Joe Jackson – Look Sharp

The story of Joe Jackson’s 1979 debut album is one to file under “If at first you don’t succeed”.

When record producer David Kershenbaum first heard the songs Joe Jackson was working on for what Jackson hoped would eventually be his first album, he liked what he heard so much, he immediately had Jackson signed to A&M records. To gain traction for “Look Sharp”, the first single from it, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”, was released ahead of the album. It went nowhere, in the US or Britain. A second single, “Sunday Papers”, was released. Same thing. The third single, “One More Time” followed suit. Things weren’t looking too sharp for Joe Jackson. But finally, the album “Look Sharp” was released…and it went nowhere.

It made no sense. It was a great album with great songs bouncing between new wave and punk. What went wrong?

I’m not sure who made the final decision, but they did what was really the only thing that made sense at that point. They re-released the single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?”. It was a hit! “Sunday Papers” and “One More Time” soon took off as well. Radio stations even started playing songs from the album that weren’t released as singles. A short while later Joe Jackson had his first gold record in the US and Britain, just like they had planned all along.

And the moral of the story is never underestimate the power of “try, try again”.

The Fixx – Phantoms

The Fixx is one of the bands that helped defined alternative rock, or new wave as it was called in its beginning, in the 1980s. They had an impressive run of numerous hit singles and five successful studio albums. “Phantoms” was their third. “Are We Ourselves” was the biggest hit off of it and it became the new wave band’s first number one hit on Billboard’s mainstream rock charts. Two more number ones would follow before the end of the decade.

Overall, The Fixx racked up ten hit singles on the mainstream rock charts seven of which broke the top 10. They probably would have had even better success on the alternative charts, except Billboard didn’t create the alternative rock charts (originally termed “modern rock”) until 1988. It was bands like The Fixx, bands that didn’t really fit the bill of mainstream rock, that prompted Billboard to start the new record charts.

As the ’90s rolled in, The Fixx’s style of music grew out of favor as grunge gained popularity in the U.S. The Fixx remained together however and the original line-up continues to record and tour today. Their 10th album, “Beautiful Friction” was released in 2012.

Missing Persons – Rhyme & Reason

It’s not unheard of for drummers to be involved in writing a song or two on a record but it is out of the norm for them to co-write nearly every song on it. On “Rhyme & Reason”, the second album from Missing Persons, drummer Terry Bozzio co-wrote all but song. Then again, Terry Bozzio is a very musically oriented percussionist. Not content in merely keeping the rhythm of a song, his playing often supplements the melody.

I remember seeing Terry Bozzio perform live in 2016. It was a one man show; just him and his drum kit – the largest touring drum kit in existence. Using a combination of electronic and acoustic drums and cymbals, plus triggered samplers and sequencers to repeat certain parts he would play, he performed entire songs, all his own compositions, with nothing more than his drum kit. It was an amazing show.

All the musicians in Missing Persons were amazingly talented. For this album, they focused more on complexity and intricacy in their songs, departing somewhat from their more commercially accessible debut “Spring Session M”. “Rhyme & Reason” is an album that offers something new to hear even after repeated listenings. Missing Persons would only release one more album after this before breaking up in 1986.

U2 – Under A Blood Red Sky

From the first time I listened to “Under a Blood Red Sky” I always felt I should thank U2 for the Special Low Price of the full-length live album they marketed as a “Mini LP”.

You don’t get paid a lot when you’re in the U.S. military, so you have to choose wisely how to spend your money. To me, back then as now, buying music was always a wise choice. But some choices are wiser than others. I had discovered U2 a year or so earlier, on their third album, “War”. It blew me away. When I saw this specially priced mini LP in the PX that fine day, something inside me knew it was a wise choice to buy it. It turned out wiser than I thought.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” is labeled as a “mini LP”. That’s a lie. Sure, it’s on the short side of some albums, but I have some full length LPs that are shorter than this record. The only reason I can think of for the album being labeled the way it was, was that U2 hoped the “special low price” would help its sales. Maybe it did initially, but the only reason “Under a Blood Red Sky” went on to sell over 2 million copies was because it captured a young and hungry Irish rock band out to prove themselves, wanting to make a difference in the world through their music. In short, it kicked ass.

“Under a Blood Red Sky” opened the doors of rock and roll stardom unto U2. From thence forward, it was up to them to decide what to do with it.

They chose wisely.

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation

Alice Cooper’s music has gone through several phases. Although never afraid to try new styles, he has always been at his best when he returns to his hard rock origins, which is exactly the place he goes on 1994’s “The Last Temptation”.

Following a new wave / experimental period that left a lot of his fans shaking their head in confusion in the early ’80s, he found returned success in the latter part of the decade with albums that fit in perfectly with the hair metal of that time. But hair metal’s popularity was waning going into the ’90s.

I don’t know if Alice saw the writing on the wall or just felt like making a change, but his decision to abandon metal and make a concept album that had its music rooted in the hard rock from the ’70s produced one of his best albums ever. At times, I even refer to it as my favorite Alice Cooper album, but it’s neck and neck with a few others so that can change depending on the day of the week.

Through its ten songs, “The Last Temptation” tells a story that revolves around Steven, a character first introduced in Alice Cooper’s earlier masterpiece “Welcome to My Nightmare”. Bored with his dull life, Steven finds adventure and the promise of eternal youth when he meets the Showman, who runs a bizarre dark carnival. For a while, Steven travels down a dark path with the Showman and his entourage. But after realizing that in reality he is making a deal with the devil, Steven repents and redeems himself.

One of the things that makes this album really cool beyond the music, is that it was originally released simultaneously with 3 Marvel comic books that told the whole story in detail. Some of the original releases of “The Last Temptation” came with the first comic in the series. The others had to be bought separately. Now I’m not a comic book collector, but for these, you know I had to make an exception.

The Kings – Are Here

“Nothing matters but the weekend
From a Tuesday point of view”

The Kings are a Canadian one-hit-wonder band from near Toronto. Well, kind of one-hit-wonder. Thry really had two hit songs. “This Beat Goes On” and “Switchin’ To Glide” flowed together so flawlessly that even though there is a well-defined break between the two songs, it is impossible to imagine them not being joined at the hip. Radio station never played one without the other.

“This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” went platinum in Canada and was a mainstay on U.S. radio stations. The Kings toured in support of the album; the success of the album earning them opening slots for acts like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, the Beach Boys, and Bob Seger. Unfortunately, The Kings’ second album failed to spark any interest to radio stations or record buyers and the band all but faded into oblivion, although they did continue to tour heavily into the ’90s. They still play occasional live shows in the U.S. and Canada and “This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ To Glide” can still be heard on classic rock radio stations today.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Armed Forces

Sometimes the very first presses of albums get packaged with little extras. Maybe this was to reward those who “got it” and were waiting for the artist’s next album, buying it virtually unheard because they knew they would like it; I don’t know. But it’s cool when they do it.

Elvis Costello’s first three albums helped define what became known as “new wave” music. It was a welcome change in direction of rock and roll that removed many of the corporate influences of the music in the late ’70s. New wave had a DIY attitude – similar to punk – that intentionally cut against the grain of convention while still incorporating more pop hooks. It would itself eventually be commercialized in the ’80s and re-branded as “alternative” rock.

“Armed Forces” followed in the wake of Elvis Costello’s debut “My Aim is True” and his sophomore record, “This Year’s Model”, which helped bring Costello, and New Wave, into the mainstream. Record buyers who rushed out to get “Armed Forces” were rewarded by an unexpected bonus – a promotional three song record slipped inside the cover with album. The songs on the bonus record were recorded live in 1978 at Hollywood High School in California.

All three of Elvis Costello’s first albums are considered ground-breaking classics today. All appear in Rolling Stones list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The magazine also ranked Elvis Costello one of the 100 greatest musical artists of all time. Costello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.

Devo – Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!

Every now and then, an album comes along that is so different from anything before it, you can’t decide if you really like it, or really don’t.
Forty years later, it still sits in my record collection, so I guess there’s no need to say where I eventually opined.

Since Devo’s debut album was produced by Brian Eno and David Bowie, with both of them saying, in essence, that this was the band of the future, I would have been a fool to not expect something different from the mainstream. I just had no idea how different.

Although their popularity lasted for only a few albums, Devo’s music, and most especially this album, changed popular music forever, ushering in “New Wave” music which, because of how distinctly different it was from mainstream rock, became a musical genre in and of itself – “Alternative”.

Like it or loath it, the influence “Are We Not Men” had on music can’t be denied.

Missing Persons – Spring Session M

I picked up “Spring Session M” by Missing Persons when it came out in 1981 because they had a really cool New Wave sound that I had started to get into. I had no idea they were also an offshoot from Frank Zappa’s band.

The name of their drummer, Terry Bozzio, rang a bell, but I couldn’t place where I had heard it before. The same went for guitarist Warren Cuccurullo and bassist Patrick O’Hearn. It wasn’t until I was listening to it with some Army buddies in the barracks at Fort Campbell when one of them said “this is so different from their stuff with Zappa, but I love it.”

I have to admit, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to who played with Frank Zappa through the years. I just paid attention to Zappa – but I guess not entirely. I recognized the names, so obviously something in my cranial gray matter had held onto them from a magazine article or album liner notes I had read at some point. After some digging, I found out that Missing Persons’ lead singer, the enigmatic Dale Bozzio (Terry’s wife at the time) had also sang vocals on Zappa’s album “Joe’s Garage”.

So, yeah, all but one of the members of Missing Persons (keyboardist Chuck Wild being the exception) had been a part of Frank Zappa’s band in the late ’70s. It’s no wonder I liked this album so much when I first heard it.

And I thought it was just because of the singles “Walking in L.A.”, “Destination Unknown”, and “Words”.

Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Going into the 1980s, synthesizers started to become more and more prevalent in popular music. At first, synths were used primarily to supplement songs or for an occasional solo. But moving into the new decade, a handful of bands, like the Eurythmics, began to use them as the primary, sometimes exclusive instrument in their songs.

Although the Eurythmics didn’t officially abandoned guitar in their music the way some other bands did at the time, Annie Lenox and Dave Stewart did make minimal use of it – especially on their second album, “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)”.

The Eurythmics, and especially this album, were very influential for the rising popularity of alternative, or new wave music in the eighties. The title track became one of the biggest hits for the Eurythmics and is the most immediately recognizable songs by the band. It is a song that is immediately associated with pop culture of the ’80s.