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.

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.

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.

R.E.M. – Murmur (Japanese pressing)

Although I loved “Murmur” from the first time I heard it, I always thought the overall recording sounded muddy, with the individual instruments buried among themselves…until I heard the version released in Japan.

When released in other countries, albums can sometimes come out on different record labels. Sometimes, that can mean two versions of the same album. Most of the time, there’s an extra song on one of them or the song order is changed. But sometimes, the albums sounds noticeably different. I think anyone who has heard both, will agree that the sound of the Japanese version of REM’s 1983 debut, “Murmur” is significantly better than its US counterpart.

Athens, Georgia band REM released “Murmur” in 1983. It came out on I.R.S. records in the Unites States; the album’s Japanese release was on the CBS/Sony label. Even though they came out at the same time the Japanese version was mastered with a brighter sound that more clearly defines the individual instruments. Bill Berry’s bass is significantly more noticeable. It gives a more driving sound to the songs. The brighter sound also helps bring Peter Buck’s jangly guitar stylings more up front.

I got rid of my US version of “Murmur” long ago. After hearing the Japanese version, there was no desire to keep it. The Japanese version is far superior.

Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

In a 2009 interview, Florence Welch cited Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane as one of her musical heroes, specifically noting the song “White Rabbit” as having changed her life. I knew there was a good reason I love Florence + The Machine’s music so much.

Although decades separate the music both women created, I hear a lot of Grace Slick in Florence Welch. Sure, there are differences. Florence Welch isn’t one to copy; she is too much of a true artist. Still, the vocal stylings of Grace Slick are impossible to not notice in Florence’s voice. The same goes for the independent “f*ck you, we do what we want” attitude of both in regards to their music.

Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (and Jefferson Starship) has forever been one of my favorite female vocalists. Florence Welch of Florence + The Machine forever will be.

Robyn Hitchcock And The Egyptians – Globe Of Frogs

When I think of 1980’s alternative rock, one of the first bands to pop in my head is Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians.

Between his early work with the Soft Boys and his solo work, both with and without the Egyptians, Robyn Hitchcock was one of the most influential and legendary artists to shape the sound of college radio stations and the emerging commercial alternative rock stations.

“Globe of Frogs” was the album that really should have broken Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians out. It was their first on a major record label and it was incredible from start to finish. The thing was that while most college stations seemed to put Hitchcock’s stuff in a heavy rotation, the emerging commercial alt-rock stations never jumped on board. They played scads of bands that were heavily influenced by, and even imitated Hitchcock, but not the innovator himself. That, plus the fact that by 1988 the emerging alternative rock stations in the US started gravitating towards the heavier sounding bands that resulted in the grunge rock movement in the ’90s.

Yeah, Robyn Hitchcock deserved more success, but anyone who listened to his albums in the ’80s remember songs by a groundbreaking, highly influential artist that went beyond commercial success. They remember a musical legend.

‘Til Tuesday – Voices Carry

With ’80s new wave and alternative rock breaking into the mainstream, the timing couldn’t have been better for ‘Til Tuesday’s debut album “Voices Carry”. Of course, having a collection of great songs sung by Aimee Mann’s distinctive voice didn’t hurt either.

It’s no surprise that Aimee Mann would go on to great solo success in the 1990s and 2000s. She really is the shining star here. In addition to singing, she also plays bass guitar, wrote all the lyrics and helped to compose the music for every song. (She can also play guitar, though she doesn’t on this album).

It may be Aimee Mann’s voice that gives first notice to ‘Till Tuesday’s songs, but underneath, it’s her bass lines being very up front in the mix that becomes the glue holding them together. She has the restraint to keep things simple when necessary but also the ability to lay down some impressive low-end. The bass line to the album’s opening track, “Love in a Vacuum”, is a perfect example, as is her funk driven playing on “Looking Over My Shoulder”.

The White Stripes – Icky Thump

I can’t describe how disappointed I was when in 2011, I learned that The White Stripes had called it quits. It was four years after the release of their final album, “Icky Thump”. At least they went out releasing what is quite possibly their best album.

Jack and Meg White made an almost immediate impact on the local Detroit music scene when they formed The White Stripes in 1997. They finally gained international fame in 2001 when they released their third album “White Blood Cells”. With the three albums that followed, The White Stripes became significant in the revival of garage rock around the world.

“Icky Thump” holds nothing back with its continuation of what the White Stripes started with their early records. If anything, it steps things up a notch. Loud and aggressive, rootsy and stripped down, it shares a lot in common with “White Blood Cells” and the records before it. But then there are Jack White’s guitar solos. Always an amalgam of chaos, aggression, virtuosity, and originality, they are immediately recognizable and impossible for any other guitarist to duplicate. For the most part Jack avoided solos on the early White Stripes albums. I have no idea why; he’s incredible.

Jack White has achieved great success in the music business, during and after The White Stripes. He has used that success to make a difference in his home city of Detroit. He helped revitalize a section of the Cass Corridor, opening up Third Man Records there. It’s not only a record store but has a performance area for live shows and record mastering and pressing facility (yeah, Jack’s a vinyl kind of guy). He also donated $170 thousand to renovate Clark Park where he used to play baseball as a kid. Plus, he rescued the Detroit Masonic Temple, a city landmark, from falling into tax foreclosure. Saving the beautiful and iconic building from an uncertain fate, an anonymous donor, later discovered to be Jack White, paid the $142 thousand bill. As a Mason who has frequently attended meetings there, I will be eternally grateful to Jack White for that. As a gesture of gratitude, the 1500 seat Cathedral Theater inside the building was rededicated the Jack White Theater.

Love And Rockets – Earth, Sun, Moon

This is not goth rock. This is so much more.

That was my first impression of hearing 1987’s “Earth, Sun, Moon” by Love and Rockets.

Love and Rockets were essentially the gothic rock band Bauhaus minus their enigmatic frontman, Peter Murphy. Even though Love and Rockets kept the post punk dark overtones that helped Bauhaus all but define gothic rock, they also stretched outside its realms, injecting folk, blues, and pop into their songs.

“Here on Earth” “Waiting for the Flood” and “The Telephone Is Empty” had sax solos played by Daniel Ash. “No New Tale To Tell” which became Love and Rockets first hit song included a flute solo that Ian Anderson would have been proud of. “Lazy” had a bluesy yet upbeat vibe to it. Overall, “Earth, Sun, Moon” had a much more acoustic feeling throughout than Bauhaus would have ever dreamt of.

It was still gothic, but it was also epic.