Nostalic Song of the Day: Kansas

July 17, 2008

Is it just me, or does Steve Walsh – Kansas’ lead singer – look a lot like our own Gordon Anderson?

I mean, if Gordon grew his hair out and sported a ‘stache…??? (Unlike Walsh, I don’t think Gordon performs in gym shorts when his band plays.) If you know Gordon, watch the first moments of Walsh’s performance here (at the :52 mark) and try to tell me that doesn’t look like Gordon…and SOUND like him… Gordon does play in a band; read his blog for more of his musical exploits.

At any rate, I was a major Kansas fan growing up in Kansas. They were part of the progressive rock movement of the early 1970s and had a very unique style. Songs like this one, and “Dust in the Wind,” put Kansas on the map radio-wise, but much of their music wasn’t radio-friendly – long (8- to 10-minute) songs heavy with complex instrumentation and very introspective, un-rock-like lyrics. Plus a violin.

Guitarist/keyboard player Kerry Livgren, who was responsible for much of the band’s symphonic sound, became a Christian along the way and tensions between believers in the band and the non-believers splintered the group. It’s led to a number of major lineup changes over the years, including the Steve Walsh-voiced versions early on and now touring, and the John Elefante-voiced versions in the middle years.

If all you know of Kansas is “Wayward Son,” “Dust in the Wind” and “Point of Know Return,” you’re missing the best parts. The band’s landmark double-live album, “Two for the Show,” is arguably the best live album ever made.

Song: “Carry On My Wayward Son”
Artist: Kansas
Year: 1976
Where I heard it: XM Channel 7


Nostalgic Artist of the Day: A-ha

May 16, 2008

My music tastes in college ran the gamut from critic-worthy bands like REM and U2 to pop/rock bands like Toto, Journey, Kansas and Foreigner to more eclectic, esoteric groups like Tangerine Dream. My buddy Darrell used to kid me (and still does) about Tangerine Dream, an electronic band which recorded soundtracks for a number of movies. I had all their albums.

Darrell, an attorney back in our small home town in Kansas, was more of a hard-rock kind of guy who liked his music and lyrics intelligent. So if the ribbing I took about Tangerine Dream (no lyrics, just music) was bad, you can imagine what he thought about the Norweigan pop band “A-ha.”

A-ha’s debut release, “Hunting High and Low,” featured a song called “Take On Me,” which, if truth be told, was one of the worst on the album. The video for it, which you can see here, was something of a sensation and gave the album, and consequently the band, a huge push. It’s a catchy song, but really pales in comparison to the rest of the songs on “Hunting.” I liked the band and the album and much of their follow-up work, and still listen to their work, particularly songs from this first album, today.


Nostalgic Song of the Day: ‘Blinded by the Light’

May 8, 2008

I was in junior high school in 1977 when Manfred Mann’s Earth Band scored a #1 hit with “Blinded by the Light.” There were two versions of the song, a short version of just under five minutes and the classic long version, which came in at just over seven. If you’re familiar with the song, you know the point where the two versions diverge and the long version moves into an instrumental section featuring Mann’s jazzy synthesizer. I loved the song back then and would always be disappointed if the version I heard on the radio was the short one. With so few commercial FM stations within range back in my small town in Kansas, it was rare to hear the long version. (The video above is the long version.)

I heard the song on XM Radio’s Channel 7 the other day – the long version on XM, of course – and it’s still hard to follow the lyrics. I was surprised to find out that the song was actually written by Bruce Springsteen for his debut album in 1973. Springsteen’s version, almost unrecognizable when compared to Mann’s, never charted; ironically, the song is the only one written by Springsteen to reach #1 status.

I was also surprised, and very disappointed, to find out about all the drug references in the lyrics. I was only 13 when the song was popular and in my naivete had no clue. I mean, seriously, at that age, what is “Some brimstone baritone anti-cyclone rolling stone preacher from the east; he says ‘Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funnybone, that’s where they expect it least,'” and all the other strange lyrics, supposed to mean?

Manfred Mann, in various incarnations, also charted with “Do Wah Ditty” (remember the marching scene from “Stripes”?) and “The Might Quinn,” as well as with two other songs I liked back then, “Runner,” and “Sprits in the Night,” which I listened to for the first time in 20 years this week and realized (like “Blinded”) is full of drug references…ahh, the 80s were so much better.

Song: “Blinded by the Light”
Artist: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Year: 1977
Where I heard it: XM Channel 7


Nostalgic Song of the Day: ‘Shock the Monkey’

May 3, 2008

(Do a search on You Tube if the above video doesn’t play…embedding has been disabled.)

MONKEY…MON-KAYEE | Shocking MTV viewers

When Peter Gabriel’s “Shock the Monkey” video hit heavy MTV rotation upon its release in 1982, I remember everyone being mesmerized by it. I know I was. Every artist back then was interested in breaking new ground on the fledgling channel devoted to music videos, but Gabriel, the former lead singer for Genesis, was in a league of his own with this piece of work.

It’s hard to think of this song without imagining the video. The other day I heard someone ask whether they even showed videos on MTV these days. I honestly have no idea, but if they do, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything as original as this was in 1982. If your music tastes are stuck in the 80s, like mine, compare this video to something like Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love.” Palmer had success similar to Gabriel in the 80s, but there was a marked difference in their approach. There are artists, like Palmer, then there are artistes.

According to Wikipedia this song is “frequently assumed to be either an animal rights song or a reference to the famous experiments by Stanley Milgram described in his book Obedience to Authority. It is neither, although another Gabriel song, ‘We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37),’ from his 1986 album ‘So,’ does deal directly with Milgram. Gabriel himself has described ‘Shock the Monkey’ as ‘a love song’ that examines how jealousy can release one’s baser instincts; the monkey is not a literal monkey, but a metaphor for one’s feelings of jealousy.”

You could have fooled me. I had no idea…it’s just a cool video that turned a so-so song into a major hit. Videos for his other songs, including “Sledghammer” and “Big Time,” were also pretty good.

In the lyrics:
Fox the fox
Rat the rat
You can ape the ape
I know about that
There is one thing you must be sure of
I can’t take any more
Darling, don’t you monkey with the monkey
Monkey, monkey, monkey
Don’t you know you’re going to shock the monkey

Song: “Shock the Monkey
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Year: 1982
Where I heard it: XM Channel 08


Nostaligc Song of the Day: ‘From the Beginning’

April 28, 2008

Emerson, Lake & Palmer helped popularize “prog” music, or progressive rock, in the 1970s. Also known as “art rock,” this avant-garde approach marrying new technology in music with conceptualized lyrics was used by a number of English bands at the time, including Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd and The Moody Blues.

“From the Beginning” was ELP’s highest-charting song. It was part of 1972’s “Trilogy” album, and features Greg Lake’s vocals and acoustic guitar.

Song: “From the Beginning”
Artist: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Year: 1972
Where I heard it: XM Radio’s Channel 7 (70s music)


Nostalgic Song of the Day: “Off the Wall”

March 27, 2008

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BEFORE HE WAS KING | Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ set the stage 

It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since Michael Jackson’s landmark “Thriller,” which is far and away the best-selling album of all time, was released. But three years before that album helped turn the Gloved One into the self-proclaimed King of Pop – and certainly long before he became the official king of weird – Jackson’s “Off the Wall” reigned as a career-changing piece of work.

Recorded in 1979, “Off the Wall” was Jackson’s fifth solo album, coming a long four years after the lackluster “Forever, Michael” album made when Jackson was just 16. Produced by Quincy Jones, it reached #3 on Billboard’s album charter and eventually sold more than 20 million copies.

Some say it’s Jackson’s best work. He was said to have been disappointed that “Off the Wall” didn’t get more critical recognition, winning “only” one Grammy. That changed with 1982’s “Thriller,” which has sold, based on various accounts, somewhere between 45 and 105 million copies, earning eight Grammy awards and staying on the charts for nearly two full years.

At any rate, “Off the Wall” included four top-100 hits. “Off the Wall” was one I particularly liked.

Song: OFF THE WALL
Artist: Michael Jackson
Year: 1979
Where I heard it: XM Radio’s Channel 7

In the lyrics:

So tonight gotta leave that nine to five upon the shelf
and just enjoy yourself
groove, let the madness in the music get to you
life ain’t so bad at all
if you live it off the wall


Nostalgic Song of the Day: “Eurasian Eyes”

January 23, 2008

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COREY HART | Sunglasses off during the day 

He’s better known for his hits “Never Surrender” and “Sunglasses at Night,” but I was always partial to “Eurasian Eyes,” a song from Corey Hart’s 1985 album “Boy in the Box.”

A native of Montreal, Canada, Hart was huge in the mid-80s. His pouty good looks and popularity led to him being offered the role of Marty McFly in the movie “Back to the Future,” but he turned it down – and another Canadian, Michael J. Fox, accepted it and went on to movie stardom. (In another Trivial Pursuit moment, Hart turned down the chance to perform a song for the film “Top Gun.”)

“Eurasian Eyes” was a pretty typical mixed-beat Hart song…it starts softly but has some good driving guitar; it’s a staple on my current iPod playlists.

In the lyrics:

When the world is cold
With no one to hold
I can only see eurasian eyes
(You know) if love won’t lie
Cos the truth would cry
I can only see eurasian eyes
And if my heart is blind
Then why do I find
That I can only see eurasian eyes

Here’s the video of the song, which has 80s written all over it…still a cool song, though…