BusBoys – Minimum Wage Rock & Roll

The 1980’s owe a round of thanks to Comedian Eddie Murphy; not just for the laughs, but also for going out of his way to promote the BusBoys. In 1982 Murphy was staring with Nick Nolte in the hit movie “48 Hours”. Around this time, he had heard the BusBoys and seen them play live. They instantly became one of his favorite bands. Murphy made it a point to have the new wave band’s music included in the soundtrack to his new movie and got them a cameo in the film, playing on stage during a bar scene. He also had them open for him on his “Delirious” comedy tour and appear as musical guests on “Saturday Night Live”.

The BusBoys are one of the most overlooked new wave bands from the ’80s. Being one of the only primarily African-American new wave bands (drummer Steve Felix was white) their music was not surprisingly infused with R&B and soul. Still, the BusBoys sound was anything but typical for what was expected from black musicians in the ’80s. Was this because of stereotypes? Yes. Racism? To a degree. And the BusBoys often took this head-on with a satirical spin that slapped it right in rock and roll’s mostly white face. Like any good satire there was as much humor as there was truth in their lyrics.

Maybe this was too much for some people to digest. I don’t know. All I know is the BusBoys’ debut is one of the best new wave albums from the ’80s. It deserved so much more success than it received. At times, the album made you laugh, sometimes it made you think about the unjust reality of stereotypes and racism. But mostly, it made you just want to rock and roll.

Chameleons U.K. – Script Of The Bridge

When you love music and you walk into a record store with no idea what you are looking for, you can end up buying a record for unconventional reasons; ones that have almost nothing to do with the music. Take for example, why “Script of the Bridge” by Chameleons U.K. is in my collection: I liked the front cover artwork. Yep, that was pretty much it. That and the notes on the back cover saying it was drawn by one of the band’s guitarists. Multi-talented, that’s good for bonus points in my book. I guess extra points were also given for the last line on the back cover: “To obtain the best effect from this L.P. please turn it up”. I think that really was the clincher. When I listen to music, I usually like to turn it up.

“Script of the Bridge” was the 1983 debut album for the U.K. band Chameleons. The band only used the “U.K.” suffix on its name for the U.S. releases of the album; there was already an American band that had dibs on Chameleons. Unfortunately, the U.S. version of this album also omits a few songs that appear on the U.K. version.

In the end, buying “Script of the Bridge” for the mostly non-musical reasons I did, paid off. The album is a post-punk masterpiece. When the needle hits the groove on this album, I have to turn it up.

The Tragically Hip – Man Machine Poem

After hearing The Tragically Hip’s 13th album, “Man Machine Poem”, many felt the songs were about lead singer and lyricist Gord Downie’s previously announced diagnosis with terminal brain cancer. They are not. Downie wrote all the words for them before receiving the news. Still, it’s easy to understand how the connection could be made.

Like on The Hip’s prior albums, Downie’s lyrics are poetic tapestries that can have many deep interpretations; mortality and the inevitability of death being among them. Gord Downie went beyond being a song lyricist; he was a talented and inspired poet, a humanitarian, and from what I have read, a genuinely nice guy. I had the pleasure of meeting the band members back in 1998 and my impression was that all them were.

Though Gord Downie is no longer with us, his words will forever live on in the songs of The Tragically Hip. From their 30 year of recording together, there remains more than enough unreleased material to fill a posthumous album; so maybe there is just a little more from The Tragically Hip on the horizon. One can only hope.

Let’s Active – Every Dog Has His Day

Let’s Active only released three full length albums in their short recording career, but those records all but define the sound of college rock radio in the late ’80s.

“Every Dog Has His Day” was the swan song for the band fronted by Mitch Easter, who a few years earlier, made a musical name for himself producing REM’s early albums. Unfortunately, Let’s Active didn’t have the same success REM did, gaining a more modestly sized fan base, but no less dedicated fans. I was one of them. I was one of them. I remember how disappointed I was when I leaned that “Every Dog Has His Day” was going to be their last record.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Welcome To The Pleasuredome

A hedonistic mix of alternative music and dance club beats, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” is one of the most amazing and somewhat controversial debut albums from the ’80s.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood really held nothing back on this record, lyrically or musically. The double album had four successful singles, including the lyrically controversial “Relax” (which got banned by the BBC just before hitting #1 on the UK charts). Despite breaking the top 10 spot in numerous countries, “Welcome to the Pleasuredome” only peaked at a modest 33 in the US. It really didn’t get a lot of radio airplay here, but if you went out dancing, you couldn’t help but hear at least a few songs from FGTH in the bars and clubs. What I heard there, was enough for me to own it.

Radiohead – OK Computer

Every now and then an album comes along that breaks all the rules yet somehow still manages to become a huge hit. “OK Computer” was so unconventional that Radiohead’s record label considered it “commercial suicide”. But what do record execs know?

The lyrical themes of Radiohead’s third album revolve around increased social alienation in an age of technology, compensated for by consumerism. Musically, its influences are all over the map; hardly the stuff hit records are made of. Its musical aesthetics became significantly influential to the next decade of alternative rock and can still be felt today. Personally, OK Computer” is one of my top favorite albums; an amazing piece of musical art and social commentary.

The experimental adventure of “OK Computer” became one of Radiohead’s most successful albums, topping the UK charts and hitting #21 in the US. It has sold over 7 million copies. Receiving almost immediate commercial and critical success after its release in 1997, “OK Computer” was nominated for the Record of the Year Grammy and won for Best Alternative Album. In 2014 it was archived the US Library of Congress National Recording Registry as being a record of cultural, historical, or aesthetic significance.

Eleventh Dream Day – Beet

The debut major label release from what should have been a band that deserved more than the moderate success the received near the end of the ’80s. The first thing I thought of when I heard Eleventh Dream Day’s “Beet” was Neal Young meets Sonic Youth.

I have to admit, it’s been years since I listened to this album. I’m amazed I didn’t buy more by Eleventh Dream Day back in the day. Then again, I was going to the Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts at the time and there were a lot us there turning each other on to new sounds. There was so much new music I was discovering. The punk energy and raw emotion from these Chicago alt-rockers is what stood out from the pack to me with “Beet”. Listening to it again all these years later, it’s easy to remember why.

The Police – Synchronicity

When I first heard what would be the final album by The Police I thought it was yet another new direction added to their already distinctive sound. Little did I know it was more of a return to their origins.

Before adopting the punk and new wave style that got them signed to a record deal in the late ’70s, the Police were a band that played jazz/rock fusion. With “Synchronicity”, The Police incorporated all of that along with avant-garde experimentalism into what became one of the greatest masterpieces from the ’80s.

This is an album I will never tire of.

The Power Station

The Power Station was the quintessential super group from the eighties.

Heavy hitting hard rock techno funk with a heavy dose of overdone ’80s polished production that somehow fits perfectly and ties it all together. My biggest issue was when they touched taboo. “Bang a Gong (Get it On)” belonged to T Rex. Always did. Always will.

Well…

At least that was my stance up until I heard Robert Palmer team up with members of Chic and Duran Duran in 1985…and they totally ROCKED it! I’ve tried to decide who’s version I like better. Never could. Never will.

The Jam – Setting Sons

In the late 1970s, punk rock met the British mod revival with The Jam. No album better encompassed their sound than 1979’s “Setting Sons”. Musically, The Jam combined the energy of the Sex Pistols, the urgency of The Clash, and the rock/R&B power and sensibilities of The Who to create a sound that gave them a sound that was all their own.

Setting Sons was originally released in 1979, but because they never reached the popularity in the US that achieved in Great Britain, I didn’t discover them until 5 years later when an Army buddy turned me on to them. “Setting Sons” was the first record I heard by them and is still my favorite from their catalogue.

I remember “Eton Rifles” sounding distantly familiar when I first heard “Setting Sons” in ’84, so I’m guessing the song received at least some airplay on Detroit radio stations in ’79, but it flew under my radar. Fortunately, that wouldn’t be the case the second time around.