Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

Edge Of A Broken Heart: The Runaway Bon Jovi Song

As if Slippery When Wet could have gotten any bigger. Well it COULD have.

 

When we think of 80’s mega albums, Slippery When Wet rubs elbows with Thriller, Purple Rain, Make It BigMadonnaHysteria, Can’t Slow Down, Toto IV, Sports, Born In The U.S.A., and Back In Black.

 

The Bon Jovi Holy Grail spent 8 weeks at #1 (Billboard), 38 weeks within the top 5 albums, became the best selling album in 1987, is among the 100 best selling albums (currently #48) in the United States, and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide.

Richie Sambora’s white Fender Stratocaster

 

Those of us who lived through the New Jersey invasion of the airwaves from Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen, remember the 4 singles from Slippery When Wet:

 

You Give Love A Bad Name” (#1)
“Livin’ On A Prayer” (#1)
“Wanted Dead Or Alive” (#7)

 

The above trifecta here gave Slippery When Wet the notable distinction of being the first Glam Metal/Hard Rock album to have 3 top 10 hits. The Hair Metal floodgates opened from there. It was indeed a great time to own stock in Aqua Net.

 

The power ballad, “Never Say Goodbye” was released as the 4th single but not domestically so it wasn’t able the chart on Billboard’s Hot 100.  However it did reach #28 on another chart, the Hot 100 Airplay which measures how often a song is being played on radio stations and more recently streamed online as well.

 

That was the first missed opportunity for another official Bon Jovi single off of Slippery When Wet. The demand was certainly there. The second was “Raise Your Hands”, which was on the soundtrack of the classic 1987 Mel Brooks Star Wars spoof Spaceballsstarring John Candy as Barf, Rick Moranis as Lord Dark Helmet, and a pre Independence Day Bill Pullman as Captain Lone Starr.

 

The movie literally opens up with Bon Jovi. Can anyone picture flying a Winnebago in space without rocking out to “Raise Your Hands?” I mean what the hell did Han and Chewy do on the Millennium Falcon, listen to NPR and knit sweaters? Leave it to a comedy to portray something more accurate,

 

 

But the most egregious lapse in Bon Judgement was not including the amazing track “Edge Of A Broken Heart.” For whatever reason, it missed the tour bus for Slippery When Wet and has been thumbing for a ride in Bon Jovi limbo ever since. It’s a stronger song than many that were included on the album.

 

Slippery When Wet (1986) was the 3rd studio album from Bon Jovi, sandwiched between 7800° Fahrenheit (1985) and New Jersey (1988). It was also the first album they brought in songwriter Desmond Child who co-wrote the album’s 2 biggest tracks “You Give Love A Bad Name” (#1)
“Livin’ On A Prayer” (#1) with Jon and Richie as well as a few others. “Edge Of A Broken Heart” should have been on that list and on the charts.

 

For the longtime Bon Jovi fan or people who just know their songs from the radio, in either case the reaction is the same: WTF?! Why wasn’t this track [“Edge Of A Broken Heart”] released as a single?

 

Slippery When Wet (1986) had 10 songs on it of which 4 were released as singles. For comparison, other albums in this pre-CD era released more songs as singles from their respective albums as shown below:

 

Thriller (Michael Jackson, 1982) 9 tracks 7 singles all becoming top 10 hits, 8 Grammys, best selling album of all time
Can’t Slow Down (Lionel Ritchie, 1983) 8 tracks 5 singles.
Lionel should have released the title track “Can’t Slow Down” as well. It could have been his 6th single.

Back In Black (AC/DC, 1980) 10 tracks 5 singles
Sports (Huey Lewis & The News, 1983) 9 tracks 5 singles
Make It Big (Wham!, 1983) 8 tracks, 4 singles
Purple Rain (Prince, 1984) 9 tracks, 5 singles

Hysteria (Def Leppard, 1987) 12 tracks, 7 singles
Toto IV (Toto, 1982) 10 tracks 4 singles
Born In The U.S.A. (Bruce Springsteen, 1984) 12 tracks, 7 singles all becoming top 10 hits
Madonna (Madonna, 1983) 8 tracks 5 singles
Like A Virgin (Madonna, 1984/85) The 1985 reissue included “Into The Groove”, a track from the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan making the album 10 tracks with 6 singles

 




 

“Edge Of A Broken Heart” is chock full of classic Bon Jovi ingredients in their proprietary Jersey Shore stew: David Bryan’s keyboards, Sambora’s crisp crunchy power guitar parts, Jon singing a few long notes during the verses (the words “I’m” and “Now” in both verses of the song) teasing us for the bigger payoff we know he’ll deliver come chorus time.

 

The same kind of vocal hook was used in the verses of “You Give Love A Bad Name”:

Oh, oh, you’re a loaded gun
Oh, oh, there’s nowhere to run

 

This singing device is so Bon Jovi and we drink it up like like bacon flavored Kool-Aid, ready to become drooling rock zombies wearing overpriced tour T-shirts. The nutrition label on this track indeed gives us more than a full days RDA of RAWK—and you’ll still find yourself wanting second helpings of this lost hit.

 

There’s also the “Bon Jovi build” which starts up the song with Tico Torres drums, Sambora’s guitar riff and Bryan’s keyboard work until the band enters in for a full tidal wave of fun smiley 80’s rock before it recedes and gets calm again to let Jon sing about the latest fictionalized Femme fatale that crossed paths with a peaceful tour bus just trying to spread the Gospel of Rock & Roll. The lyrics even mention “Private Dancer” another classic 80’s hit/album from Tina Turner.

 

Then there’s the deluxe call and response vocal parts during the chorus between Jon and the band’s backing vocals giving us a double shot of satisfying volleyball of energy for the ears:

 

Bon Jovi Tickets

 

 

Rock chemists the world over have devised strategic formulas over the years and “Edge Of A Broken Heart” uses a tried and true mixture: The Root, Four, Five chord progression (AKA I IV V)—A classic example  being “Louie, Louie” by The Kingsmen.

 

Another well known chord progression is Root, Five, Four (I V VI) like Baba O’ Riley by The Who better known by as “Teenage Wasteland.”

Chords in Baba O’ Riley:  F  C  Bb  (1 5 4  or I V IV)

Chords in Edge Of A Broken Heart:  E  B  A     E  B  B  C#  A  (1 5 4   1 5 5 6 4  or  I V VI    I V V VI IV)

 

You can see and hear the first part of the chord progression is the same as Baba O’ Riley but just one note lower.

“Edge Of A Broken Heart” is also in the key of E Major like a few other classic rock tunes:

“Limelight” by Rush

“Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey

 

So Slippery When Wet COULD have had a total of 6 singles released by our count here.




Savvy Glam/Hair Metal fans will know the band Vixen also had a song in 1988 of the same name off their debut album Vixen which peaked at #26 .  This “Edge Of A Broken Heart” was actually written by two other 80’s vocalists/songwriters: Richard Marx and Fee Waybill of The Tubes. Richard Marx actually co–produced the album.

 

As you can see, the #MeToo movement back in the 80’s involved sharing each other’s hair care products as well as song titles:

 

 

But you can’t copyright a title. And Bon Jovi also has song called “Runaway” which Del Shannon had a hit with back in 1961. “Runaway” is one of the “Carpal Tunnel Classics” where there’s Eternal triplet notes for keyboard players like Toto’s “Hold The Line” where a bucket of warm epsom salt is a welcome spa treatment after a gig for your wrist.

 

A fun trivia tidbit here is Steve Vai is married to former Vixen bassist Pia Maiocco (playing the red guitar in the above video). They met at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Richard Marx makes a cameo as well at the 2:41 mark.

 

The Bon Jovi “Edge Of A Broken Heart” was included on the 1987 film Disorderlies starring The Fat Boys who are best known for the single “Wipe Out” (1987) with The Beach Boys doing back up vocals. It was a rap using The Surfaris 1963 hit instrumental of the same name.

 

And speaking of films, there’s an interesting connection with drummer Tico Torres. He was also a studio player for fellow New Jersey band Franke and the Knockouts who are best known for their 1981 hit “Sweetheart” which reached #10.

 

Namesake and lead singer Franke Previte also went on to have a few of his tunes appear in movies like his Bon Jovi brother. Previte is co–writer (along with John DeNicola and Donald Markowitz) of “Hungry Eyes” and “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life” which were the anchor tunes on the classic 80’s film Dirty Dancing (1987) with Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey.

 

The original versions were recorded by Franke and the Knockouts but went onto greater acclaim as covers by Eric Carmen (#4 in 1987) and Bill Medley (of The Righteous Brothers) & Jennifer Warnes (#1 in 1987) respectively. The later won an Academy Award, Golden Globe and a Grammy.

 

Looking back, 1986 and 1987 were great years for both New Jersey bands. And here we are some 30 years later coming full circle from when Bon Jovi seemingly took over the world on a steel horse. The funny irony of Slippery When Wet was that it had massive international success with one of the cheapest album covers EVER. Just a step up from Metallica’s The Black Album, where Jon write “Slippery When Wet” on a wet trash bag.

 

So with that, we extend an esteemed “Shock to the Hearty” congratulations to Bon Jovi for making it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Class of 2018. A photographer I know worked on the New Jersey tour and had nothing but positive things to say about them. It’s always a bonus when people who aren’t a bunch of arrogant egomanics get a deserved honor. Jon is an authentic humanitarian who has his own charity feeding homeless/low income people as well as homeless veterans:

JBJ Soul Kitchen (www.jbjsoulkitchen.org)

Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation (www.jonbonjovisoulfoundation.org)

 

Oh and Jon has stated this lost Bon Jovi tune should have been included on Slippery When Wet and actually apologized believe it or not. So they’ll have to answer for the “Edge Of A Broken Heart” transgression on Bon Judgement Day, but in the meantime, we can forgive them because we’ve found their missing runaway.

© Composer Yoga


Related Posts To Check Out:

Rock Star And Meditation Joke

Hair Metal Heaven: Cinderella “If You Don’t Like It”

Awesome 80s Albums You May Have Overlooked

Closet Singles: Billy Idol “Hole In The Wall”

Sound Mines: The Outfield “Taking My Chances”

Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”

George Michael: The Careless Whisperer

Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”

Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince

 

Recommended:

Hair Metal Joke (Hair Metal And Horror Movies)

Hair Metal Joke (Hair Metal Salad)

Prince Joke (Little Red Corvette)

The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code




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Entertainment Earth

Entertainment Earth

Celebrities And Fame: A Videographer’s Perspective

I’ve been backstage with members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I’ve shaken hands with Academy Award winners.

I’ve watched some guy other than Eric Cartman sing “Come Sail Away” from behind amp stacks on stage right while seeing thousands of people sing the words along with him.

I know people who’ve won some shiny awards the Entertainment industry gives out.

I know musicians who’ve played, recorded and toured with people everybody’s heard of.

I’ve videotaped people everyone’s heard of. Even that guy who’s enjoying a resurgence of popularity with his impersonation of Donald Trump periodically on Saturday Night Live.

 

But fame, from what I’ve seen, I can tell you it’s just like Freddie Mercury sang of in Queen’s “We Are The Champions”

 

But it’s been no bed of roses,

No pleasure cruise

 

So hence my observations on being around celebrities and how being in the limelight can actually be more like a lemon. Here’s some feedback on how to counteract the knee jerk fan attack and be a class act when you have a close encounter of the Celeb kind.

 

Hive Mind Over Manners

Treat Them Like People
Think about it. How do you want them to remember you (if they would)?

 

Ask Yourself, “How are YOU treating them?”
Like a real person? Respectfully like meeting anyone else you would for the first time or like a freshman girl at a frat party?

 

Treat Them As If You’ll See Them Again
From my experience, it DOES happen. I’ve been backstage with the same public figures years apart. In this case, you’ll be glad you didn’t behave like a dog trying to hump their leg for an autograph or selfie pic.

 

Backstage Etiquette 101

I’ve seen how most people act when they meet someone famous. The industry standard reaction for a picture and/or autograph. The total recall flashback memories. And you know what?

It’s CREEPY!!!

 

Hearing a fan talk about a version of a song from a a gig in Atlantic City 15 years ago along with the accompanying stage banter to the audience dialogue verbatim always sounds like a cross between Stephen King and Rain Man (the Oscar winning Dustin Hoffman movie) to me.

 

I’ve seen and overheard these “Fan Flashbacks”, and “Biggest fan foaming at the mouths.” At times I’ve wondered if I would have to transform from Videographer to Bodyguard–At–Large Power Ranger style because certain conversations turn and veer into Weirdville to my ears.

 

It’s like, do you remember every effing day of YOUR day job? Every single thing? Every early morning slightly comatose water cooler conversation?

 

Well, neither do they and you can’t expect them to. A couple hundred gigs a year, a couple thousand gigs later and it tends to become one gigantic blur to most performers. Long days on movie and TV sets with actors are the same way too.

“Unless Jesus appears atop a Marshall amp stack or Bigfoot crashes Camp Bisco, it’s doubtful performers will remember individual gigs.”

 

So don’t expect a musician to remember your favorite photographic moment from one little gig you saw them at.

 

To gauge how unrealistic and weird this expectation can be, try this simple test with a co–worker:

Ask “Hey, remember that staff meeting two years ago in May where you said “That’s a great idea Joe?'”
At the very least you’ll get an eyebrow raise and possibly a private visit to the HR Department asking you “If everything’s okay.”

 

These same conversations that fans think are acceptable with celebrities and famous people, sound like Steve Carrell’s off kilter character Brick Tamland in the Anchorman movies.

 

 

Being Stuck In Fan Mode
The problem with being stuck in “Fan Mode” when meeting celebrities is there’s no real conversation or connecting on an authentic level. It’s mass production cookie cutter human interaction. Even more so for the manufactured image shaping and enhancement Social Media generation who want to post the coveted “Hangin’ with a Celebrity” pic for like brownie points and response roulette on Facebook.

 

Same Old Song And Dance
In a sense, as a videographer, photographer or backstage/production crew, when you’ve met one famous person you’ve met them all. Don’t get me wrong, being around art is always exciting but the more celebrities you meet, the more it desensitizes you to the OMG! factor. It becomes “Yah, yah, it’s so and so and they really exist outside of TVs, silver screens and tabloids.”

 

Real Is What Real Does
When it becomes somewhat normal to be around celebrities and public figures, you can have genuine interactions with them like you have with your friends or next door neighbor. And that’s more important to me than a picture with someone who won’t remember my name 5 minutes from now.

 

The other thing is, celebrities actually appreciate it over being mobbed by swarms of air sucking vampires with needy attention tentacles.

 

The reason Forrest Gump met so many amazing people in his life is he had no projected needs, ulterior motives or preconceived expectations towards them. Be like Forrest.

 

Remember, you may see some of these people again. How do you want them to remember you? Would you want THEM to trust you around their kids and family?

 

So I don’t go for the selfie’s with celebs or autographs. But I’ve had real moments of conversation, handshakes, and camaraderie on the road. If you are a port in a storm to someone, life will return the favor when you need it.

 

Billboard Turned Cardboard
Years ago, I had a private tour of MTV Studios at One Astor Plaza (1515 Broadway/Times Square) in New York City. The shoot that day was cancelled but it was funny seeing the set left up from the day before. It was life–size cutouts of members of a boy band. And the MTV tour guide telling us of the contrast between having a few hundred screaming fans in that room and a few thousand outside the day before for the Backstreet Boys.

 

Think about how Fame looks from their perspective…

 

Do you want random people you don’t know to start talking shop to you?
It’s not even all that pleasant when they do know you and you’re not hugely famous. I used to get this when I headed up a non–profit years ago.

 

I’d be walking down the street outside my office before or after work and on weekends and it was like, “Where’s my Elephant Man hologram so people will just leave me alone!”

 

You wonder that you even have to tell people I AM OFF THE FREAKING CLOCK. But they don’t seem to get the hint even in street clothes, shades and a few days past a decent George Michael 5 o’ clock shadow.

 

When you’re a Celebrity and famous, you are NEVER off the clock in the minds of fans.

 

Not Every Celebrity/Famous Person/Public Figure Is A Social Butterfly And Blatant Extrovert
Often they’re overwhelmed with all the attention their talents have brought upon them. Often they’re really shy and introverted. But fame requires you to be an extrovert towards fans and various media outlets.

 

Often the side of them that got them famous is just a part of them, an act or adapted self. Michael Jackson is a classic example of this. Howard Stern said this about himself—about the “other” nature of his DJ Persona in his book Private Parts. He is not that person off the clock and doesn’t want to be “that Howard” 24/7. Being “on” all the time and being expected to be is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.

 

Everyone needs down time. Everyone needs privacy. Even your heroes.

Fame Is An Obligation
I’ve had famous people tell me about signing autographs in public restrooms. The standards of politeness with strangers go out the window and fans expect people to be “on” and accessible all the time.

 

In my travels, I’ve actually been mistaken by fans of certain artists who come up to me all nervous. They ask, “Excuse me, are you______?”

 

It’s strange and I’d quizzically say I wasn’t the person in question. They apologize and walk away. But if I WAS famous, they wouldn’t apologize for intruding on my time and personal space. Instead, they would call me rude, a jerk or an A–hole if I didn’t talk to them, give them an autograph or take a picture with them.

 

Double standard. BIGTIME.

 

One time in Orlando I got let in early to a Comic Con because I was mistaken for one of the actors on a panel (I have the same first name as he does and resemble him a bit). But the perks of privilege seem to be outweighed by the prisons of popularity.

 

Behind The Green Room Door
Several times before gigs going over the game plan and setlist for the evening performance, I’ve heard band tales of gigs past and road stories. The funny thing is, band road and gig stories are the same whether the musicians are famous or not.

 

The content is the same. You can close your eyes like a game show and try to guess whether the Jon or Joe being mentioned is Bon Jovi, Walsh or Jantkowski. If the Neil in the story is Diamond, Schon or Neidermeyer. If the Bruce mentioned is Dickinson, Springsteen or Billingsley.

 

For celebrities, life is not always like a box of chocolates. They do know what they’re gonna get, and it’s the same ‘ol song and dance most didn’t ask for and they’re tired of having to do. It’s a mindless Macarena they’re manipulated into going through the motions of by the Media Maestro behind the curtain.

 

Occasionally I’ve needed a spotter videotaping gigs because I’ve have my back to a pumped up somewhat inebriated audience. But I’m glad I don’t need a bodyguard to go buy blueberries and I can live peacefully in Springfield right across from The Simpsons. And all my D’ohs! aren’t plastered across tabloids in supermarket checkout lines.

© Composer Yoga

Entertainment Earth




George Michael: The Careless Whisperer

Just when we thought 2016 was done swallowing up celebrities, with just a week left in the year, we lose another. Then another. George Michael and Carrie Fisher. I can’t remember another year where more major musical figures exited the stage of life taking their final bows.

 

I mean David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Prince, and George Michael—Four of the most well known musicians on the planet. George Michael sold over 100 million albums which is even “more” considering he recorded far fewer studio albums in his career than the others listed. Whether you’re a fan or not, that’s a lot of albums and fans. That’s in league with acts like The Eagles, Queen, Chicago, Whitney Houston, The Rolling Stones and Mariah Carey and nearing fabled Beatles and Elvis territory. George Michael’s numbers will no doubt increase in the coming weeks as it did with Prince posthumously even causing an unreleased track on the 1986 album Parade, “Sometimes It Snows In April” to chart in several countries in Europe peaking at #14 in France.

 

The death of George Michael came as a surprise to me as it did many others.  I was visiting my brother later in the afternoon and saw it on my Twitter feed. I said to him George Michael just died. He didn’t believe it either. With all the recent talk about fake news stories on Facebook and Twitter like “Donald Trump Summits Everest” as well as discussion of verifying the accuracy of Tweets, at first I thought this was just another social media sucker punch celebrity death click bait. Then I googled and found a BBC article. George Michael gone too early at just 53 years old. Which means there’s songs not released yet and songs and projects unfinished.

 

George Michael won two Grammys: one for his debut album Faith (Album Of The Year) and one for his amazing duet with Queen Of Soul Aretha Franklin. He achieved eight #1 singles on Billboard charts during his solo career. He began his foray into pop culture with high school friend Andrew Ridgeley in the 80’s British pop group Wham!. The historical fun fact about Wham! was they were the first western musical act to perform in China. Make that allowed to perform in China as many types of music was still banned there at the time. That was 1985 and Chinese police were worried there’d be riots. Being trampled by teenage girls can be an occupational hazard. I know the feeling. A few years back, I went an Ingrid Michaelson concert and it was me surrounded by 400–500 teenage girls. I hung out back near the soundman until the end of the show then talked to friends of mine in her band when it was safe. I lived to tell about it.

 

I’m going to disregard the American Idol admonition “You shouldn’t have picked a George Michael song” and pick several of my favorites. Some were released as singles, some not. All showcase his incredible voice and adeptness at singing. It’s blatantly evident George Michael was far from a base model vocalist—with him our ears get the deluxe package with all the bells and whistles. There’s none of smoke and mirrors of autotune numerous pop stars depend on and which newer generations of music fans have become tone deaf to people who wield greater mastery of the art of singing like George Michael.

 

Last Christmas (Single 1984, included on Music from the Edge of Heaven 1986)


Last Christmas for George Michael. The bittersweet irony of George Michael dying on Christmas Day was not lost on Captain Obvious. It was another bizarre coincidence like Prince dying in an elevator after mentioning one in “Let’s Go Crazy.” Both occurrences with greater odds against them than if Elton John, a member of Chicago or the Bay City Rollers died on a Saturday.

George Michael and Wham! partner Andrew Ridgeley released “Last Christmas” on the heels of the massive success of their second album Make It Big. “Last Christmas” is one of those fun pop holiday songs that invites you, some would say addictively beckons you to sing along. Special. See? You know you love doing the backing vocal to it. And of all the Yuletide assaults on our ear canals in retail stores from November 24th til December 31st, I was always glad when the satellite radio roulette landed on “Last Christmas” when I was in a store. Just like when Michael Jackson died, MJ merchandise was everywhere only a day or so later and shop owners were moonwalking all the way to the bank. So don’t be surprised if you see Last Christmas or CHOOSE GEORGE apparel in stores soon.

 

Careless Whisper (Make It Big 1984)

 

Although Wham! was marketed as an early boy band (or more aptly a boy duo), when I got older, I could see how George Michael displayed a compositional maturity beyond his years. Case in point: “Careless Whisper.” I was even more impressed when I learned he wrote that famous haunting sax line when he was still a teenager. This was the first official solo from George Michael even though it was included on Make It Big. He and Andrew Ridgeley started writing this track several years prior and it’s the only one on the album where Ridgeley has a writing credit. The rest of Make It Big was all George Michael compositions.

 




Father Figure (Faith 1987)

 

George Michael had devastating nuances like Sade. “Father Figure” demonstrates how he could maneuver inside whispers. It’s one of the most believable love songs I’ve ever heard. It’s not surface pretty pop lyrics, it’s not idealized, it’s not some teenage or 20 something year old lamenting about love with miniscule life perspective—it’s a naked vulnerable exposure beyond what teeneyboppers and young pop stars could pull off. I listen to this track and see how George Michael is actually living inside these lyrics and delivers fine point precision singing with a degree of authenticity they cannot replicate. Put another way, I highly doubt even if they could write lyrics as piercingly honest and revealing, they couldn’t sell the performance vocally as genuinely as George Michael does on “Father Figure.”

I hear songs first on the level of emotional depth. So even if this song was in a different language it still would have connected with me. Though now, as an adult I can see how the lyrics could be interpreted as references to gay culture. Back then I wasn’t privy to this since this over a decade before George Michael officially came out. And during his Wham! days and early solo work, he was still bisexual (which was kept from the press) and still writing songs about women.

 

Nevertheless, I just heard “Father Figure” as a great love song with rare solemnness and sincerity. It really didn’t occur to me at the time that a guy who had women like Tyra Banks in his videos was gay. Back then, for George Michael, life was like a Robert Palmer video. He didn’t publicly come out until that incident in a Beverly Hills bathroom in 1998—his Pee Wee Herman moment—both men caught masturbating in public. Michael made fun of himself and the incident in the music video for the single “Outside” by wearing an LAPD uniform, holding a nightstick and dancing in a bathroom pimped out like a disco. He didn’t take himself seriously, which is a blessing when you meet famous persons who are like this, but George Michael always took his singing seriously which is preserved in the sublime softness of this moment carved in sound. Rest assured in the future, some work(s) by George Michael will be selected by the Library of Congress to be included in the United States National Recording Registry joining the Steely Dan album Aja. I have Faith on that.

 

I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) 1987, Duet, Grammy

 

What’s better than a song by Aretha Franklin? A song with Aretha AND George Michael. It was the only time it happened and fortunately it was awesome. George got to sing with one of his heroes, one of his favorite artists. He definitely picked a great example to emulate and develop his own style. The pairing was also the biggest hit for Aretha Franklin reaching #1 on Billboard charts. Earlier on in her career Aretha got Respect. Sharing a mic with George Michael got them a Grammy. Coincidentally the song has the word Faith in it as well.

This song proves it doesn’t matter what color your skin is or what gender you are. It’s what’s inside you. George Michael had Motown and R&B coursing through his veins supplying his vocal chords with velvety richness and a buttery expressiveness. On the outside we saw a white British guy of Greek heritage. We heard something beyond all those temporary impermanent classifications when he sang. And this is such a beautiful contemporary spiritual/gospel flavored song disguised as pop tune with an infectious triumph and elation in the chorus hook.

 

Something To Save  (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990)

This song soars. It’s either a secular gospel song or a hymn in the First Church of George Michael. This track will bring tears to your eyes with it’s openheartedness. It was never released as a single but it’s definitely a George Michael track that deserves more attention that it got. His affectation, freedom, and expressiveness on this track show how George Michael could make singing into a religious experience. It’s like taking a glider ride on sighs.

Kobo Inc.




Waiting (Reprise) Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990

 

This is another track which was never released as a single. Although it’s short it contains some brutally confessional lyrics. And George Michael doesn’t devolve into sappy which all too often undermines the realness of a song. He expertly matches the singing to these really personal lyrics. He’s wasn’t just a singer, he was a songwriter and you can hear the difference—he’s singing his own words and experiences. The intimacy of this song is a reflection of self discovery. It’s daring and not the juvenile shock value kind, it’s delicate shades of gray which don’t get obscured by clouds of anger. When he sings “Here I am” towards the end of the song, he paints so many more words than just those three.

 

Freedom! ’90 (Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1 1990)

 

Man could George Michael sing. Listen to “Freedom! ’90” and he’ll blow your hair back on the chorus. It’s one of my favorite George Michael tracks. The outro is just pure astral emancipation. It’s danceable latin flavored groove is deceptively inviting onto a dancefloor of deliverance. “Freedom! ’90” is where we delightfully hear George Michael roar in celebratory victory. The resonant power of his chorus yells gives reverberating lift fanning the ignition of independence.

 

 

After Wham! George Michael explored songwriting further, stretching out from the common verse chorus restrictions. And that’s when he really showcased his vocal techniques and vocal range. It allowed him to employ a greater tonal palate with his singing and become more confessional with his material and singing. George Michael ranged from theatric to solemn, from sassiness to spiritual. His slower tempo songs really allowed him to stretch out and showcase his vocal flair.

 

For a vocalist to reach and apply higher level artistry, he or she has to sing more than just notes. and George Michael brought vocal ornamentation to the forefront. His sense of dynamics, use of nuance and inflection have made me go wow in my head numerous times. It’s in the tonality of his voice, the multi–textural vocal stylings, it’s not just his vocal range, it’s he could do so many cool things with his voice.

 

When your ear becomes educated you can Listen Without Prejudice and appreciate singers and styles you wouldn’t otherwise have listened to. Like Freddie Mercury (whom he was a fan of as was Freddie of him) George Michael was a one of a kind unique voice. He wrapped silver and gold tinsel around his melodies, fitting for someone with such a gifted voice.

 

So boom boom boom boom.

Remember, if you’re going do it, do it right, and wear your CHOOSE GEORGE shirt.

But I just hope you’ll understand, sometimes the clothes do not make the man.

© Composer Yoga

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R&B Hive: Brothers Johnson “I’ll Be Good To You”

Being a video professional, I’ve been to more weddings than 99.9% of the population. I’ve worked on weddings in several states and of various ethnic and religious ceremonies; Church weddings, beach weddings, country club weddings, backyard & banquet hall weddings, lake weddings—even at an aquarium and on a yacht.

 

I’ve heard the songs (Barry Manilow writes them if I recall) numerous DJs play at these as well as the collective “Borg Booty Mix” of current Wedding Top 40 and Wedding’s Greatest Hits. Maybe Rhino Records will walk down that aisle in the future.

 

One wedding I had to reposition my camera during the ceremony then felt something dripping on me—my vest had to be dry cleaned afterwards as the back of it was covered with caked on candle wax. Candles were melting from the crossbeams of the historic rustic barn and I looked like I just arrived from a Dominatrix appointment for the rest of the evening.

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” is more than worthy of a couple’s first dance. It’s a tune deserving inclusion into matrimonial mixes and wedding video montages. It’s the kind of music that’s injection mold for memories.

 

Yet I’ve never heard this amazing song played at a wedding and think it’s a tragedy. “I’ll Be Good To You” is more than worthy of a couple’s first dance. It’s a tune deserving inclusion into matrimonial mixes and wedding video montages. It’s the kind of music that’s injection mold for memories.

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” is a track off the Brothers Johnson 1976 debut album Look Out For #1. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and peaked at #3 on the singles charts. In 1989 “I’ll Be Good To You” reached #1 again on the R&B charts this time covered by Ray Charles along with Chaka Khan.

 

In both cases Quincy Jones (the other Q after James Bond’s) was at the “singles event.” He was producer to the Brothers Johnson for the original version and the Ray Charles & Chaka Khan cover was a track off his Back On The Block album. “I’ll Be Good To You” was also covered by Vanessa Williams with James “D–Train” Williams (no relation to her) on Vanessa’s 2005 album Everlasting Love.




George and Louis, The Brothers Johnson grew up in Los Angeles, played in area bands, backed The Supremes, became session musicians and Jedi Apprentices of Quincy Jones before going solo.

 

The biggest singles of their career were “Strawberry Letter 23” (originally recorded by Shuggie Otis), “I’ll Be Good to You”, and “Stomp!” which came out years before the theatrical show of the same name. The track “Get The Funk Out Ma Face” on Look Out For #1 was written with Quincy Jones and also released as a single reaching #30 on the Billboard charts.

 

Another track on their debut album, “Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks” contains the nicknames of the Brothers Johnson. Codenames far less encrypted than “Mac Daddy” and “Daddy Mac” because they were actually in a band not the CIA like Kris Kross. Actually as far as my Intel is concerned, Steve Jobs was the Mac Daddy (well really Steve Wozniak & Jeff Raskin but it works better as a joke).

 

Guitarist George Johnson “coulda been a contender” in the Keith Jarrett look alike contest but his codename here is “Lightnin’ Licks” while his bass slapping brother Louis Johnson is “Thunder Thumbs.” From the sound of it, thumb wrestling a guy like Louis would’ve been a bad idea.

 

While not as well known as other legendary Funk/R&B bassists like Larry GrahamBootsy Collins, & Bernard Edwards, EVERYBODY knows Louis Johnson’s playing…

 

While not as well known as other legendary Funk/R&B bassists like Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, & Bernard Edwards, EVERYBODY knows Louis Johnson’s playing…

 

There’s just a little tune called “Billie Jean” that he was the session player for. Okay, so now his Badass Musician Index (BMI) just went through the roof. Actually Louis played on 3 Michael Jackson albums: Off the Wall, Thriller, and Dangerous.

 

Other tracks Louis Johnson was session bassist on:

“Off The Wall” —Michael Jackson
“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near) “—Michael McDonald
(Warren G’s 1994 hit “Regulate” featuring Nate Dogg samples “I Keep Forgettin'”)

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” —Michael Jackson
“Give Me the Night” —George Benson
“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” —Michael Jackson




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Larry Graham of Sly And The Family Stone and Louis Johnson were pioneers of slap bass playing, with Larry considered the first to bring the style into prominence. Louis showcases his technique on their 1980 hit “Stomp!” (off the album Light Up The Night) which features a bass solo breakdown you’d think he pulled out the Popeye forearms for.

 

If you’re a liner notes junkie, you’ve seen Louis Johnson listed numerous times as he’s recorded or performed with over 60 artists including Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, Kenny Loggins, John Mellencamp & Sister Sledge among others.

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” is an all star feel good party song like Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” just waiting to pollinate a positive vibe for all occasions. It can pack a dance floor and has a supremely infectious sing along chorus that mixes well with the leisurely waving of hands in the air in the simple act of celebrating life.

 

George Johnson’s vocals ooze sincerity, his inflections unwrapping layers of affectation. I’m usually good at deciphering lyrics but at first I thought George was singing “Stella” instead of “Said–A” in the first verse. Even though not the case, he demonstrated he can say “Stella” much more pleasantly than Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and that’s important.

 

In “I’ll Be Good To You”, the clean tone rhythm guitar chords are contrasted with some medium roast distortion on the lead line like the Commodore’s single “Easy.” This gives the lead guitar a soft fuzziness that takes on a dreamy synthesizer quality.

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” truly earns it’s wings with it’s chorus of female backing vocalists. At this point in the song, the sky opens up and listeners get a Soul Shower of Ambrosia

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” truly earns it’s wings with it’s chorus of female backing vocalists. At this point in the song, the sky opens up and listeners get a Soul Shower of Ambrosia:

The Charles/Khan cover is a more uptempo 80’s synth pop version. It gave Ray Charles his first #1 R&B single in over two decades:

What a jam! It’s a top shelf Jam Anthem like Chic’s “Good Times”, a liquid honeymoon groove. The groove in The Brothers Johnson tune “I’ll Be Good To You” is so laid back, it’s a recliner with a chilled beverage buoying a miniature yellow umbrella.

 

This is music silk listens to when it needs to feel comforted. This is what it sounds like when butter melts slowly on imported china next to a bottle of Champagne on the French Riviera.

 

That being said, I’ll be the first to admit love songs are an already overcrowded and overdone subject matter. Songs get recycled from previous regurgitations. Compared to Punk and Metal where there aren’t rations in the topic department, love songs are often terminally stereotypic and predictable. Silly Love Songs Sir Paul called them in the 1970’s—several decades later we’re probably at Zombie Love Songs status.

 

Pop song somnambulists sing about love and relationships like pull string dolls and the depth of their experience reflected in lyrics is watered down and wafer thin. It’s not like there’s a few decades of perspective packed into their “life virgin” verses like say Supertramp lyrics.

 

And what vast life experience can young pop stars actually bring to the table a few years after getting a driver’s license? Forget about songs about history, political and social issues they’re not even on the map yet.

 

Part of the socio–economic skid into preteen pop culture purgatory was that several decades ago, the record buying public was comprised of 30 to 40 year olds. The mainstream music consumer has gotten younger and younger with each successive generation.

 

Now the consumer base includes preteens buying music written by artists just a few years older. Here, relationships are the most common subject matter because it’s the most relatable experience to the cell phone starring young consumer tranquilized in the Twilight Zone of eternal texting. Most are still a few hundred selfies away from getting a Passport photo and experiencing the world outside a 4 inch screen.

 

Young celebrity culture also demonstrates that for all the wealth and fame they have, they make the same mistakes as the rest of the population. The breakup and divorce rate isn’t any less frequent among celebrities. Truth is, there are very few Paul Newmans and Joanne Woodwards in the entertainment industry—people who lived the song “I’ll Be Good To You”, married or not.

 

For generations breast fed on Rap & Hip Hop, it’s ear opening to hear what regal and elegance sounds like. There is life beyond angst and anger and higher vibes than the hormonal surges of youth.

 

For generations breast fed on Rap & Hip Hop, it’s ear opening to hear what regal and elegance sounds like. There is life beyond angst and anger and higher vibes than the hormonal surges of youth. There aren’t many love & relationships songs that have deeper depth and perspective behind rhymes and catchy melodies— even monotonous ones. “I’ll Be Good To You” is that museum piece that’s still more alive and vibrant that what I hear coming from the current crop having their media days in the sun.

 

“I’ll Be Good To You” comes from a time when people chose to ride a more positive vibe with the top down and more importantly from the top down. Although Louis Johnson left the planet in 2015 at age 60, his bass grooves from beyond the grave and thankfully so.

 

It bounced off the wall and broke down walls of race and gender. So why not inaugurate your life together with the Brothers Johnson? If you’re single, Why not renew your vow to “Treat Me Right” like Pat Benatar demanded because sometimes if you want something done right, you gotta to do it yourself.

 

If there’s no wedding bells in your future, just grab a pair of wedding bell bottoms from the past. In either case, You May Kiss the Vibe.

© Composer Yoga


Related Posts To Check Out:

George Michael: The Careless Whisperer

Celebrities And Fame: A Videographer’s Perspective

 

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Bill Douglas: Give Deep Peace A Chance

Shredders Of The Ivories Vol. 1

Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”

The Colors Of Rock: Songs

The Colors Of Rock: Artists

 

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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”:

 

Lollapalooza Tickets


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

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Closet Singles: Billy Idol “Hole In The Wall”

Consider me a card carrying member of the at large group that wishes Billy Idol released “Hole In The Wall” as a single. We meet in church basements (after White Weddings of course) periodically to discuss plans to preach this lost gospel to humanity because “Hole In The Wall” is a glamorously gritty rock gem from Billy and guitarist Steve Stevens.

 

“Hole In The Wall” is a track off Billy’s first stateside solo album called Billy Idol, released in 1982. Two singles were released from Billy Idol: “Hot In The City” got a good amount of airplay but “White Wedding (Part 1)” took the cake, pun intended.

 

“Dancing with Myself” was already released as Billy’s first single from an earlier EP in the US called Don’t Stop which also had his cover of “Mony Mony” by Tommy James & the Shondells. “Dancing With Myself” first appeared on the 3rd and last Generation X album Kiss Me Deadly (long before Lita Ford) back in England before the band broke up and Billy moved to the US. It then also reappeared on a later version of the Billy Idol debut album.

 

Since Billy was a new artist stateside, there were actually 2 different versions of the 1982 Billy Idol album cover. The one I have has the cover pictured below with Billy wearing the black leather vest. The other has him wearing a print shirt looking like he’s modeling for JC Penney or a few years early for The Karate Kid auditions as it has elements of the Japanese flag in the design.

 

I got into Billy Idol because my cousin, a ballet dancer & painter, was really into him. Not surprising since Billy’s music is high energy danceable pop punk rock and not the chaotic mosh pit dance kinda punk where the high end and midrange went as AWOL from the mix like punks went from society—it’s all low end coming out of the speakers making a thick audio mud where you can see why one would need to dance in Doc Martens.

 

While my mosh pit days are behind me (still have all my front teeth and don’t need to claim I was a boxer or a pimp), I still love punk—and Billy Idol, like The Clash is intelligent well–written Punk; The Clash being more Thinking Man’s Punk while Billy was cornering the market on Feeling Man’s Punk. It’s also Dancing Man’s Punk for anyone who can perform rudimentary choreography to a 4 count without looking like they’re being electrocuted by a hairdryer in a bathtub or having a group session of Whac–A–Mole.

 

Being a kid, I was only aware of Billy Idol songs on the radio and his music videos which my siblings and I thought was funny to imitate his triumphant raised fist and media persona like a professional wrestler. It took years later when my older cousin’s enthusiasm caught up with me and I too found myself wanting more more more.

 

Like Billy, I also grew up in a place where dwindling geriatric industry and a bread crumb modicum of a better future left the youth to develop the juvenile delinquency of your choice. So of course I got in a Hard Rock/Metal band with a friend and other members from surrounding cities and towns.

 

It’s funny that our practice space was on Baker Street years before I actually walked on that street in London, home of Sherlock Holmes and which Gerry Rafferty (formerly of Stealers Wheel known for the tune “Stuck In The Middle With You”) wrote his song about.

 

My first band never went anywhere as our singer seemed on his way to having a drinking problem before we even had a record deal and before we were even out of high school mind you. Fortunately I avoided the carnage of drugs and substance abuse. So yes, not all punk fans have addictions, use drugs recreationally, or even look like punk rock fans. I do still have a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors though.




Topically “Hole In The Wall” is a song about drug use and addiction but then again plenty of drug songs became hits. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” isn’t talking about pills Major Tom required for his mission and the “Feed your head” lyric definitely wasn’t a PSA encouraging people to visit their public library.

 

“Hole In The Wall” refers to the time in his life when Billy and girlfriend Perri Lister lived in New York City and would buy drugs from a place in their neighborhood through a hole in the wall.

 

Aside from the street prescription inspiration and shady source material, art transmuted “Hole In The Wall” into an over the counter audio dose of Awesome:

The early Billy Idol albums were Billy with NYC guitarist Steve Stevens and producer Keith Forsey (who’s an underrated drummer). Forsey worked with producer Giorgio Moroder in Germany prior to his “American Idol” days.

 

Moroder & Forsey wrote songs for artists like Donna Summer and also wrote Flashdance with Irene Cara. From his apprenticeship with Moroder, Keith was the ideal producer for danceable punk. Forsey later went on to write “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” for the John Hughes coming of age cult film The Breakfast Club in 1985.

 

BUT it was originally written intended for Billy Idol to sing. Billy turned it down and the Scottish band Simple Minds recorded it with frontman Jim Kerr injecting some sublimely elevated affectation on vocals.

 

It’s a defining song and film of the 80’s. I always loved that song especially the outro where the drums have a brutally crisp precision to the groove. Also, one of my friends’ jazz bands got permission to do an instrumental version of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on their CD.

 




Steve Stevens is a guitarist with all the chops and bells and whistles of a Hair Metal Maestro but he always wrote appropriate to the song and let the song determine his parts. This is a skill onto itself not often appreciated or applauded as it should be.

 

Steve Stevens playing style with Billy Idol is not bloated with virtuosity—It’s got a howling heaping of edge though like Billy’s screams and yelling, perfectly suited for the Pop Punk style the pair pioneered on the airwaves and MTV.

 

But, if you don’t believe Steve can “go there” to Virtuosoville, just listen to some of his solo instrumental recordings. Steve is one of those über versatile collaborators with genres up the wazoo under his belt. Some added feathers in his Aqua Net were he played with Michael Jackson and wrote the Top Gun anthem.

 

In fact, visually Steve Stevens was kinda the Slash before Slash—all you saw was this ubiquitous umbrella of spiked black hair, where it’s like who needs makeup if no one can tell if you’re standing forwards or backwards anyway?

 

Let’s zero in on Billy’s yelling. Yes even before he wrote a song about yelling on the follow up album Rebel Yell, there was that signature primal punk roar. What strikes me about Billy Idol’s vocals is he’s very present in the microphone like Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band) and David Byrne (Talking Heads, solo), some of his fellow generation Punk/Pop colleagues.

 

It seems the act of recording doesn’t diminish the fervor and visceralness of their singing. For instance, the outro on the Henry Rollins track “Tearing” always blows my hair back and spins my chakras like a pinwheel.

 

I also like how Billy always sounds nicely loose in his vocal tracks and from reading his autobiography Dancing With Myself, he mentioned how Keith Forsey would always tell him to “not forget to have fun in there” when he would go into the Iso booth to lay down vocals.

 

I’m sure Billy’s drug use during that time contributed to the looseness somewhat as well when it wasn’t impairing him from standing vertically. His autobiography is a precautionary tale though, as many musicians and celebrities that did the same dance with drug abuse didn’t live to write a book.

 

More so, how much more art and creativity could they all have accomplished and contributed if they didn’t have the fallout and obligations that accompany substance abuse? Does anyone think of that as a reason to get clean or not get involved with substance abuse in the first place? I suppose if you’re ignoring self–preservation in the first place, the higher self–actualization focus of health as part of greater creativity and artistic expression goes out the window as well.

 

Thankfully Billy survived and met his ideal musical partner when he moved across the pond.

 

Steve Stevens brought the metal flavoring to the Billy Idol punk sound developed with his first songwriting partner bassist Tony James in Generation X back in England. Billy wasn’t afraid to bring in dance and new wave to punk and Steve brought the Metal tap shoes.

 

The prechorus in “Hole In The Wall” (“We we’re such an ugly pair…”) has broken (arpeggiated) chords played with guitar textures that make one think Steve Stevens had a pint with Andy Summers at some point.

 

Both The Police and U2 were using string muting on riffs and chords as part of the style of early UK Punk influenced pop. U2 particularly on their track “New Year’s Day”, and The Police most famously with “King Of Pain” both in 1983.

 

I always loved how Steve Stevens got a “Wall of Sound” out of a simple power chord like in the prechorus first heard at the 1:02 mark. Those are just 4ths and 5ths but it builds a scorching sonic trampoline to the chorus.




The syncopation on the verse riff shows Steve’s penchant for accenting on the 1 for a more danceable groove than the traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll accent on the 2 & 4. The verse riff for “Hole In The Wall” is accented on the 1 and sightly before the 3, leaving space and atmosphere for Billy to weave his sordid tale of the cycle of withdrawal.

 

The interlude narration part (“It’s a move to take you through…”) has a muted riff which reminds me of the Neil Schon riff in the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin'” that ends with a bend before Steve Perry comes back in with “…A singer in a smokey room…”

 

Both songs start off muting the riff then lift the mute and fret the notes increasing the volume for a segue back into the verse. The opening/chorus riff is just delightfully abrasive and another example of how Steve Stevens writes meat hooks that keep your ears hanging on.

 

With Billy, Steve and Keith we had an ideal Musical Meth Lab, cranking out not crank but Addictively Fun Fusion Punk. It was a new experiment musically to see if America would dig it after the unsuccessful first wave of punk tour by The Sex Pistols.

 

History shows they fared better as the Statue of Liberty herself has a punk rock hairdo and was already raising her hand in salute to the pop punk invasion spearheaded by a Brit and a guitarist from Brooklyn with hair as black as the leather vests Billy wore.

 

And now you know about the Hole In The Wall…and the suspected punk who punched a hole in it.

© Composer Yoga


Related Posts To Check Out:

Punk Rock Joke (Redneck Punk Rock Singer)

Atomic Punk: The Clash “Complete Control”

The Yoga Of Billy Idol

Edge Of A Broken Heart: The Runaway Bon Jovi Song

Hair Metal Heaven: Cinderella “If You Don’t Like It”

Awesome 80s Albums You May Have Overlooked

 

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Closet Singles: Devo “Later Is Now”

 

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Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince

I realized something being a longtime fan of Science Fiction: that Yoda’s favorite Prince song would be “When Doves Cry.”

 

Wait for it…Some of the lyrics are just the phrasing the Jedi Master himself would appreciate. Prince is clearly speaking Yoda’s native tongue here—all three verses begin in “Yoda” or Yodaspeak”:

Dig if you will the picture

Dream if you can a courtyard

Touch if you will my stomach

 

Can you picture Yoda singing it in the shower? While taking his morning constitutional on planet Dagobah? Can you picture this?

 

Deeper questions then emerged. Did the Jedi Master himself inspire “When Doves Cry?” Did Prince channel Yoda in the recording studio? Pop culture influences and inspires other pop culture and we may never know.

 

Linguistics scholars would also appreciate that “Yoda” is a Romance language like French and Spanish. And speaking Yoda is quite fun as well. In the control room of the music instructional video company I used to work for, we’d joke around and talk Yoda on a regular basis. This would frequently spill over the VOG (Voice Of God) to rank on the talent in the studio—yelling at them in “Yoda” for botching up a take as well as providing motivation and guidance for the proper corrective course of action.

 

“When Doves Cry” was the first number one single for Prince. Ironically it was the last song written for the film/soundtrack to Purple Rain as Director Albert Magnoli needed another song for a montage scene and requested Prince write additional music for it. You’ll notice with all the other songs written for Purple Rain, Prince and The Revolution perform them onstage in the film except “When Doves Cry.” “When Doves Cry” was written to musically portray Prince’s character, The Kid’s parental issues with his father Francis L. and his simultaneous blossoming romance with Apollonia.

 

Looking at “When Doves Cry” deeper musically, it’s a pretty minimalist song in A minor. There’s no bass line throughout the entire song. Most listeners don’t notice things like this until it’s pointed out to them, and besides the pop rock world has caught fans sleeping at the wheel before. For instance, Free’s classic rock tune “All Right Now” had a hibernating bass line all through the verses and only emerges on the chorus and bass solo leading into the guitar solo overlaying it. And that was during the 70’s–when rock, pop, dance & funk fans were far more rabid about bass in your face.

 

Still none of this “multi–track lack” reduces the appeal of “When Doves Cry.” Prince was very good at writing for what fits the song. I myself am a believer that every song does not need a guitar solo (or any kind of solo) nor have to contain every instrument in the band just because someone will feel “left out” onstage during a performance. Prince was a screaming guitar player and I dig how he never overplayed or overused his chops at the expense of what a particular song called for. In cover bands, when there was no keyboard part for the song, I’d just either double the bass or a guitar part to fatten things up not add a keys part. The Police were another band that was very good at this non oversaturation and not bludgeoning the listener with excessive musicality at the price of playing within the songs actual needs and parameters. We can take an example from Prince & The Police (an 80’s superband that never happened) here: Musicians have to realize that sometimes “space”, silence, and breathing room are part of the song like in “When Doves Cry.”

 

There is some flash (no pun intended, Prince was only nude in the music video) of virtuosity in “When Doves Cry” though it’s sparsely and tastefully done. The opening guitar flourishes and the classical cello part towards the end add some moments of heightened tension, higher energy & angry spiciness to the song’s recipe. If memory serves and I’m not the victim of my own Purple Haze, I remember reading years ago in the Prince biography Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known As Prince by Liz Jones that Wendy Melvoin’s brother Jonathan Melvoin wrote the classical string part for “When Doves Cry” but I’d have to check that book again if I can find which cardboard storage box it now resides in.




Back to Prince’s #1 Jedi fan, Master Yoda. I can picture an alternate version of the “When Doves Cry” music video being done with Yoda superimposed over Prince (someone on Youtube who has more free time than I preferably). We’d see Yoda stepping out of the bathtub and subsequently crawling on the floor sans Jedi robe. Then Yoda cruising around Minneapolis and the suburbs on Prince’s motorcycle (or riding on the back–riding in the front would be “Too E.T.“), and kissing Apollonia passionately horizontally while levitating over her—hey he’s a Jedi Master remember? Hopefully this won’t be in a galaxy far far away but just in case, here’s your “When Doves Cry” refresher:

 

Whoa…that crawling on the floor was so much fun Madonna had to try it herself in her video “Express Yourself” and add some bovine special effects.

 

BottleRock Festival Tickets

 

Since it was an 11th hour recording request for the film, “When Doves Cry” is pretty much Prince by himself with his trusty drum machine playing several instruments and without the vocal harmonizing of The Revolution like on most of the Purple Rain soundtrack. The vocal audio looping bears little resemblance to an actual dove crying not that I’ve crossed the line being cruel to animals to scientifically gather such information. It’s a droning “I” or “Aye” sound making Prince’s looped vocal yearnings sound more like a zombie pirate brigade or some species of South American tree frog that would definitely make you Delirious if you lick its skin. And I’m sure you’d see Paisley Parks and Strawberry Fields Forever but let’s not go there just yet.

 

But then again these made up syllable loops worked well for Jon & Ritchie on the Bon Jovi hit “Livin’ On A Prayer.” Did Bon Jovi sample a neighbor’s dog or have Chewbacca come in for a session to lay down a vocal track? “Livin On A Prayer” is one of the most frequent songs I hear when I work weddings—and every now and then I hear a Prince tune. But “When Doves Cry” isn’t the optimal Prince song to inaugurate a lifetime together—more salient choices in this department that better suit the occasion are “Kiss” or “I Would Die 4 U” as people can get their pointer finger on while ripping up the dancefloor and impress a slightly inebriated crowd with some stellar rudimentary choreography. Plus it looks pretty cool against uplightling as I can attest. But hey, I’m just a dude behind a camera so what do I know.

 

“When Doves Cry” was Prince’s directorial debut—it was racy for it’s time and had to threaten heterosexual males watching MTV for the half naked girls. I mean could middle America start liking a song with a naked guy coming out of a bathtub and crawling towards them? It turned out the Bible Belt was on the floor with the rest of Prince’s clothes in that regard.

 

Fashion wise, I always found it interestingly dapper how The Revolution (save keyboardist Dr. Fink) dressed in ornate clothing similar to the upper crust during the French Revolution. There’s also a funhouse mirror effect in the later dance routine which creates a kaleidoscopic effect with Prince in the center. And Prince wasn’t a slacker on stage performance—he loved to dance with his own trademark moves as well as nods to the Godfather James Brown.

 

Come to think of it, if Michael Jackson didn’t become the megastar of 1980’s pop, Prince would have been seen as a better dancer than he was usually given credit for. But Prince held his own on his own terms and wasn’t in music to compete with others which isn’t what art and creativity is about—actually competition diminishes the joy of creativity and one’s personal enjoyment of the process.

 

If Prince was competitive, he would have come out with some lame dance move in response after Michael premiered the Moonwalk with his own version “The Cherry Moonwalk.” Prince never challenged Michael Jackson to a dance off like MC Hammer. Nor did Prince extrapolate his songs into stylized themed dances over the abyss of the campy canyon with The “When Doves Cry Waltz”, the “Let’s Go Crazy Conga” or “The Purple Raindance.”




Yet with all his contributions to pop culture and writing songs for other artists, Prince wouldn’t allow parody of his songs even though Weird Al Yankovic was aching to do so for decades. Some, like Mark Knopfler said yes on one condition—that he play guitar on the parody track. This is why Weird Al’s parody of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” called “Beverly Hillbillies” musically matches the original version more than his other parodies.

 

For “When Doves Cry”, I can picture Weird Al doing “When Spuds Fry” starting off saying the word “Fry” as that’s what it sounds like Prince is uttering in the original recording. Weird Al did do a similar themed parody to the Robert Palmer song “Addicted To Love” called “Addicted To Spuds.” And I know for a fact that Weird Al would not pass up the opportunity of being naked in a bathtub to parody the video. That’s the stuff Weird Al bucket lists are made of. Buckets of dove’s tears.

 

Yankovic was never able to secure permission for parody of any of Prince songs when he was alive. When Prince’s estate gets settled and who owns the licensing to his song catalogue is decided, Weird Al may get to parody Prince songs in the future.

 

Yankovic is far from malicious towards the artists he parodies—it’s a nod and a tribute, though some like Coolio get miffed when Al does a parody of a song he himself didn’t even write the music to in the first place (Coolio’s 1995 single “Gangsta’s Paradise” sampled the 1976 Stevie Wonder song “Pastime Paradise”).

 

One thing for certain that’s probably in the works already is a Hollywood biopic about Prince. Within a few years it’ll likely hit theatres. One can only hope Hollywood will see Purple instead of getting tangled up in green and Prince won’t be physically miscast with someone like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But then again I’d pay to see Arnold Schwarzenegger singing Prince songs and buy that soundtrack. William Shatner can cut a Prince tribute album as well. It’s all become part of our shared collective culture and part of celebrating that will encompass some obligatory moneymaking schlock along the way. But this doesn’t diminish the original inspiration for it nor hamper appreciation of Prince’s contribution to popular culture.

 

As with Michael Jackson’s glove, that bathtub Prince used in “When Doves Cry” has to fetch a pretty penny on eBay—the perfect gift for those who already have a bottle of Elvis’ bathwater. And then Yoda can whisper at the end of that revamped “When Doves Cry” music video, “There…is…another…Moonwalker.”

© Composer Yoga

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

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The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code

There’s the Bible Code and the Da Vinci Code—but is there a “Let’s Go Crazy” Code?

 

Before anyone thinks I’ve stared at the Abbey Road & Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album covers Clockwork Orange style way too long, isn’t a bit of poetic coincidence that Prince died in an elevator?

 

I mean you know the narration before the full band enters in “Let’s Go Crazy”:

And if de-elevator tries 2 bring u down
Go crazy – punch a higher floor!!!

 

It seems Prince indeed punched a higher floor in that Paisley Park elevator and left the Earth plane.
The second verse of “Let’s Go Crazy” going into the chorus is even more prophetically elaborated:

We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ‘cuz
We’re all gonna die

And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all 4 (What’s it all 4)
U better live now
Before the Grim Reaper come knocking on your door

Tell me, are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down?
Oh, no let’s go!

 

(Note to Steven Tyler & Aerosmith: The Grim Reaper takes elevators)

 

I never met Prince nor saw him perform live but he was one of the people on my concert bucket list I wanted to see. Actually the only time I was in his home state of Minnesota was in Minneapolis to catch a connecting flight from the west coast. One of my relatives however did meet Prince at a club in Miami and talked with him.

 

An actor friend also met Prince when he worked for a network TV station in New York City. He didn’t get to ride in an elevator with Prince (most definitely a Scavenger Hunt Selfie), but did so with Neil Young. Interestingly, Neil Young had a backing band called Crazy Horse…hmmm…and further down the Purple Paisley rabbit hole we go. Later in his career, Prince also wrote a song called “Cinnamon Girl” which was one of the biggest hits of Neil Young And Crazy Horse.

 

When I was out in Hollywood visiting friends and wandering around (the occasional olfactory overture of concrete mingled with fermented urine while on The Walk Of Fame comes to mind), I came upon the fabled Sunset Sound recording studio where so many famous acts such as The Doors recorded their historic and iconic albums. Prince also recorded there in a cute story by Fleetwood Mac singer Stevie Nicks.

 

Nicks was working on her solo album The Wild Heart at the time. She was driving around and heard “Little Red Corvette” on the radio and came up with lyrics to “Stand Back.” Since a song written by Prince inspired her lyrics, she called him up and asked if he was in the area (Prince had another residence nearby) and if he would like to come down and play on the track.

 

Like calling a pizza delivery session player, Prince was there in under 30 minutes and laid the keyboard parts down for “Stand Back.” Prince influences Nicks and in turn it seems Nicks influences Prince. Being asked to play on “Stand Back” seemed to give Prince the foundational ideas for one of my favorite Prince tunes: “I Would Die 4 U.” There’s an apparent aural geneology to these two songs: “Stand Back” and “I Would Die 4 U” have similar tempos and utilize the same kind of pulsating staccato synth bass bed.

 

Prince wrote several pop rock anthems: “1999”, “Purple Rain”, “I Would Die 4 U”, “When Doves Cry”, and “Let’s Go Crazy” to name a few. I remember first becoming aware of Prince with the single “Little Red Corvette.” After Purple Rain, I went on to buy all his earlier work and then every now and them, I’d pick up his later post 80’s material.

 

The albums 1999 and Purple Rain are still my favorites because I really liked the musical chemistry of Prince and the Revolution as well as the mix of male/female vocal trading and harmonizing. The Revolution was for Prince his “original Kiss lineup” to my ears. Another irony here being Prince wrote a song called “Kiss.” With bands, there’s a certain unique chemistry every now and then that can’t be duplicated even if the band goes on without earlier members for any number of reasons in the Rock and Roll playbook.

 

In 1984, “Let’s Go Crazy” became a number 1 hit. If only George Orwell lived to see that. Big Brother in a Jheri curl*? Dressed in a purple trench coat wielding a white guitar? Prince’s Purple Rain soundtrack and the movie became joined at the hip with the 1980’s. The eulogy intro narration to “Let’s Go Crazy” is one of those 80’s pop culture moments along with the intro to Twisted Sister’s music video “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that nearly every child of the 80’s has grooved into their neurons. “1999” was a playful dig by Prince at Big Brother and his nuclear arsenal during the Cold War 80’s with the lyrical mention:

 

Yeah, everybody’s got a bomb,
We could all die any day

But before I’ll let that happen,
I’ll dance my life away

 

This was misheard by some at the time to be a reference to President Ronald Reagan (Yeah, Ronnie’s got a bomb, we could all die anyday…)

*Invented by a white guy from Illinois—go figure




For a guy who rode a motorcycle, Prince was never the “biker type rocker.” Then again those types of bands wouldn’t dare to write a song like “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain”, “Raspberry Beret”, or “Kiss.” I mean can you imagine Mötley Crüe pulling that off?

 

Prince was more multifaceted as an artist which gave him broad appeal over successive generations and crossed lines of gender and race with his fan base. This is hard do do especially now as the recording industry tries to segregate fan bases to maximize profit. Michael Jackson, Madonna, Sade, Gloria Estefan are other contemporaries of Prince that crossed these “Pop Picket Lines.” Prince’s music also escaped the vinyl witch hunt of rock radio station record burnings and steamroller rodeo rides over popular Disco hits. He was rock enough for the rockers—one of his fans being, oh some guy named Eric Clapton.

 

Enjoy The Talents Of Others And Let It Inspire Your Own

Prince was an incredibly creative and multi–talented musician. I know many critics and fans will use the word Genius when referring to him and his prolific body of work. It’s a deserved compliment and helps celebrate how his music touched millions of people around the world. However I take a different perspective on the nature of Genius as I believe the current way it’s used and how who’s labeled as such or not separates people from participating in art and their own creativity.

 

The Genius label encourages the “Why should I bother, when THOSE people are Geniuses and I can only play “Lean On Me” on piano or “Pretty Woman” on guitar mentality.” If we all felt that way as we did when we were young looking up to our heroes and inspirations, no one would try to write music on their own—even Prince.

 

We all should participate in art and creativity. It’s just fun and a form of play which becomes in shorter and shorter supply when many people become adults. Every child innately enjoys art and music and participates in these then they get to a certain age and internalize the cultural message that they are wasting their time because they aren’t Geniuses or they aren’t that talented.

 

By all means be inspired by artists like Prince and whoever came before you that inspired you down the road of creativity so you can take your own tuning forks to deeper self expression. But don’t get stuck behind the starting gate just because certain people are better or more successful than you. No one comes out of the womb a concert pianist. Every future “Genius” can’t even play “Three Blind Mice” during that early stage of life.

 

What often gets lost in praise, compliments and fan worship is the nature of art and creativity itself—which even Prince would have probably said the following of his body of work. That Genius, like gender identity and sexuality is along a spectrum, not a black or white, either or static state. Stated another way, a Genius will not always produce works of Genius every single time and an artist of average talent can produce works of Genius at times.

 

The more important thing as an artist or anyone producing works of creativity is to keep producing and don’t censor or judge. Your favorite pieces may very well differ from the works your audience loves and considers “your best stuff” or “your works of Genius” but it’s all part of you and you don’t want to play favorites—even your own.

 

In another example from baseball, for decades Babe Ruth held the record of 714 career home runs. His nickname was “The Sultan Of Swat” not to be confused with Dire Straits “Sultans Of Swing.” What people fail to often see with such talent and ability is that Babe Ruth struck out quite a large number of times in his career as well (1,330 times in fact as has EVERY other Hall of Famer). He could have just as easily earned the derogatory nickname “The Sultan Of Flyswat” or “The Sultan of Sloth” if he wasn’t getting his “hits” on the other side of the ledger.

 

The important thing was Babe Ruth kept stepping up to the plate, kept having another opportunity at bat. Similarly, Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler has stated he is not the most skilled guitar player on the technical level yet he still wrote “Sultans Of Swing” which is an amazing guitar composition by any standard. And music schools crank out dozens of dazzling technicians every year yet how many have actually written a piece with the depth of “Sultans Of Swing” or “Purple Rain?”




The Prince Prophecy

Prince dying in an elevator is one of those coincidences we can embellish into pop culture lore and legend. Songwriter John Denver died in a glider accident and one of his well known songs was called “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” If Denver’s tune was titled “Leaving On A Glider”, I’d weigh that more in the neighborhood of authentic foreknowledge.

 

Another coincidence here is John Denver was one of the people who testified against the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center) along with Frank Zappa and Dee Snyder of Twisted Sister after one of Prince’s songs on Purple Rain, “Darling Nikki” sent Tipper Gore into a tizzy over it’s masturbation reference.

 

Such ironies of life will happen on occasion as statistics and probability can demonstrate. Case in point, say I wrote a novel about a female pilot and named her Amelia Earhart. You’d think the characters name was made up for the fiction novel because it alludes literarily that Amelia has her heart in the air—hence the two words “air heart” combined in her last name and more poetically spelled as Earhart.

 

But such “novel names” and situations like our “Let’s Go Crazy Code” here actually do happen in real life some of the time. So have we negated the “Prince Prophecy theory” and de–romanticized the departure of a pop legend? We’re just chasing white doves formulating such theories—dig if you will that picture.

 

The body of work is what matters and the body of work is what’s still here. We have to look deeper and ask the internal question: What did the creative works of Prince mean to you? For starters, it didn’t make anyone’s life WORSE in the final analysis. It even had a happy ending for Darling Nikki.

 

The Aural Autopsy on the artist we knew as Prince is clear though. Prince is one of the best selling artists of all time with over 100 million records sold. Prince released 39 studio albums, racked up 7 Grammys, an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. He was a shoe–in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame the first year he was eligible in 2004. He walked down the Red Carpet but also made his own Purple Carpet as well—and luckily didn’t slip on any purple bananas while dancing on it.

 

Still, none of these awards, accolades and sales figures means as much as the fun and joy of making music. And Prince loved making music. It was about making music long before the money and about making music even after he had plenty of it. And that’s what I really admire about him.

 

There’s works of his I absolutely love, there’s works I think are cool and okay, there’s works I think aren’t his best. But Prince was never alive to write to specifically please me nor or any of his audience. He had the right to be an artist, to explore his creativity and he truly exercised that right—just look at his creative output.

 

It’s easy to slack off on the Fame Train after even one or two successful albums. As an artist, I experience and understand creativity this way because I write to enjoy doing so myself BECAUSE making art and being creative is it’s own reward. Whoever resonates with a creative work besides the originator is secondary and an added bonus to the joy of creation. And the more work you produce, those odds on connecting and resonating with an audience go up exponentially.

 

For myself, I have Prince tunes in iPod mixes for all moods and occasions. I’ve grooved out his classic tunes at friend’s dance parties into the early morning hours numerous times. Writing music is a celebration of life and listening and dancing to music is celebrating life as well. We can all always party like it’s 1999 on the dance floor and revisit our own sacred time outside the confines of the calendar. Why? Because the Messiah of the Minnesota Music scene said so. Stick that white dove feather in your Raspberry Beret.

 

Indeed, the Pale Blue Dot did turn a bit Purple with his time on the planet.

So goodbye Prince, and thank you for adding to the soundtrack of my life.

© Composer Yoga

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

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First Recording Of Purple Rain In America

Jimi Hendrix first described a Purple Haze in 1967. Back in 1983, The Weather Girls forecasted that “It’s Raining Men.” Amen. Not just “a men” but LOTS of them. Unfortunately for women, most of that “man rain” fell on gay nightclubs as the song got absorbed and usurped by gay culture.

 

However, the conditions seemed ripe for these two songs to combine into a huge storm front at some point—and it most noticeably did in 1984 as radio, MTV and theaters worldwide were saturated with the purple deluge.

 

On other ends of the weather song spectrum, The Fixx saw “Red Skies” at night over London in 1982. A couple years later in 1986, Peter Gabriel reported “Red Rain” in England and Slayer saw it “Raining Blood” in America that very same year.

 

But where was the first record of “Purple Rain” falling? Minnesota? Hollywood? Does Purple Rain make doves cry? Would Gene Kelly sing in it? Is it responsible for Teletubbie Tinky–Winky in England?

 

Due to it’s massive notoriety and cultural impact, most people would think the first record of Purple Rain mentioned in the pop world was by Prince in the song/album/movie of the same name. But Prince did not coin or originate the phrase. Purple Rain didn’t first pour into the mainstream audience in 1984—it was actually recorded years earlier by another band.

 

First Recording Of Purple Rain: London, England

Purple Rain was first seen by America on “Ventura Highway” on their 1972 album Homecoming. America are a British born trio composed of musicians Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley and Dan Peek. They met as sons of American servicemen stationed overseas around London.

 

The second verse in “Ventura Highway” contains the reference to Purple Rain which seems to have no particular intended meaning other than it rhymes nicely with ‘train’:

Wishin’ on a falling star
Watchin’ for the early train
Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by
Purple rain

 

Another lyrical possibility could’ve been, “Sorry boy, but I’ve been hit by a Herpes strain.” Maybe for the Weird Al version…

I’ve always been entranced with the mood “Ventura Highway” creates. It’s a trip back in time for me even though I was in the area for a first time as an adult. “Ventura Highway” is a combination of haunting nostalgic longing for moments of a heightened sense of freedom and the joy of being alive.

 

In addition to capturing moods in aural photographs, America was always able to pull off creating very full sounding acoustic folk rock. Their sonic recipe being the interplay and layering of the 3 guitarists individual tracks and the multi part choruses. Instrument wise, it’s stripped down but the vocals have a rich fullness where the listener doesn’t notice there’s anything missing in the auditory department—just guitars, bass drums, vocals and strategic use of space.

 

America’s style of songwriting doesn’t need a Rick Wakeman, Al DiMeola or Neil Peart sitting in on a recording session. It’s complete in itself and most importantly, very singable by an outside nighttime fire as a bunch of musician friends and relatives often do when I’m visiting family in the Northeast.

 

“Ventura Highway” as well as another favorite, “A Horse With No Name” are great mood pieces—narrative story songs with some of the most fun memorable sing along choruses and interludes in pop music.

 

Kudos to America for creating several earworms which stimulate alpha and theta waves of relaxation, personal reflection and deeper connection instead of the more common beta consciousness of numerous pop songs which don’t venture beyond major chords—and are color blind to how the wider sound palette of 7th chords and above can furnish the listener with deeper, more profound harmonic textures. Songs like “Ventura Highway” have the endearing ability to become part of the soundtracks of people’s lives as it’s done so with mine.

 

Should you try to find Ventura Highway, you may have more luck finding Ausfahrt, Shell Beach, or Bigfoot hitching a ride back to Seattle from Burning Man. The song refers to the section of Highway 1 along the coast of California, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway or PCH.

 

When I was in Southern California, I drove up that famous ‘fictional’ highway and took in the beauty of the sharp jagged coastline and images of the mighty Pacific which relentlessly carved it over eons. Of course, people will tailgate then pass and flip you off while you’re trying to take in the same awesome spectacle that they take for granted. Welcome to California—land of “no worries” but not no hurries.

 

That kind of motorist etiquette just shows the mentality of young adults who have very little life experience and growing up in California doesn’t give you a fully stamped passport either. It also demonstrated to me there and in numerous other places I’ve traveled around the country, how most people are not in control of their lives. If you’re always in a hurry, how in control of your life are you? If you ARE in control of your life, then you wouldn’t be in a rush or hurry all the time. That just means lots of other people and things own your time and you’re their bitch.

 

Regardless, I wasn’t going to let a few testosterone cases and stressed out SoCal speedometer slaves interrupt my Ventura Highway moment and another one of my pop culture pilgrimages. They certainly didn’t personify the youthful hunger for wonder, Indian time schedule rebellion and explorative quest for freedom captured in America’s “Ventura Highway.”

 




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My journey continued. I drove up to Ventura then Santa Barbara, soaked up the State Street shopping district a friend who went to UCSB told me about then onto Santa Barbara’s beach and the Stearns Wharf pier.

 

The PCH is a windy and at times mountainous stretch of road. Traveling north from LA, you’ll pass Vandenberg Air Force Base outside the city of Lompoc, just north of Santa Barbara. It was in this area years ago a young Dewey Bunnell formed impressions he later translated into some lyrics in “Ventura Highway” as he and his brother were standing around waiting for their father to change a flat tire and saw a sign for Ventura.

 

Ironically I had my own car issue in the same general location but AAA took care of me nicely as my father was most likely on a golf course several states away. Like Dewey, I also formed some memories of vivid nomadic optimism and several “Freedom of the Road” impressions of my time spent there.

 

I was considering relocating to that area north of LA—I enjoyed Ojai in the mountains, Ventura and Santa Barbara, all less crowded and congested areas of southern coastal California. Driving the “Ventura Highway”, it’s easy to get tangled up in blue there—the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean reflecting the western sun as you ride the snake along that ancient lake.




Second Recording Of Purple Rain: Chanhassen, Minnesota, United States

 

Back to Purple Rain Prince style. Ah, the Wendy & Lisa era of Prince, with The Revolution. It’s highly likely Prince got the title idea from the “Ventura Highway” lyrics. Perhaps while driving up Ventura Highway in his Little Red Corvette.

 

In any case, Purple Rain was the most massively successful and enduringly popular album and movie Prince has ever done. Purple Rain spawned a phenomenon—sprouting several hits: “Let’s Go Crazy”, “When Doves Cry”, the title track “Purple Rain”, and perhaps my favorite Prince tune “I Would Die 4 U.” Mr. Slowhand himself, Eric Clapton is partial to “Purple Rain”—supposedly one of his favorite songs.

 

Prince and the Revolution live at the 1985 American Music Awards introduced by Lionel Ritchie:

 

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Some of the other tracks on Purple Rain however had unintended consequences for the Prince of Minnesota as well as the rest of the listening public. Purple Rain set off its own Water–gate or more aptly, an Ear–a–gate scandal.

 

“Darling Nikki” was the track that tipped off (and ticked off) Tipper Gore thus beginning the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC) crusade and the black sticker stampede against explicit lyrics all because, according to Prince, Darling Nikki was masturbating with a magazine in some hotel lobby and her aforementioned grinding ability was irresistible.

 

This was the creative inspiration for Tipper Gore to co–found the PMRC and spiked the moral VU meter of the masses putting popular music under a microscope and bringin’ on the ear gates so we could all become Def Leppards to bad influences. The Censor Ship was bound to set sail up everyone’s auditory canal.

 

Perhaps a brush up on remedial Reverse Psychology 101 would have been a better course of action in retrospect before cooking up a controversy casserole which usually has a few tablespoons of the secret ingredient “personal embarrassment” in the recipe.

 

The “Sticker from Tipper”, Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics/Explicit Content was to teenagers and adolescents as appealing as stray beer in their parent’s fridge and sneaking into R rated movies (like Purple Rain) after buying a ticket for some tame G or PG flick not that I would know about such things.

 

Fortunately Purple Rain did produce the fabled “Trickle Down Economics” of the 1980’s as it created additional production jobs for duplicate censored versions of albums to be sold at more conservative retail stores like Walmart thus insuring purchase by parents on the cutting edge of cool.

 

These Clean Version Technicians or Song Sanitation Technicians have been protecting impressionable ears by erasing all discouraging words home on the range here in America since the mid 80’s. I doubt France or Europe got in such a tizzy over dirty words, but in America, the sound sanitation continued with questionable results.

 

Santa may have bought you the wrong version of that 2 Live Crew CD in those turbulent turntable times. And building an auditory F–Bomb shelter Skinner Box only enhances the future culture shock to befall the Rod & Todd Flanders types portrayed in The Simpsons.

 

Regardless of the controversy Purple Rain set off, ask a group of people the top albums that defined the 80’s and you’ll hear Purple Rain right up there in moonwalk orbit with Thriller. Purple Rain duked it out with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. for the #1 album spot twice—a showdown between Minnesota and New Jersey; Two primal elements, “Purple Rain” vs “I’m On Fire”, battling it out in a Billboard boxing match each scoring successive hits on their opponent.

 

“Purple Rain” is Prince in a more introspective tone which I tend to really enjoy when he wrote songs in this manner as opposed to his more explicit “I’m a Sexual God” song catalog. He could write deeper stuff well which is why “Purple Rain” has more widespread appeal than say “Pussy Control” —Errr…bad pun there. This is the chorus of this particular tune on The Gold Experience album but thanks to Tipper, it’s track listing being the self–censored and unassuming “P Control.”

 

Prince really shows off his guitar acuity on “Purple Rain” like he does on the more uptempo rocker “Let’s Go Crazy” and moderate tempo “When Doves Cry.” The thing with Prince is he was able to do some guitar flash without alienating his female audience because it’s not overkill—it’s strategically placed and thematic to the melodic exposition of the song.

 

Gratuitous guitar masturbating (being a Guitarling Nikki?) and shredding generally is more interesting and impressive to men. When you hear the outro guitar line of “Purple Rain”, it’s reminiscent of other 80’s hits like “Broken Wings” by Mr. Mister and “Who’s Crying Now” by Journey.

 

“Purple Rain” is a modern gospel rock ballad and his guitar playing is nicely legato and played in a smoothly connected singing style known as Cantabile as all the standard musical terms from the classical tradition are in Italian. This is because both the violin and piano originated there a few centuries after pizza did. Cantabile is the art and technique of playing a musical instrument in the manner of imitating an actual human voice singing.

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As for the movie, a little known fact is one actress who was approached to play Prince’s love interest in Purple Rain before Apollonia Kotero eventually got the role. Some girl named Jennifer Beals. A movie called Flashdance came out the year before in 1983.

 

They probably figured since Beals got drenched already onstage dancing to “He’s a Dream” by Shandi Sinnamon and in the “Maniac” montage to the Michael Sembello tune, she’d be game to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka.

 

Unfortunately, Beals was in college at the time and declined the offer as she had aspirations in life other than welding and exotic dancing. On the upside, Flashdance did win a Grammy in 1984 for Best Album of Original Score. Another fun fact is Lee Ving from the punk band Fear was also in Flashdance as a strip club owner, not that this stereotypes vocalists in punk bands in away way, shape or form.

 

The classic 1980’s album opens with Pastor Prince giving his famous sermon from the pop pulpit on Purple Rain in the beginning of “Let’s Go Crazy” with the church organ sample rocking out behind his “Dearly Beloved…we are gathered here to get through this thing called life…” spiel. It culminates in the sage advice as the drums kick in elevating the tempo and just before the full band enters:

“And if the de–elevator tries to bring you down…go crazy…punch a higher floor.”

 

People who grew up in the 80’s memorized this Prince dialogue as much as the opening dress down rant by actor Mark Metcalf (the Doug Niedermeyer character in National Lampoon’s Animal House) in Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It” video, one of the funniest things to grace the early days of MTV. “A Twisted Sister pin?! On your uniform?!…”

 

Twisted Sister vocalist Dee Snider later found himself defending free speech to Congress along with Frank Zappa and John Denver after that “Darling Nikki” incident from Purple Rain. Seems the Purple Rain washed Dee’s makeup off for the congressional hearings as he wasn’t sporting his trademark stellar Cover Girl looks.

 

All in all, Prince seemed to weather the controversy of Purple Rain fairly well. The album and film have held up over time and aren’t going to wash away with censorship soap anytime soon. Pop history knows the Censor Ship set sail after the Purple Rain and wouldn’t have had the degree of controversy buoyancy without it’s success being embraced on a wide scale by the culture at large.

 

Years later, the controversy fizzled out and ran aground on it’s own moral high ground. People can read into things and create and inflate issues like our tale here of how a little Purple Rain turned into the Perfect Sh*tstorm.

 

Let me take a retroactive stab at it before I wrap up this purple banana: On “Purple Rain” Prince states, “I only wanted to see you bathing in the Purple Rain.” Okay, so maybe that means the Prince has a bit of a voyeur fetish as well. Cover your ears! Release the hounds!

 

The good news is, we can baptize ourselves with Purple Rain in more than one way and in more than one location thanks to America and Prince. So before you build that F–bomb shelter or call up that shrink in Beverly Hills, it might be better for your sanity to go crazy and take a long leisurely meditative drive along Ventura Highway in the sunshine after the purifying cleansing of a freshly fallen Purple Rain.

© Composer Yoga

Related Posts To Check Out:
The Prince Prophecy & The Let’s Go Crazy Code
Prince Joke (Little Red Corvette)
Sound Mines: Prince “Mountains”
Yoda’s iPod: “When Doves Cry” By Prince
Talking To Your Bandmates During The Song Vol. 1

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Closet Singles: Devo “Later Is Now”

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Major Earworm sure brings his dance battalion with this one. Devo’s dance track “Later Is Now” off their 2010 album Something For Everybody is a tantalizing time warp back to Whip It Ville. It’s so retro you might not realize this wasn’t a track you forgot about from the 80’s. Something For Everybody was also the last album with the original 2 sets of founding spud brothers (kinda like Blood Brothers only Devoized): Mark Mothersbaugh, Bob Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, and Bob Casale. Guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Bob Casale passed away in 2014. Devo sure revisited their spud roots here and paid homage to their earlier selves with this noble offering to the God of Energy Domes. And I’m sure Bob traded in his Red Dome for a White one Gandalf style, not Gangnam Style.

 

Inevitably however, certain things happen periodically in the music industry beyond anyone’s control:

A) Right band at the wrong time
B) Right track at the wrong time

 

These are two of the common Whammy Bars success gets sh*tfaced at and stands you up for a date. This tune is a classic case of the latter. Later Is Now was never released as a single but this track could’ve been a dancefloor anthem back in the day. So instead of the John Cusack film Hot Tub Time Machine, how about Hot Track Time Machine? The plot being going back in time and spinning some discs that never saw the light of day. Kinda like Quantum Leap—only correcting the playlists of the past.

 

And while we’re on dancefloor dalliances in alternate realities, Later Is Now sounds like it could’ve been a hit in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty–Four (also published as 1984) assuming they allowed dance clubs like The BBC: Big Brother Club. Notice the title of Devo’s tune is very Newspeak & Doublethink like “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”, and “Ignorance is Strength”—“Later Is Now.” However I think local watering holes there are outnumbered by Memory Holes. Winston Smith’s “club days” would be spent at the Ministry of Dance in pair of concrete shoes and any shredding going on there would be with documents not guitars.

 

“Later Is Now” would definitely be on my old school Emerson imitation woodgrain vinyl turntable that looks like you just won the bid for on The Price Is Right. I can hear this tune on the radio alongside Whip It—were it written and released during the 80’s new wave/synthpop heyday, it very likely would have been a huge dance club hit perhaps even with crossover appeal. Maybe I’m alone here but I’d like to have seen Don Cornelius and the Soul Train dancers sporting Energy Domes just once.

 

I say this from the perspective of having been to dance clubs and also from years doing performance videography in such environments as well as weddings. It strikes me that this track has the whimsical jubilant exuberance and upbeat energy that can sufficiently pack a dancefloor. I mean Kool & The Gang’s classic “Celebration”, Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” and the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” work every time for clubs and weddings and all these songs are at slower tempos than “Later Is Now.”




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Let’s revisit the “B” situation mentioned earlier for a moment. If you’re been in a band or are an astute observer of musical trends, you’ll see how styles come and go then come back in style again. The same thing happens in the fashion world as well. One band I was in seemed a victim of the “Right band at the wrong time” phenomenon. We were aiming to be “Toto with a female vocalist” albeit a few decades after the fact. Had we been around in the early 80’s at the highpoint of audience and recording company interest in musically intricate well–arranged adult contemporary power pop, we’ll I might have a few Joe Walsh “Life’s Been Good” pieces of real estate, matching speeding tickets and be more frequently answering the question “Are all these your guitars?”

 

Possibly our band could have been sandwiched between Toto IV and Lionel Ritchie’s Can’t Slow Down which were monster successes during that musical era—at the very least, much more easily than when we were performing and recording as a group with those same leanings. Even so, there were moments with that band when we started getting recognition and were thinking, “Holy crap, this could REALLY go somewhere.” And for reasons stated above, the fickleness of the industry and unpredictable tradewinds of audience tastes and interests shifts to something else leaving once well known acts behind (like Devo post “Whip It”) and bands that could have had their day in the sun a raincheck instead of a soundcheck and more importantly royalty checks. As a side note, without turning this article into a supermarket Tabloid (or would that be Guitar Tab–loid?), I will say this particular original band I was in did have a ballad that was voted #1 for several weeks on an internet site beating a nationally known act (that would be Los Lobos—yes, the “La Bamba” Los Lobos which covered Ritchie Valens’ 1958 hit back in 1987 to international fame). We also surprisingly had fans in Russia, which was a location where the market lag of exported western 80’s power pop was still a fresh ripe style in season for ravenous Russian ears.

 

But that’s all water under the guitar bridge. The fact is whatever decade it was recorded in, “Later Is Now” pumps out some good ol’ fashioned genuine high energy fun—picture it with laser lights, multiple stages, smoke machines and subwoofers around a few hundred slightly inebriated people in the sardine can of any given nightclub—it’s so chock full of carefree revelry you’ll forget you’re probably in a fire hazard and among a few OSHA violations. Dancing Under the Influence (DUI) however is not considered one of them.

 

The opening electronica synth sequencer bed in Later Is Now evokes hints of Duran Duran’s “Rio” and “Hungry Like The Wolf” and Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” Then the “Enter The Dragon” flanging wall of sound guitar chords cue you in that this tune means business. It builds with a guitar and keyboard interplay for the melody line painted across the palette of both instruments. The robotically slithering chorus synth riff is perfect for Twister night as well as a definite moment to practice your isolations with that white sequins Michael Jackson glove and the man in the mirror. The pulsating rhythm provides ample motivation find a suitable piece of cardboard and get that breakdancing group back together with the Divine inspiration and bravado of The Blues Brothers. Topped with fun lyrics sung in a stylized stately more formal tone than “Whip It” and some of their more cartoonesque catalogue, it shows Devo can do serious while laying down a serious groove.

 

Later Is Now has that same 80’s dance party vibe as “The Politics Of Dancing”, the 1983 smash hit by The British new wave band Re–Flex off their album of the same name. Friends of mine in the Boston area routinely get down at our dance parties to tracks like “The Politics Of Dancing”, as well as several obligatory MJ tracks like “Billie Jean”, “PYT”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”, “Thriller”, and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough.” This track also spikes the fun meter as Dr. Nostalgia discovered a new retro dance virus.

 

I can see this Devo tune packing dancefloors even today. With a track like Later Is Now, Kevin Bacon should have called Devo for backup in Footloose. I realize that’s quite a bold statement and no offense to Kenny Loggins—but if a group of guys in yellow jumpsuits wearing Red Domed hats and sunglasses showed up riding mopeds in your socially repressed religious community, you’d know the Gods of 80’s Dance Music have spoken. But if you still need a bit of help getting into character, put on your “Frankie Says Relax” tee, Choose Life sweatshirt, dial 867-5309 on your cell and try to set Rick Springfield up with Jenny instead of Jesse’s Girl. Tell Blondie call me, bye bye love, talk to ya later, then get down to “Later Is Now.”

© Composer Yoga

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