Tag Archives: David Bowie

Awesome 80s Albums You May Have Overlooked

Count me among the minority who truly likes all genres of music and yes, no ones going to drive a bulldozer over my disco CD’s either. F*ck no. Not Donna Summer! Not Saturday Night Fever! I’ll be like the famous photo of the student in Tiananmen Square facing the tank. And a guitarist friend of mine who’s toured with Arlo Guthrie and other Folk legends like Willie Nelson will join me in solidarity and brotherhood here as he is a die hard Bee Gees fan too. So there. Say what you want about Barry Gibb’s “faggy falsetto” voice in misdirected machismo, he’s a great songwriter. Grease is the Word, brothers and sisters. Barry wrote that. See now you can’t possibly make fun of him out of ignorance anymore.

 

Okay. Moving on. Since plenty of my family and friends are 80’s freaks, I felt it appropriate to give out some suggestions for 80’s music lovers everywhere still lost in the land of Loverboy headbands. Which by the way yours truly has seen and they are fantastic as well as TONS of fun live.

 

Actually, the Archangel of 80’s music, Archangel Flockofsegulliel commanded me to enlighten the masses an iota (technically, more than a tad). So it is by Divine Decree I write this article. You’re probably asking “So how’s things in your padded cell?” Couldn’t be better. Cable TV, internet. Thanks for asking.

 

Anyhow, another reason that lead to this list was a musical comrade and I were talking about our Desert Island Discs, a concept of which has since been negated by the invention of the iPod. I then thought about the more obscure albums most people don’t know about from the era of music known as New Wave or 80’s.

 

My friend rightly calls The Cure’s Disintegration “a gift to Humanity.” Indeed, but the average 80’s fan knows about that album. I’m partial to the Cure’s Faith too. It’s got the grooves I need to “Let the coolness flow into our vertebrae” in the words of a Mel Brooks film History Of The World Part I.

 

In fact, years ago I developed complications due to wisdom teeth extractions. I got a post op infection and had to take heavy painkillers every 4 hours. I remember one night sitting in my living room after the painkillers whisked me away to groggy land while listening to The Cure. Boy did Mr. Smith’s music make so much sense to me then. It occurred to me that I was very near to the state most of it was written in and from. Robert Smith has stated he doesn’t remember writing or recording the Pornography album because he was so strung out on heroin. My friend does a fantastic Robert Smith impersonation of this interview blurb complete with the British inflection “That’s the album I don’t remember writing.”

 

In the same vein (pun intended), author William Burroughs doesn’t remember writing Naked Lunch, the novel which gave Steely Dan their name.  Yes they remain the only Grammy Award winning act named after a dildo. So that said, let’s stop talking track marks and start talking tracks!

 

Saga

Worlds Apart (1981)

Heads Or Tails (1983)

Saga is an oh-so-underrated Canadian band that you should definitely know more about. This is intelligent yet danceable grooving Proggy New Wave from Canada. They do other things up there besides play hockey and drink Molson you know. Seems Billboard needs to be reminded that Canada exists from time to time.  Listener’s also need to be tipped off that there are other acts from the Great White North besides Rush, Bryan Adams, The Guess Who, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and Neil Young.  Oh and surprise, that other band I mentioned earlier, Loverboy also wear maple leaf underwear too.

 

Saga is reminiscent of the Power Pop style of The Outfield but with way more keyboards. I put them in the same category as far as energy vibe and positivity goes. They have over 20 studio albums in their catalog and have been recording for over 35 years. They’re only a one hit wonder to boneheads who wait to be spoon fed singles by MTV, commercial radio and record companies . They won a Juno award in 1982 (The Canadian version of a Grammy) after this album dropped for Most Promising Group Of The Year. Our friends Loverboy still hold the record for 6 Junos in one year, so rock those red Mike Reno headbands with pride kids because they are indeed a symbol of Canadian recording industry royalty.

 

Saga had two singles released that got some airplay off of Worlds Apart, their 4th album: “Wind Him Up” and their biggest single “On the Loose” which peaked at #26 on Billboard. However, in “On the Loose” much of the instrumental solo section was chopped off to fit the anal retentive 4 minute radio decree from Mount Sinai which is of course the Eleventh Commandment. One hopes the karmic entertainment in hell people for such song sushi chefs consists of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin, Golden Earring and the Grateful Dead among others. The Beatles fell from grace too with “Hey Jude.” Thankfully Saga was saved from eternal damnation here but you can hear the song in it’s entirety safely on the album.

 

Another track which I always groove out to on the album, “No Stranger” could have also been released as a single. But again, the slower intro/build section topping 2 minutes would have been seen as “dead space” to commercial radio and would have been chopped off by the radio station sushi chefs.

 

Another Saga album from the 80’s you should definitely own is Heads Or Tales. It perfectly showcases why I love the guitar player in this band, Ian Crichton. He has such a physicality to his licks, riffs and solos. Ian’s playing is very animated and slippery with notes and phrasing. Listen to my favorite tune off this album “Catwalk” for an example of this. There’s a visual animation to his style almost as if the music was made for a soundtrack to a film but can surely stand on it’s own without accompanying visual images.

 

By this I don’t mean overacted facial expressions, atomic windmills or overdone stage gestures. I’m talking about the Holy manipulation of soundwaves. The producer on these Saga albums was Rupert Hine. Yes, you may know the name from your The Fixx albums. What you don’t have any The Fixx albums? No Howard Jones either? You need remedial ’80s then. You can chew gum and throw paper airplanes in that course. This article is for those who know about the Journeys, Loverboys and Madonnas already.

 

For you ’80s 201 students, Rupert Hine is a Composer/Producer who has also recorded his own albums. They tend to be hard to come by. One of the songs you’re probably familiar with if you’ve seen a bunch of John Cusack movies is “With One Look (The Wildest Dream)” off the Better Off Dead soundtrack which plays during the end credits. This is a quirky classic 80’s movie I’ve seen probably 900 times:

 

“Two dollars!”

“Go that way really fast, if something gets in your way, turn.”

 

See I told you. Rupert Hine wrote much of original soundtrack and the title track mentioned here features The Fixx vocalist Cy Curnin and guitarist Jaime West-Oram. A Saga track on Heads Or Tales that sounds like it could have just as easily been a Fixx tune or a Rupert Hine solo track is “Scratching The Surface.” There’s often a lot of “musical overlap” with Producers and the groups they write and work with, and you can get a decent 80’s Fixx (haha) with any of these.




 

Tubeway Army

Replicas (1979)

A seeming technicality on the album release date of April 1979, but New Wave and the music considered ’80s actually started in the late 1970’s. Before you knew him singing about “Cars” Gary Numan was in this group. “Cars” is a classic 80’s track, a song where drums accent on the 4 and by a white British guy before 1980. Wow. I’m speechless.

 

Replicas is a science fiction epic which you can nicely zone out to. I heard this album on college radio and had to pick it up. Thanks WRPI!! College radio is a beacon of actual music variety even more so than internet radio which tends to be just one genre per station just like commercial radio.

 

Although Replica’s lyrics and themes are science fiction, don’t let that turn you off. It’s not inaccessible, overdone and definitely not 80’s campy (but still fun) as Styx’s Kilroy Was Here (Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto–Japanese for “Thank You Very Much…”). There’s some really cool keyboard work on Replicas as far as 80’s goes–several tracks on par or exceeding “Cars” in my opinion. That being because essentially Tubeway Army was pretty much all Gary writing. Some of my favorite tracks on Replicas are “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” which was released as a single and reached #1 in the UK, “You Are In My Vision”, “It Must Have Been Years”, and  the bonus tracks off the 1997 and 2008 Beggars Banquet reissues “We Are So Fragile” and “We Have A Technical.” The 80’s synth on this album will put a Miami vicegrip on your eardrums.

 

Utopia

Oblivion (1984)

P.O.V. (1985)

Utopia was a project of Todd Rundgren, another writer/producer known for singing “Hello it’s Me” and “Bang the Drum All Day.” Don’t we all Todd. And what do Grand Funk Railroad’s We’re An American Band and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell have in common? Todd produced those albums among others. Not too shabby for a boy from Pennysylvania hey? I guess Hall & Oates, CinderellaPaul Gilbert (Mr. Big) and Poison carried that states pride in the 80’s too.

 

Todd also wrote “Love is the Answer” and Utopia recorded it on Oops! Wrong Planet, then England Dan And John Ford Coley recorded it shortly afterwards and that’s the version everyone is used to hearing on the radio. Yup, the Carole King Effect strikes again.

 

The Carole King Effect: When you write a song, record it and later somebody else records it but makes 10 times the money you did.

 

Carole wrote it first dammit!! So if you want to protest outside BMI headquarters there’s some picket sign

suggestions.

 

Anyhow, 2 Utopia albums any 80’s collection is lonely without are Oblivion and P.O.V. Really any album by Utopia is worth checking out. Rhino records released a double CD a few years back called P.O.V., Oblivion & Some Trivia. It has both albums plus the 2 new tracks from the Trivia compilation album. This is a great starting point to get you into this under the radar late 70’s-80’s group. This CD is also worth it for the song “Fix Your Gaze.”

 

The 2 albums included on this release have some of the coolest Utopia songs on them. EVERYONE in Utopia sang lead vocals so you get a variety of singers and really fat full multi part harmonies. The musicians Todd had with him in Utopia were professional touring musicians and session players as well. Keyboardist/vocalist Roger Powell for one toured with David Bowie. Bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton toured with Meat Loaf (bassist on the Bat Out Of Hell album), Hall And Oates, and Joan Jett (was a Blackheart). So I’d say there’s a tad more than garage band creds here folks.

 

Some of the tracks on these albums that rock 80’s style are “Bring Me My Longbow”“Crybaby” ,“Welcome to My Revolution”  and “Winston Smith Takes It on the Jaw” from Oblivion and “Zen Machine” and “More Light” off of P.O.V. There’s plenty of lost 80’s gold buried on these albums. It’s like totally an 80’s tragedy that NONE of the tracks off of Oblivion were released as singles. There’s some absolutely slamming uptempo tracks like the ones listed above as well as some amazing slower introspective tracks like If “I Didn’t Try”“Maybe I Could Change” (which has a gorgeous piano arpeggio intro) and “I Will Wait.” Still, the album charted in the US at the number 74 position despite the lack of a single. If it had even one single, it would have climbed higher instead of getting lost in the oblivion of radio station shelves.

 

I’m not sorry I own any of these 80’s albums and you won’t be either. Mike Reno gives his blessing for you to own them as well. Some I found in bargain bins, which just goes to prove the old axiom one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and with music, one man’s earwax is another man’s earworm.

© Composer Yoga




 

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The Colors Of Rock: Songs

A list of songs on the palette making The Colors Of Rock (updated periodically)

18 Yellow Roses (Bobby Darin)
99 Luftballons/Red Balloons (Nena)
All Cats Are Grey (The Cure)
Baby Makes Her Blue Jeans Talk (Dr. Hook)
Back In Black (AC/DC)
Bad, Bad Leroy Brown (Jim Croce)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Black Celebration (Depeche Mode)
Black And Blue (Van Halen)
Black Cat (Janet Jackson)
Black Cow (Steely Dan)
Black Diamond (Kiss)
Black Is Black (Los Bravos)
Black Night (Deep Purple)
Black Water (The Doobie Brothers)
Blue Collar Man (Styx)
Blue Eyes (Elton John)
Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (Willie Nelson)
Blue Jean (David Bowie)
Blue On Black (Kenny Wayne Shepard)
Blue Suede Shoes (Elvis Presley)
Bluer Than Blue (Michael Johnson)
Brown Eyed Girl (Van Morrison)
Brown Shoes (Frank Zappa)
Brown Sugar (The Rolling Stones)
Caribbean Blue (Enya)
Crystal Blue Persuasion (Tommy James & The Shondells)
Colour My World (Chicago)
Desert Rose (Eric Johnson)
Don't Eat the Yellow Snow (Frank Zappa)
Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue (Crystal Gayle)
Fade to Black (Metallica)
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John)
Green Earrings (Steely Dan)
Green Eyed Lady (Sugarloaf)
Green Green Grass Of Home (Johnny Darrell, Porter Wagoner, Bobby Bare, Tom Jones)
Green Light (Lorde)
Green Onions (Booker T. & The M.G.s)
Green Tinted Sixties Mind (Mr. Big)
Gold (John Stewart)
Golden Lady (Stevie Wonder)
Golden Slumbers (The Beatles)
Lady In Red (Chris Deburgh)
I Saw Red (Warrant)
Indigo Eyes (Peter Murphy)
It's Not Easy Being Green (Kermit the Frog)
Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini (Brian Hyland)
Little Red Corvette (Prince)
Mellow Yellow (Donovan)
Men In Black (Will Smith)
Midnight Blue (Lou Graham)
Mr. Brownstone (Guns N' Roses)
Orange Crush (R.E.M.)
Paint It Black (The Rolling Stones)
Pink Cadillac (Bruce Springsteen, Natalie Cole)
Pink Houses (John Cougar Mellencamp)
Purple Haze (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Purple People Eater (Sheb Wooley)
Purple Rain (Prince)
Red Barchetta (Rush)
Red House (The Jimi Hendrix Experience)
Red Sector A (Rush)
Red Skies (The Fixx)
Song Sung Blue (Neil Diamond)
Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree (Tony Orlando and Dawn)
Touch Of Grey (The Grateful Dead)
True Blue (Madonna)
True Colors (Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins)
Still Got The Blues (Gary Moore)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
White Room (Cream)
Yellow (Coldplay)
Yellow Flicker Beat (Lorde)
Yellow Submarine (The Beatles)

© Composer Yoga

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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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Nobody Told Me The Zen Of John Lennon

Sarasota Florida is home to several famous things: The Ringling Circus empire was headquartered there. It has a white sand necklace of beautiful keys off it's shore where you can drive from just north in Bradenton to Anna Maria island (AKA Anna Maria Key), onto Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach then onto Longboat Key down to Lido Key (perhaps do the Lido Shuffle if you want to get your Boz Scaggs on) and onto St. Armands Circle Key, Coon Key, Bird Key then back to mainland Florida in Sarasota. And just to the south is one of my favorite white sand beaches in the country, Siesta Key. I worked several weddings in the Sarasota area as Florida is one of the destination wedding locations in the United States. As an added bonus, you don't have to risk the retinal roulette of seeing an Elvis impersonator in a Speedo. The King did eat in a small restaurant there though so maybe that already happened.

 

Sarasota has one of the Unconditional Surrender sculptures by Seward Johnson located downtown. The 25 foot (7.6m) sculpture is in the likeness (but not an exact rendition) of the famous V--J Day photo taken in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstaedt of a sailor bent over kissing a nurse in the street. Sarasota was also the place where the In Cold Blood murders documented by author Truman Capote took place and of course where Pee Wee Herman was caught masturbating in an adult movie theatre. And speaking of Johnsons, it's also home to AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson and his wife Brenda. (I'll get working on my Segue Of The Year acceptance speech a bit later).

 

Sarasota is also home to the 3rd oldest automobile museum in the world: the Sarasota Classic Car Museum. The oldest car museum in the United States is the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan; The oldest car museum in the world is the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart, Germany in case you're having flashbacks of ZZ Top videos, Beach Boys tunes or old school Grey Poupon commercials. And speaking of Grey Poupon, the museum has John and Mable Ringling's Rolls Royce collection. There's a DeLorean like in Back To The Future though not as pimped out like Doc Brown's packing a flux capacitor. And Oh my God!, it has a Ferrari worthy of Thomas Magnum's Hawaiian print shirt and Jonathan Higgins' legendary high waters (a 308 GTS). All in all, the museum has more than 75 automobiles spanning over 100 years of automotive history under one roof. Perhaps the most famous however are 2 vehicles owned by John Lennon: his blue 1965 Mercedes coupe which he owned in England (the steering wheel was built on the "British" side by Mercedes), and the last car he ever owned, his white Mercedes station wagon which was "the Lennon family car." As I touched that car, I imagined seeing John and Yoko in it with Sean riding in the back. It was a connection to music history and to the man who wrote a song I remember loving as a kid long before I knew who he was---A song released years after his death and ironically, one he didn't intend to be the vocalist on.

 

"Nobody Told Me" was recorded during the Double Fantasy sessions, which turned out to be Lennon's best selling solo album. John Lennon would never see the success of it though---he wouldn't be there to receive his Grammy for Album Of The Year in 1981 either. Lennon was murdered by Mark David Chapman on December 8th, 1980 just 3 weeks after Double Fantasy was released. "Nobody Told Me" was in songwriter's limbo for several years as Yoko Ono mourned the death of her husband. In fact, "Nobody Told Me" was written for Ringo Starr as a track for his solo album Stop And Smell The Roses which was released the following year in 1981. Lennon intended Starr to be the vocalist and sang the song as a guide vocal/scratch track for Ringo to later re--record the song. But after Lennon's murder, Ringo chose not to include the song on his album.

 

In 1984, Yoko Ono released a collection of material recorded during and after the sessions for Double Fantasy called Milk And Honey, which became John Lennon's 8th solo album. So the version of "Nobody Told Me" that was released was essentially a demo by John Lennon for Ringo. Nobody noticed. Nobody told me it was only a demo. Even so, "Nobody Told Me" become the third single to break into the top 10 posthumously for John Lennon, it's highest chart position reaching number 5. The UK had to wait until 1990 for "Nobody Told Me" to be released there (this was before the internet became a daily necessity). Two other songs from the album, "Borrowed Time" and "I'm Stepping Out" were released as singles and overall, Milk And Honey reached #11 on the US album charts.

 

One of the things that grabs me about the song is it has some interesting lyrics:

There's Nazis in the bathroom just below the stairs

 

Huh? Nazi plumbers? I never knew this was what the lyric actually said when I was a kid hearing it on the radio. Some biographical info being John Lennon grew up in World War II England during Nazi attacks by the Luftwaffe and long range rockets. His middle name was Winston as in Winston Churchill, who famously made his "We shall never surrender" speech before the Battle Of Britain in 1940. Iron Maiden sample this speech as the intro to live versions of "Aces High", a track on their 1984 album Powerslave. Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill had a huge impact on British history last century and it's not surprising John Lennon bore the tribute in a middle name by his family. Even today, there's a bronze statue of Sir Winston in the park next to Big Ben and Parliament. The middle name happened to be a premonition as a few decades later, John himself became a "Sir" in 1965 though he returned his MBE medal (Members of the Order of the British Empire) a few years later to the Queen due to his protest of British support of the Vietnam War and Nigeria's Civil War (which was symbolic as doing so has no effect on your MBE status).

 

"Nobody Told Me" is probably the only top 10 pop song which mentions Nazis in the lyrics. Another similar reference that comes to mind is David Bowie's (and Iggy Pop's) 1983 single "China Girl" which charted at #10 and mentions "Visions of swastikas in my head":

I stumble into town just like a sacred cow
Visions of swastikas in my head
Plans for everyone
It's in the white of my eyes

 

John Lennon and David Bowie became friends after the breakup of The Beatles. Lennon, Bowie and Carlos Alomar (who was later in the band Arcadia, a Duran Duran side project) wrote "Fame" together which appeared on Bowie's Young Americans album and became his first #1 single in 1975. Lennon played guitar on the track. Lennon and Ono had December 9th tickets to the play The Elephant Man on Broadway which David Bowie was starring in. So did Mark David Chapman. Bowie was on Chapman's hit list as well. Bowie performed the show that night with 3 empty seats in the front row. John Lennon was a victim of fame; David Bowie almost was too.

 

"Nobody Told Me" also mentions the capital city of Nepal, Katmandu:

There's a little yellow idol to the north of Katmandu

This puts it in the company of a few other songs which mention the exotic locale: Bob Seger's 1975 single "Katmandu" off Beautiful Loser, and the 1976 Rush single "A Passage To Bangkok" off 2112:

Pulling into Katmandu
Smoke rings fill the air
Perfumed by a Nepal night
The Express gets you there

Lennon wrote this lyric about the yellow idol in the poem The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God by J. Milton Hayes. In contrast, Rush is singing about enjoying sampling fatties the world over making "A Passage To Bangkok" a kind of THC Tour on a Rock 'N' Roll rickshaw.

 

But the most interesting reference in the lyrics is actually based on a true story:

There's UFOs over New York and I ain't too surprised

Back in 1974, John Lennon and then companion May Pang (still in his "Lost Weekend" phase separated from Yoko) saw one from their terrace overlooking east New York. They had moved back to New York from California and rented a penthouse on 434 East 52nd street. The circular object was floating over the city within a hundred feet away from them. Lennon told photographer Bob Gruen (who took the famous "New York City" shirt photo of Lennon) who later called the local police because Lennon didn't want to for obvious reasons. The police informed Gruen that there were 3 other reports of the object. The Daily News printed that 5 people reported seeing the object near where Lennon and May Pang had their apartment. Lennon "officially" documented his sighting in the liner notes of Walls and Bridges released later in 1974:

"On the 23rd August 1974 at 9 o'clock I saw a U.F.O. - J.L."

UFO's were also showing up in lyrics in the 80's. Greg Lake sang of them in "Touch And Go" off the 1986 album Emerson, Lake & Powell:

All systems go friend of foe
You're caught up in the middle where the four winds blow
Come without a warning like a U.F.O.
You're runnin' with the devil it's touch and go

Many people claim to have seem UFO's---what makes John Lennon's sighting unique was that he was naked at the time. Would the Air Force have to file those under "Project Nude Book?"

 

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"Nobody Told Me" was written by a more mature John Lennon who was in a much better headspace. It's a happier side of Lennon---it's the Lennon who's dealt with some of his his demons, a Lennon who's accepting things in life, a Lennon with greater perspective.

 

Lennon's early life wasn't a fairy tale like the Fab Four Fantasy the world cast him and 3 others into. His father left them then came back into his life and forced John to make a decision between his parents as a 5 year old. As a result, young John Lennon became a troublemaker in school, acted out and was jealous of others who had a stable family. Later on this factored in his competitiveness with Paul McCartney and him not being the greatest father to his first son Julian since he had no good role model himself. The worst tragedy of his youth happened when he was 17: Lennon's mother was hit by a car and killed. Lennon was still grappling with these issues when Hurricane Beatlemania made landfall in all their lives.

 

During his Beatles tenure, Lennon became a proponent of peace partly to confront things about himself he grew to no longer like and approve of: His anger, chauvinist attitude, and violence against his first wife Cynthia. This was written about in the Beatles song "Getting Better" off of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967:

I used to be cruel to my woman
I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved
Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene
And I'm doing the best that I can (Ooh)

 

After The Beatles broke up, Lennon's past wounds had an open calendar to come to the forefront. His heroin addiction, problems in his marriage with Yoko, led to him going to California kind of like the Led Zeppelin song with an aching in his heart. Lennon went with his assistant May Pang (whom he was having an affair with Yoko's knowledge & blessing) for what was later known as his "Lost Weekend" which amounted to a year and a half "college drinking binge" with singer Harry Nilsson (famous for "Everybody's Talkin'", 1969).

 

Lennon came out of the "Teenage Wasteland Woods" of the early 70's a different man as can be heard in his later solo works. These were the first songs I came to know John Lennon as an artist: "Woman", "(Just Like) Starting Over", and "Nobody Told Me."

 

"Nobody Told Me" is a deceptively light, playful tune. The bounce in the verse makes you think it just came from a 1950's trampoline (perhaps on that DeLorean mentioned earlier). That swing and bounce on "Nobody Told Me" match the bass thumbprint of the guilty party, session ace Tony Levin. Levin recorded several monster Art Rock albums with Robert Fripp in King Crimson in the 1980's among them Beat, Three Of A Perfect Pairr and the amazing compound melodic intricacies of Discipline. Levin's contribution to this John Lennon tune just demonstrates how Musician's Musicians can rock a pop song and make it even better.

 

"Nobody Told Me" uses a series of images like Sting later used to great effect on "King Of Pain." Lyrically, it's a word/concept play with imagery of dichotomies and contradictions. It's like a Zen tale and narration of the human condition and observing society with a degree of detachment. It poses contradictions of human behavior to ponder over like the famous Zen koan (a paradoxical anecdote used to meditate beyond the logical mind), "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

 

Word play and concept play are literary devices no stranger to poetry and lyrics. The Byrds "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (originally written by Pete Seeger---verse taken from the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes, 1st 8 verses of the 3rd chapter) released in 1965, and Pete Townshend's "Face The Face" released in 1985 off of White City: A Novel are some ancient and modern examples of this. "Nobody Told Me" is most similar in concept though to Howard Jones' "No One Is To Blame" (Dream Into Action, 1985) where both begin by proposing an activity/event then a corresponding contrast, failure or denial.

 

Regardless of the problems and torment he encountered in his personal life, there's a joy, happiness in this song I always loved. It's present in the lyrics and especially the strummed chords after both choruses that sends me soaring. It's the part after John sings:

Strange days indeed -- strange days indeed

Strange days indeed -- most peculiar, mama

This is the emotional center of the song for me. It's the part that caught my heart as a kid, it's the part that exhales into the comforting vastness of existence.

 

After his death, John Lennon was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: In 1988 for The Beatles and in 1994 as a solo artist. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1987. As a kid I heard his songs. As an adult I walked across Abbey Road and touched John Lennon's last car. That's about as full circle as I'll ever get to John Lennon. But music is an intimacy that doesn't recognize time or space---on some level we've already met.

 

Music brings needed levity to the world and reminds us on deeper levels that we are more than we think we are. The beauty of music is you can do this with a few chord combinations and it will have meaning beyond the songwriter and the song---it will affect people you'll never meet, affect them in ways and depths beyond your understanding, and affect them long after you leave the planet. Music is ALWAYS more than the sum of it's parts. If you listen closely and repeatedly, you can hear whispers of something beyond. There's a bit transcendence embedded within even simple pops songs and I'm convinced "Nobody Told Me" is the sound of one Beatle clapping.

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Laugh Tracks: Frank Zappa “Baby Take Your Teeth Out”

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Quite possibly the greatest pop song ever written. Ok, next to “Wooly Bully” by Sam The Sham And The Pharaohs of course. Musically you think “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” is going to bubble gum land then the lyrics take you on a 180 degree comical detour. Surprise! It’s a journey to gum job land. When I first heard “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” (it’s my music teacher’s fault for introducing me to Frank Zappa) I couldn’t believe anyone would write a song about this. As I got more familiar with the Frank Zappa catalog, nothing seemed to be off limits for Frank’s comedic salvos even a tale of gum jobs in your golden years.

 

Only Frank Zappa could write Bubble Gum Pop about Gumjobs—YES someone actually wrote a song about the Golden Years besides David Bowie.

 

“Baby Take Your Teeth Out” is a track off the 1984 Frank Zappa album Them Or Us, the 40th official release from Zappa and crew. It’s bouncy happy music that goes where eagles wouldn’t dare. It sings joyfully of taboos that most talk shows wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole save Howard Stern and Jerry Springer. But on the bright side, the recommended practice of “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” just may get a safety endorsement from AARP bringing greater awareness to denture etiquette. And unlike Stern and Springer, Frank Zappa put nursery rhyme calibre lyrics affixed to the Polident bedrock of sunny Beach Boys musical sensibility:

The opening lyric “Moo–Ahh” by itself is funny. It becomes the catchphrase our narrator employs to mark his territory as the pimp daddy OG daddy mack of the song: Senior moments such as these need some reminding. In a larger context, it becomes another call of the Zappa Army among the zany eccentric lexicon he donated to the world.

 

“Baby Take Your Teeth Out” is dirty Doo–Wop complete with full bodied male/female backing vocals. It’s another example of some fine Frank Zappa satire and parody of a musical idiom. The opening track on Them Or Us “The Closer You Are” is a cover of the Earl Lewis and Morgan “Bobby” Robinson Doo–Wop song recorded by The Channels done in a serious tone (well for a Frank Zappa tune anyway) and minus lyrics about the joys of geriatric fellatio. This song reminds me of the 50’s classics “Venus” by Frankie Avalon (1959) and “Johnny Angel” by Shelley Fabares (1962). “Be In My Video” is another Doo–Wop style song that’s in the halfway house between Frank Zappa parody and Frank Zappa serious (lyrics comedic, music serious). Zappa takes on the role of narrator between the full rich 50’s style harmonies. There’s a cute little tribute to Astronomer Carl Sagan in the lyrics if you can find it:

 

Atomic light will shine
Through an old Venetian blind
Making patterns on your face,
Then it cuts to outer space

With it’s billions & billions &
Billions & billions and…

 

The “With it’s billions & billions…” part is the Carl Sagan bit based on a quote from him. This track also has the obligatory (and perhaps parodic in the Zappa World) sax line and a falsetto reminiscent of the song “Stay” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (1960–the version used in the film Dirty Dancing) and later covered by Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons (1964). “Be In My Video” also has some Moo–Ahhs thrown in too because it was so much fun a few tracks ago.

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Ike Willis of “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” and “Fembot In A Wet T–Shirt” fame off the amazing album Joe’s Garage takes lead vocal duty on “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” with his deep resonant bass range. The most hilarious part of the song for me is the bridge section which jumps forward a few decades in a time warp to progressive rock. At the :50 second mark, the tempo slows and a synth horn fanfare sound something Keith Emerson would have programmed into his Jenga stack of keyboards forms the atmospheric bed our narrator can recline and partake in his ultimate tooth fairy fantasy:

 

C’mon, baby
That’s what I like
Yeah…Well, c’mon
Mmm…yeah…Moo–Ahh
The way you handle that
No, oh baby
Don’t mind them blisters
On your hand
Moo–Ahh

 

Ike Willis was doing a Barry White impersonation that they later referred to as “Barely White.” The bridge section was actually done with Ike’s tongue taped to his mouth to get a more comical effect and to get that coveted senior citizen sensual slur. In fact, Ike’s alter ego “Barely White” was born during the session of “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” and fortunately has a full set of teeth.  The last bit of narration in the song is also a cute quip at denture care and maintenance:

 

Go ahead and eat the label
Boiling water kills germs
Mmm–hmm…Yeah
I told ya!!

 

“Truck Driver Divorce” is a country parody song on the album which also uses this same prog morphing formula that gets very fusiony. It’s almost like Mahavishnu Orchestra walked onstage during the the song and the country band was too intimidated to return and just went back to their hotel. And speaking of virtuosity, believe it or not, “Baby Take Your Teeth Out” includes Steve Vai on guitar although playing sparsely and way under his capabilities as it’s intended as a parody of a simple pop song. The track “Stevie’s Spanking” is more on par with what you’d expect Vai to bring to the table next to the dentures in “Baby Take Your Teeth Out.”

 

Them Or Us also had 3 of Frank Zappa’s children involved in it: Dweezil and Moon performed on it and Ahmet co–wrote the track “Frogs with Dirty Little Lips” with his father. Them Or Us happened around the time of the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) witch hunt hearings. As a result, Frank Zappa wrote a satiric warning that it contained content that a truly free society wouldn’t fear or try to suppress. There was also a guarantee that the lyrics won’t “cause eternal torment” in hell. If anything, it’s made my stomach sore from laughing as many Frank Zappa songs have.

 

“Baby Take Your Teeth Out” never made a Hallmark card but the funny thing is, you know it’s been uttered in human history by someone in moments of hot sloth–paced amourous abandon. It’s been a closet romantic phrase that’s in a sex talk museum (renamed the “Talk Dirty To Me” museum post Poison) now with the advent of superior dental technology like ceramic restoration with titanium implants. So enjoy a hearty laugh, don’t forget to take your B12,  and when you win Thursday night bingo, give a proud Moo–Ahh! from bubble gum job land.

© Composer Yoga

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Primal Scream Therapy: Deep Purple “Woman From Tokyo”

This series highlights those masters of intestinal intensity and the tracks they do it on: The lion roars in rock, metal, and other genres of music; The bonecrushing Banshee screams, throat thunder, diaphragm hammers, and sonic salvos from the lungs of Zeus. We’re not down with PYT here…we’re down with PST, so let’s get on that ferocious Freudian couch and show me a Roar Face!!

 

Today’s appointment is with Dr. Ian Gillan, vocalist of Deep Purple and Jesus Christ Superstar alum, and his prescription is a certain unidentified “Woman From Tokyo.” This therapy was first originated and practiced in 1973 on the album Who Do We Think We Are. As a testament to it’s potency and efficacy, this therapy made Deep Purple the top selling musical act in the United States that year. Clients were lining up to buy the new Woman From Tokyo (WFT) prescription therapy like it was a midnight HDTV sale at Walmart or the latest weight loss supplement the Dr. Oz zombies were told about the previous day’s episode.

 

Years before David Bowie had a China Girl, Ian Gillian had a Woman From Tokyo and long before he was Knocking At Your Back Door, Ian was knocking at your eardrum. If memory lane isn’t all that foggy, I think I first heard “Woman From Tokyo” being played by my father’s brother one day when we went to visit him. Either that or while I hanging out at an older neighbor’s house and it’s a safe bet to guess it wasn’t Mister Rogers. I am clear however, that the first time I heard a woman from Tokyo was in a Godzilla movie.

 

“Woman From Tokyo” fascinated me with its arrangement, mixtures of style and tempo changes. Deep Purple pianist/keyboardist Jon Lord became one of my early keyboard heroes as I was a classical piano student and could hear the influence in his playing. Many times after completing my John Thompson’s Modern Piano Course lesson or lessons for the week, I’d have my music teacher show me some classic rock riffs and one fine day (a Thursday evening) he showed me Ritchie Blackmore’s opening guitar riff in E major.

 

What made Jon Lord appealing to me was he played several styles often within the same song more so than his other classically trained 70’s Dr. Terwillikers and virtuoso ivory ticklers like Rick Wakeman (Yes) and Keith Emerson (The E in ELP) whom I was also into. I loved Classical Piano yet also had loads of fun ripping up Ragtime and Jazz and Jon Lord seemed a kindred spirit in stylistic exploration and fusion of new musical stews.

 

Jon Lord’s classical flourishes and textures in the cantabile middle section of the song are like listening to a mini ballet or geisha performance where you can visualize a music box dancer version or bobble head of the unnamed mystery Woman From Tokyo. There’s chiffon and chaînés turns visually as it tapers off into the ether before Mr. Blackmore’s guitar alarm clock takes us out of our momentary reverie. Ian Gillan sings delicately here in a kind of rock aria, the calm of the storm before the Woman From Tokyo tsunami hits us a bit later. There’s some vocal preludes to the money earshot earlier in the song before the big kahuna scream makes earfall.




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Where Jon Lord really earns his paycheck on Woman From Tokyo is with the euphoric celebratory pseudo southern Honky Tonk bluesy outro solo. I’ve always LOVED this part—it’s a jam that gives the song an injection of pure elation, infuses a nice “lift” as it ends like Chicago’s “Feelin’ Stronger Every Day,” which coincidentally also came out in 1973.

 

The money earshot happens around the 3:57 mark when Ian sings “I get high” and goes supersonic on the word high, then goes back to normal gritty burly muscular lead vocals. He goes from ballsy to blood–curdling in one word. When I first heard “Woman From Tokyo”, Ian Gillan’s scream made my hair stand and still does creating a psychic mohawk at the specific moment:

Over 4 decades later, that Woman From Tokyo still turns heads and plenty of dog ears. Hopefully she can help Ian with some Japanese lessons and get him to pronounce Tokyo in 2 syllables instead of 3. Perhaps she can even tutor Jon Bon Jovi as he grew up mispronouncing it on “Tokyo Road” off of 7800° Fahrenheit, the appetizer album before the megahit Slippery When Wet. Jon seemed too busy on tour for Japanese lessons and erred once again on the Slippery When Wet track “Raise Your Hands.” Thankfully we all learned to say “Bonsai” correctly thanks to The Karate Kid. Maybe we should watch Godzilla movies more often as well—then again, it didn’t seem to help Blue Öyster Cult either. But sometimes, it seems Bonsai’s does matter.

© Composer Yoga


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Closet Singles: Hall & Oates “You’ll Never Learn”

This is the inaugural installment of a segment where we’ll highlight songs that “Coulda been a contender.” Don’t feel sad there Marlon Brando, you WERE a contender having been mentioned in David Bowie’s “China Girl.” These are songs we refer to as “Closet Singles” and aim to sing their praises and give them a coming out party almost as good as Diana Ross could.

 

What usually happens with a musical duo is one becomes the lead vocalist in the eyes of the public, or as in this case, Private EyesSimon & Garfunkel, Loggins & Messina, Hall & Oates.

 

This holds true even if the other part of said duo CAN and does sing. Even so if the duo records albums with each trading lead vocals on various tracks like Hall & Oates regularly did on their albums.

 

Why does this happen? Well, with hit singles, record company marketing and desire for ROI (Return On Investment) heavily influence this.

 

Once a song becomes a major hit, that’s the lead singer—that’s the map, the formula: repeat the previous success in the future for their bottom line as well as for listeners wanting to hear the next song by whatever act with that same lead vocalist.

 

Strangely, Hall & Oates first well known single, “She’s Gone” off their 1973 album Abandoned Luncheonette was with John Oates on lead vocals and Daryl Hall secondary.

 

Technically, it’s actually a dual lead vocal line in the verses—Daryl doubles John with a falsetto but since it’s high and thin aurally, John’s deeper voice takes precedence in the auditory foreground then they trade for a “call and response” chorus.

 

A few years later however, after “Sara Smile” and “Rich Girl”, their first number one single, it was pretty much all singles with Daryl Hall on lead vocals and John Oates as backing vocalist.

 

Record companies use the same formulas of established success within bands as well as in the industry as a whole—think boy bands and rest assured, there’ll be new ones for every generation. They might even outlive cockroaches & Keith Richards.

 

They also follow this template with previously successful artists—they re–market, repackage, resell “them”, that style to new generations. An example of this is Lady Gaga.

 

When I first listened to her Born This Way album, a woman I worked with asked me what I thought of it. My first reaction was “They’re Madonna songs sung by someone else.” I could totally see why Lady gaga was being backed by and was a priority artist on a record company’s roster.

 

You can see and hear how they follow previously successful formulas and sign artists that fit this sound/style and/or groom their talent pool more in that direction because they do not want to take chances. Taking chances is a business risk and they want a sure predictable return on their investment.

 

So it is with the first hit single—for Daryl Hall & John Oates it was “Sara Smile” with Daryl Hall at the helm. It seems “She’s Gone” just wasn’t a big enough single to perk their ROI radar. If it had, they’d have been looking for the next single with John Oates on lead vocals, and that’s where this installment of Closet Singles comes to the much belated rescue.




That song is “You’ll Never Learn” which is also off the same album as their first #1 single “Rich Girl”—their 1976 release Bigger Than Both Of Us. If you love Hall & Oates like I do, you’ll love this song. It’s another great example of John Oates the vocalist, how there was another “She’s Gone” in the batting cage, waiting to get another chance at bat to become a hit.

 

“You’ll Never Learn” showcases John Oates’ range and intensity alongside solid lyrics and orchestration. His vocals on this capture that sublime sense of awe—his nuance and tasteful use of falsetto makes this melody soulfully soar:

“You’ll Never Learn” is a flat out great Hall & Oates song that never met the airwaves—it’s a great song for ANYONE that few people know about.

 

Now picture a Parallel Pop Song Universe. Imagine if John Oates was a solo artist and released “You’ll Never Learn.” If you have hairspray induced amnesia or if I used The Force and made you forget Hall & Oates, what would your impression of this song in that context be?

 

I can say if this was a song I heard on the radio or saw on MTV, Solid Gold, The Midnight Special, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, etc., back then, I definitely would have bought the hypothetical John Oates album She’s Gone And You’ll Never Learn it was off of.

 

Which brings us to another point—The dynamics of a duo are different: Batman is more likely to have a successful solo career than Robin.

 

Think about bands that have/have had one or more lead vocalist:

Chicago
The Eagles
Kiss
Fleetwood Mac
Journey
Toto




These are just some well known ones that come to mind. Notice how it’s more permissible and acceptable to vary vocalists with the industry and audience AS A BAND than if you are known and billed as a duo?

 

In the case of Fleetwood Mac, it’s not only 2 different female vocalists, but also a dude in the mix: Lindsey Buckingham. They had songs chart with each different vocalist including songs with split vocals like the anthem “Don’t Stop” off their Grammy Award winning Rumours album.

 

Following this strategy and seeming recording industry/audience loophole, say for instance the songwriting duo Hall & Oates called themselves by a band name instead. I mean Steely Dan was mainly 2 guys and could have went by the duo name Becker & Fagen.

 

Lets work some revisionist history magic and say Hall & Oates called themselves by what they coined their own style of songwriting & music: Rock N Soul. Since they were from the Philadelphia area, let’s add that to the mix as well. So they are now known as “Philly Rock & Soul” after Marty makes it back in Doc’s DeLorean or PRS for short.

 

This is assuming Paul Reed Smith guitars (PRS) doesn’t have a problem with that. What then? Well now the duo bias and audience ADD is removed and PRS can have hit singles with more than one vocalist doing leads. Furthermore they can each have successful solo careers afterwards like Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Peter Cetera, Ace Frehley, etc.

 

…And they can all live happily ever after with Rich Girls.

 

So if Batman & Robin should happen to read this, they should call their band the “Caped Crusaders” instead of “Batman & Robin” ensuring both may have successful solo careers sans capes, masks & spandex later on in the Gotham City music scene.

 

Perhaps they could even do a cover of Steve Miller’s “The Joker.”

© Composer Yoga


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