Spandau Ballet – True

I know this much is true…

Of the bands from the UK’s new romantic musical movement, Spandau Ballet recorded the most romantic sounding song…so long as you don’t listen to the lyrics. “True” is actually a very sad song about loss and loneliness.

With its clean production with influences of soul, jazz, and R&B, “True” was Spandau Ballet’s most successful album. The title track was also their biggest hit single. Spandau Ballet, more especially this album, embodied what Britain’s new romantic era was all about. They had the look and set the standard musically for other bands to follow.

Golden Earring – Moontan

It only took Golden Earring 12 years and 9 albums to have a hit record in the United States.

Golden Earring had been together as a band since 1961. They recorded their first album in 1965. They were the biggest band in the Netherlands and had great success throughout the UK and parts of Europe. Nobody knew who they were in the United States. That last part changed for the Dutch rockers after they recorded “Radar Love” in 1973. The song became an instant classic in the US and remains a standard on rock and classic rock stations today. “Moontan” went on to become Golden Earring’s biggest album in the US and pretty much everywhere else in the world.

There were no other singles released from “Moontan” and Golden Earring’s follow-up live album and their next six studio albums failed to gain any traction in the US. For a while, it looked like Golden Earring were destined to be filed under one hit wonder. That is, until 1982, when they scored with “Twilight Zone” from their album “Cut” and again with “When the Lady Smiles” from 1984’s “N.E.W.S”.

Game Theory – Lolita Nation

Even though they released only three albums, and I only own one of them, Game Theory is possibly my all-time favorite alternative band. “Lolita Nation” is definitely my favorite alternative album of all time.

With its impeccable combination of unpredictable chaos and controlled structure “Lolita Nation” is without a doubt an underground masterpiece. I know it must have been one of the guy store clerks working at Harmony House who recommended this album to me back in 1987. If it had been a girl, I would have married her.

“Lolita Nation” is an album that never tried for commercial success…and it never really got it. It didn’t deserve it. I hate to sound like an elitist, but commercial success would have ruined it. It remains the best kept secret of those who have heard to it. No…to those who have listened to it. This is an album you can’t just put on in the background. It should be listened to.

Trust me, if you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Lolita Nation”.

Berlin – Pleasure Victim

Berlin was an alternative synth-pop band that played heavily on sexual innuendos. Okay, with songs like “Sex (I’m a…)” and Terry Nunn’s role in the band being listed as vocals and BJs, I suppose it went a little beyond innuendo…. Anyway, because of this, Berlin was quite often dogged by some critics as being lackluster in talent, focusing more on sexuality than substance to sell their music. I never thought so.

Berlin made some of the most exciting synth-pop music in the 1980s. Sure, some of that had to do with the suggestive lyrics and Terry Nunn’s sexual overtness, but it had a lot more to do with great hooks that made their songs as easy to dance to as they were enticing to listen to. It also had a lot to do with Bassist John Crawford, who penned most of Berlin’s stuff. He had a mastery of writing catchy tracks with seductive lyrics; just as Terry Nunn had the exceptional vocal talents to exhume the seductive qualities from those words and melodies.

As for Terry Nunn’s other talents noted in the album’s credits…well, one can only wonder.

Georgia Satellites

In an era that was dominated by synth rock and glam metal the Georgia Satellites were neither. They were a Southern blues rock band. Plain and simple.

On their debut, the Georgia Satellites played it hard and played it loud. They sounded like a raucous bar band that blew the roof off of every dive they played at, because that’s exactly what they were. Their music was about as out of style to what was popular in 1986 as it could get. No polish. No flash. Just good old foot stomping blues rooted rockers. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites released two singles from their debut album. “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” shot up to number two on the Billboard charts, denied the top spot by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. That song is what made people first take notice of this album. Their second single was a cover of Terry Wood’s straight ahead rocker “Battleship Chains”. Although it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, it gave record buyers a glimpse of what to expect on the rest of the album. Music that didn’t fit in with what was popular and didn’t care; as a matter of fact, it was proud of it. Plain and simple.

The Georgia Satellites’ debut album went on to sell over a million copies in the US. It did so without any flash or polish or any marketing blitz. It did it by being a great rock and roll record. Pure and simple.

Cheap Trick – Dream Police

Cheap trick pulled out all the stops for “Dream Police”. Their fourth studio album, released in 1979, combined a hard rock edge with slick studio production. The occasional use of a string section, layered arrangements, textured vocals and of course, great rock and roll hooks – often reminiscent of the Beatles – helped it became the most successful studio album of Cheap Trick’s career. Following in the surprise success of “Live at Budokan” didn’t hurt either.

Tom Petersson’s use of an 8 and 12 string bass give many of the songs on “Dream Police” a growling underbelly that adds just the right amount of tarnish to the mostly otherwise polished production. It is the perfect compliment to Bun E. Carlos’ solid drumming and Rick Neilson’s playfully serious guitar work. The variety of songs on “Dream Police” also provide the perfect showcase for Robin Zander’s diverse snarling and crooning vocal styles.

One of the best albums ever by the boys from Rockford, Illinois.

Dire Straits

Every time I listen to Dire Straits’ debut album, I wonder why there weren’t more singles released from it. “Sultans of Swing”, that’s it. Great song. But there are so many other great songs on this album. The album’s opener “Down to the Waterline” with its signature Knopfler guitar licks, would have been a perfect choice. Another one could’ve been “Setting Me Up”, a country tinted song that was later covered in a more rocking style by alternative band Lone Justice. The catchy “Water of Love” would have been another natural choice, or even “Wild West End”.

Maybe it was that the sound of “Dire Straits” debut album totally cut across the grain of what was popular in music when it came out. Maybe the record label was concerned that “Sultan’s of Swing” took a full 5 months after it was released to even be noticed. But when it did, it shot up to the number 4 spot in the US and stayed on Billboard’s Hot 100 for 132 weeks (that’s over two an a half years). The album itself, went on to sell over 4 million copies in Europe and 8 million in the United States. One single was all that was needed for “Dire Straits” to become the tenth best-selling album of 1978. Yeah, I guess that was good enough for the record company.

But still…

Frijid Pink

In the early 1970, Frijid Pink released what is considered by many – yours truly included – to be the quintessential version of “House of the Rising Sun”. The single hit the number 7 spot on the Billboard singles charts and earned Frijid Pink a gold record.

With a sound that perfectly combined the psychedelic blues rock of Cream with the revolutionary grit and noise reminiscent of Detroit, Frijid Pink’s eponymous debut album was a bombastic force to be reckoned with. That may all sound pretty cool…but dig this: that version of HotRS was just throw-away filler. Frijid Pink still had a little studio time left so they just threw it together in the eleventh hour to kill some time. And if that’s not badass enough for you, try this: after the release of their debut album, Frijid Pink headlined a show at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom; their opening act for the show that night was Led Zeppelin.

Sadly, going into the 1970s, being from Detroit was probably Frijid Pink’s biggest hurdle for greater success. While it was true that audiences were hungry for music grounded in American blues back then, record labels were ironically marketing blues-rock being performed by British, not American artists. Because of this, Frijid Pink never gained the noteriety they truly deserved. Except in Detroit – they always were, and always will be, local legends here.

Deservedly so.

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

…or should I say “In the Garden of Eden”.

That is what the title song was originally supposed to be called. But when you’re too inebriated, sometimes the words don’t come out right when you try to tell your bandmates the title of the killer new song you wrote. Eastern philosophy and mysticism was hugely popular in 1968, and the drunkenly slurred title sure had that mystic vibe to it, so Iron Butterfly decided to call the song “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” instead.

The song is a 17 minute psychedelic epic based around a heavy blues riff that fills the entire second side of the album. An edited down version, eliminating among other pats, a two and a half minute drum solo in the middle, was release to radio stations in 1968. It became Iron Butterfly’s biggest hit single. The album followed suit, eventually selling over 30 million copies. “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” is considered by many to be the very fist heavy metal song.

Foghat

There are blues rock bands and there are blues rock bands…and then there are real blues rock bands like Foghat.

I’ve heard some modern artists today talk about being real. It’s almost become a cliché – sometimes it’s all talk. If you want to listen to a band that walked the walk…if you want to hear a band that was real, listen to any Foghat album.

Foghat was all about American blues rock. They played it hard and true. So true, that when most people first heard them, they didn’t realize they were a British band. As for me…well.. guilty as charged.

It wasn’t until I started digging back into Foghat’s early catalogue that I realized they weren’t an American blues rock band. Actually, it wasn’t until I dug beyond that. After going back to their eponymous debut, I was curious about how Foghat started; where they came from. And then I learned that Foghat was born from the ashes of Savoy Brown.

But wait…Savoy Brown was British…Holy crap! That meant that Foghat had to be…NO F’ING WAY! Foghat was a Brit band?!?! Up until then, I thought these guys were a tried and true American blues based rock band.

Then it dawned on me. That is what Foghat really is – an American blues based rock band. Sure, they came from across the Atlantic, but American blues is where their heart was. It’s what inspired them. It’s what they loved to play. It’s all they ever played. It’s what made them real.

Foghat was the most real American blues rock band ever. They just happened to be British.