer to the audio onion. Prince nailed this concept on “1999”; If only one vocalist sung the entire song it wouldn’t have had the same impact and appeal. There’s not too many songs like “1999” that use 3 vocalists to split the verses.




“Mountains” only reached the #23 slot on the US Billboard charts, but it’s definitely a buried track in Prince’s catalog that deserves greater recognition. The earlier single released from the Parade album “Kiss” became more popular having become a #1 hit. However, I prefer the groove and mood of “Mountains” as it has more emotional depth and introspection than “Kiss.” It holds up better for me during repeated listenings and on replay which helps to “get inside the song” and integrate a song into your life.

 

“Mountains” is a “sister synth” song to “1999” and “I Would Die 4 U.” It uses the same Prince falsetto we all know and love as in “Kiss” but it’s a more seriously toned falsetto instead of a “playful south enough of lecherous” for AM radio one. “Mountains” is the track where Prince unleashes his full array of vocal tricks. It has the trademark Prince Wooo!! like on “Let’s Go Crazy”, the Owww!, and the Purple Banshee Screams like on “When Does Cry”:

 

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Guitars and drums on the 1 Huuuh!!!

“Mountains” is my favorite song off the Parade album and the track I listen to most frequently in several of my iPod mixes. Plus I always dug the lyric “Once upon a time in a haystack of despair” in the song’s second verse. It evokes a cool jagged image where I wonder why any metal band hasn’t jumped on writing a song called “Haystack Of Despair.” If there’s a “Harvester Of Sorrow” according to Metallica, then it follows logically there should damn well be a “Haystack Of Despair” right? Nuff said.

 

“Kiss”, with it’s stylized falsetto, is like a hybrid pop/novelty song—it’s like Prince walked the fence between those two genres on that track, which isn’t surprising as he was never the poster boy for musical purists. He lived to experiment in the Paisley Park fire pit and create new sound stews. And besides, blind obedience to purism and “genre parameters” makes for a lower ceiling on Creativity. And that leads to starvation like what’s whispered towards the end of “Mountains” before the fade out. If there’s Diamonds And Pearls and Gold Experience in them there hills, my ear definitely hears some Purple Rain in them “Mountains.”

© Composer Yoga


Related Posts To Check Out:
The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code
Prince Joke (Little Red Corvette)
Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince
First Recording Of Purple Rain In America
Talking To Your Bandmates During The Song Vol. 1

Recommended:
Sound Mines: Bihlman Bros: “Dream”




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