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.

Van Halen – 5150

Or should I say Van Hagar?

One of the great debates in rock and roll is which era of Van Halen was better. In one corner, there’s those who think the flash and pompous party attitude of original lead singer David Lee Roth can never be beat. On the flip side is the camp that supports the slightly more serious approach Sammy Hagar brought to Van Halen.

5150 was the worlds introduction to Van Hagar, as many fans respectfully came to refer to the second iteration of the hard rock metal pioneers. Starting out in Montrose and already having established a successful solo career, the addition of Sammy kind of turned Van Halen into a supergroup of sorts. It didn’t necessarily make them the better of the two lineups, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

I’m not saying which side of the fence I’m on, mainly because it all depends on what album is on the platter. Ask me right now and I’m definitely all in for Sammy. But when it’s one of Van Halen’s first six albums spinning, I’ll totally contradict myself, so what’s the point?. I’ll rock out to either.

Heavy Metal – Soundtrack

Before graphic novels, there was Heavy Metal magazine…and the movie…and yes, the movie’s soundtrack…

I subscribed to Heavy Metal magazine in the early ’80s. It was awesome. Mature oriented, thought-provoking comics. A precursor to the ’90s graphic novel era. That’s what probably best describes it. The movie was a culmination of the most popular storylines from the magazine into continuous cinematic theme. Because of my being a regular reader of the magazine, I followed the storyline fairly seamlessly. For those occasional readers…well, I guess they had to figure it out for themselves. Oh well, their loss.

To me, the syncopation of the storylines was one of the glories of the “Heavy Metal” movie. Who cares if it wasn’t a perfect melding. It was far better than I could have ever imagined; especially given the diversity of the already established sub plots.

But this isn’t about the movie. This is about the music from it. “Heavy Metal” stands as one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. Need proof? How about Sammy Hagar, Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Stevie Nicks, Journey, Grand Funk, Nazareth, Cheap Trick…need I go on? Who cares if you saw the movie or not? Just make sure you listen to the music from it.

Jimi Hendrix – Nine To The Universe

The name Jimi Hendrix needs no introduction; quite possibly the greatest rock guitarist that ever lived, his reputation is legendary.

To those who grew up around Detroit in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s, the name Jim McCarty is also a name of legend, albeit local legend. Starting out in Mitch Ryder’s rocking R&B band, The Detroit Wheels in the ’60s; signing on as guitarist in The Buddy Miles Express, joining forces with drummer Carmine Apice and bassist Tim Bogert as part of the supergroup Cactus, and later forming The Rockets with Amboy Dukes vocalist Dave Gilbert and legendary Detroit drummer Johnny “the bee” Badanjek in the ’70s; and finally founding the no compromise blues/rock band Mystery Train in the ’80s, it’s no wonder McCarty’s name is so recognized around the Motor City.

The thing is, up until three years ago, I had no idea Detroit guitar legend Jim McCarty had ever played with Jimi Hendrix. Local legend joins forces with world-renowned legend Jimi Hendrix. How could I have missed this? I have to admit that at first, I was embarrassed that I had no idea this collaboration ever took place. Then again “Nine to the Universe” didn’t come out until 1980, a decade after Hendrix’s death. Plus, the collaboration is only on one of five songs on this album, appropriately called “Jimi/Jimmy Jam”. There’s  are so many great moments in rock and roll, I guess a one-off like this can easy to slip between the cracks. The bottom line is, I’m just glad to have a copy of this album, so I can listen to these two legends playing together, today.

38 Special – Flashback

When I listen to their biggest hits, I don’t know if I’d really call 38 Special’s music purely southern rock, though it often gets thrown into that category because of the band’s relation to Lynyrd Skynyrd. Donnie Van Zant is the younger brother of Skynyrd’s former lead singer, Ronnie (who tragically died in a 1977 plane crash). 38 Special had a more pop leaning hard rock sound than the strong southern roots heard in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music. That’s even more evident in 38 Special’s later hits like “Hold On Loosely”, “Caught Up In You”, and “Fantasy Girl”.

Flashback is a greatest hits album that comprises 38 Special’s biggest hits and a new songs “Same Old Feeling”. It also has two songs that were not released on any other 38 Special album. Previously “Teacher, Teacher” was originally recorded for the soundtrack of the 1984 film “Teachers”; “Back to Paradise” appeared on the soundtrack for “Revenge of the Nerds II”.

As a bonus, included with the album, is a 7 inch, 4 song EP. All 4 songs were performed at a Houston, Texas concert on Halloween, 1986.

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.

Warren Zevon – Transverse City

Warren Zevon released “Transverse City” in 1989; a time when concept albums weren’t much en vogue. That’s the only reason I can think of for it not being as successful as his earlier, more popular albums. The songs on Transverse City are themed around a life in a futuristic world based on the stories of cyberpunk sci-fi author William Gibson.

I picked up this album not only because I liked Warren Zevon’s song writing and distinctive voice, but also because I am a fan of David Gilmour (Pink Floyd) who plays on the song “Run Straight Down”. Also appearing on this album are Jack Cassidy (Jefferson Airplane), Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead), Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), and Neil Young, among others.

But it’s not the star power that make “Transverse City” such a great recording. It is simply a collection of great songs that all revolve around a theme perfectly suited to Warren Zevon’s rock and roll style.

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.