Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback for July 27, 2012

[That Was Close] -- I wanted this week's Flashback to be a follow-up to my 6/29/2012 post (A.I. in the 80s), with a focus on robots rather than computers that had gained sentience. Alas, I have not been very successful in compiling what I would consider a good playlist for that theme. I have plenty of fodder, but much of the music has been ... meh. I knew I needed to change gears and pick a theme that would easily and quickly inspire me to complete this week's post. So I did what I have often done when I needed writing inspiration: I shook my iPod Nano (you know, to get random play working). After the telltale "doodle dee doo" played, the first song queued up, and upon hearing its initial notes I knew I had what I needed. This week's theme features songs that are close. Well, more accurately, songs about being/getting close to someone or something. I can even tie it to the 2012 Olympics which kick off tonight: Many athletes in London over the next 17 days will come close to their ultimate goal of winning an Olympic medal, but far more will return home with only their memories. Well, that's a bit of a downer. But if you're still wondering what tunes not only came close but actually landed in my playlist this week, then read and hear more after the break.

(Oh, maybe when you're done, you can guess which song  kicked it all off -- And, no, they are not in order here!)

Flashback #1"HEY!YEH DUM! DUM! TRA LA LA!"

What is considered avant-garde one year may appear trifling or silly with the passage of a few years (or even less time). Obviously, this blog is not avant-garde as I have maintained a relatively consistent record of being silly. And while many would revile the 80s as being the home decade for nothing but trifling and silly music, our beloved decade did indeed have its own share of avant-garde, experimenting artists. This was most evident in synthpop and electronic music as these areas were both benefitting from advances in audio technology. Interestingly, the new devices that became available to record production engineers often afforded those same engineers the opportunity to transition from supporting artists to becoming artists. (Yes, many studio wizards started out as session musicians, but the fact remains that it is only a small pool of studio regulars who have had chart success with their own bands). Take for example the Fairlight CMI. Trevor Horn (The Buggles, Yes) was among the first to purchase the Fairlight sampler, and his production team started using it in 1983 to sample drum riffs as well as other parts of previously recorded songs (or bits that had been discarded when recording other songs) and even non-musical sounds. Upon hearing the resultant track, Horn got his arranger involved and a long-term side project was born: The Art of Noise. Now, the Art of Noise did not pioneer the use of samples in rock music. But up to this point, the most anyone had done was use samples as a gimmick or to adorn a song. No one had yet crafted an entire song -- let alone an album -- from samples. In 1984, the Art of Noise released their debut album, Who's Afraid of the Art of Noise? It had a top ten hit in the UK with our first flashback of the day: "Close (To the Edit)". This song's title is lifted from Yes' "Close to the Edge" and it even samples "Leave It" from Yes' 1983 album, 90125. Also featured in the song are samples from a car, a spoken-word vocal performance, and Camilla Pilkington-Smyth shouting, "Hey!" The staccato beats, strange vocals, and quick cuts of the song were mirrored in the shooting style of the original music video. This video features a little girl, dressed in punk rock attire, leading three men around a junk yard as they destroy several musical instruments. I must admit that while I love this song, I initially found the video somewhat disturbing back in 1984. I wonder if I'm the only one who had that reaction.

Flashback #2"Outside your balcony I have a room with a view | And I'm watching you."

Our second flashback artist today previously appeared in the 10/7/2011 post (Washington Rocks). Queensrÿche formed in 1981 in Bellevue, WA. Originally named, The Mob, they were encouraged to change their name to Queensrÿche styled somewhat after "Queen of the Reich", the first song on their demo tape (remember, kids, umlauts are cool, but the Nazi reich is not). Following the release of their 1982 demo EP, they added more progressive elements to their metal sound for their debut LP, The Warning (1984). By their sophomore effort, Rage for Order (1986), they had fully embraced the progressive metal style, polishing their sound without losing any of its harsh intensity while also assuming a more glam image. But it's a rather sinister glam as evidenced by our second flashback of the day. The only single off Rage for Order, this song is a cover of alternative rocker Dalbello's 1984 single (an edgy hit in Canada). "Gonna Get Close to You" is, at its core, a full-on, terrifying stalker monologue. The wailing guitars, pounding drums, and siren keyboards punctuate the fact that there is nothing romantic about this song. But I love every single note, especially the ones that Geoff Tate shapes with his voice, a voice that can destroy glass and incapacitate wild dogs. 

Flashback #3"I've waited hours for this | I've made myself so sick | I wish I'd stayed asleep today."

Our final flashback of the day comes from one of my favorite albums by The Cure: The Head on the Door (1985). In 1985, while recording their sixth studio album, Robert Smith and company were moving further away from the sound that had initially defined them. They experimented more with keyboards and synthesizers, and gained more confidence in the recording studio. But even as they explored these new sonic directions, they still maintained their identity courtesy of Smith's warbling vocals. The second single off The Head on the Door reached the top 40 in the UK, France, Ireland, and the US. It has been used as theme music for two BBC programs, and even found its way into the closing credits of a 2007 film (Son of Rambow). That's pretty wide accessibility for a band that had been previously dismissed as a petty goth group. As I said at the beginning of this blurb, The Head on the Door is one of my favorite Cure records, and this track, "Close to Me," is one of my all time favorite Cure songs. The bouncy syncopation of drums, bass, and handclaps wedded to a simple, almost childlike, keyboard riff make me smile every time I hear them. And, of course, the horn bit (synthesized in the first version of the tune, but replaced with brass instruments in a later version for The Cure's hits compilations) also contributes to joy that is "Close to Me." 

Cure - Close To Me by jpdc11

Once again, I remind you that the rule of three applies when doing Flashbacks. As I've made my three offerings, that's all till next week. Dedicated 80s-philes can find more flashbacks in the archives. As always, your comments are welcome on today's, or any other, flashback post. And if you like what I'm doing here, please share the link with your friends. If, however, you don't like the flashback, feel free to share it with your enemies.

And if you are on Twitter, and feel so inclined, please +K my influence in Music on @klout.

I'll see you in seven!

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