Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday 80s Flashback for November 19, 2010

[Second Acts] -- Themes for the Flashback are strange and often take on a life of their own. Consider this week's theme of "Second Acts." For my purposes, I define a Second Act as the result of an individual artist, or an entire band, that decided to go in a new direction. I was specifically looking at artists that joined or formed a new band, or bands that shifted format/direction due to personnel changes. I didn't care so much whether the change was a conscious choice, or if the artist was forced to change simply to continue recording. I also don't care whether the change was ultimately judged as boon or bane to the artist's career. Now, the idea of Second Acts was not my original choice for today, but it has been on my list of TBD themes, so it has been on my mind. The issue, you see, is that when I write the Flashback, I try to hew closely to my trio formula: provide (1) background, (2) my recollections, and (3) a video link for each one of -- say it with me now -- three different 80s tunes that reflect the chosen theme. However, when I turned my attention to Second Acts in the 80s, I was stuck after making only two selections. Of course, there are countless examples of what I call the Second Act, but I cannot just simply pull a third option from the proverbial hat. I need to have some kind of connection to the song, otherwise I'm simply parroting what other music bloggers have said about it. And I just could not come up with a viable third tune. That is, I could not make that final selection until this morning. A more accurate assessment might be to say that the song presented itself to me.

Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1
: "Now I know what those hands would do | No looking back now, we're pushing through | We'll change these feelings, we'll taste and see | But never guess how the him would scream."  The spring of 1980 found the members of Joy Division in mourning. Ian Curtis -- the band's singer, lyricist, and songwriter -- had committed suicide in the wake of a failing marriage and his ongoing health problems (he suffered from epilepsy). The remaining members -- Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook, and Stephen Morris -- decided to carry on, but only under a new name and working on new material. During the latter half of 1980, only two songs were carried over from their work as Joy Division, but all of the material was still deeply influenced by the Joy Division sound and markedly informed by the band members sorrow and shock over the loss of Curtis. Movement was released in November 1981, 18 months after Curtis' suicide and just over a year after keyboardist Gillian Gilbert joined the band, rounding out the foursome. As far as debut albums go, Movement was a bit of a disappointment. However, viewed through the lens of history, we can see how this album represented a natural progression in New Order's development as a post-punk, electronic dance act. "Dreams Never End" may not be the best representation of what was to come, but it was a fitting tribute to their fallen comrade and, if you listen carefully, you can hear a hint of what made them one of the most influential bands of the 80s.

Flashback #2
: "Met a dwarf that was no good | Dressed like little Red Riding Hood | Bad habit taking life | Calling card a six inch knife | Ran off really fast | Mumbled something `bout the past." After a falling out with his mates in The Clash, and brief stints in both General Public and the short-lived T.R.A.C, guitarist Mick Jones formed Big Audio Dynamite (often known as B.A.D.). What could you expect from one of the men responsible for infusing punk with other musical elements such as reggae, ska, dub, funk, rap, dance, and rockabilly? If you answered, "Just about anything," you would be correct. Big Audio Dynamite took an everything-AND-the-kitchen-sink approach to their music. Mick Jones took all of his previous influences and incorporated the expertise of his new bandmates, throwing hip hop, funk, and sampling into the mix. The first single from This Is Big Audio Dynamite (1985) is considered the first song "to make use of highly defined sampling technologies" and it includes samples from not only previous music recordings but also films. And any song that references Albert Einstein (in the lyric, "King of Brains") is just tops in my book.

Flashback #3
: "The first and the last are telling it all, Telling you loud but selling it small." Seems hard to believe that David Bowie was ever, shall we say, relatively anonymous, doesn't it? But that's exactly where David Bowie was in the mid-60s and early 70s, the latter being the time he sort of hid behind the persona of first Ziggy Stardust and then Aladdin Sane. However, by the time 1988 rolled around, Bowie was well-established as a superstar on the radio, in music videos, and even a few film appearances. 1988 also followed on the heels of Bowie's Glass Spider Tour, an 86-show tour of mammoth proportions in support of Never Let Me Down (1987). I saw a taped performance from this tour -- I think it was HBO that showed footage from the two November 1987 performances in Sydney, Australia -- and it just blew me away. I found it to be a full-on spectacle that had more in common with variety shows than rock concerts. In researching today's Flashback, I learned that critics at the time did not agree with my assessment (they really should have asked me), and they pretty much maligned the whole affair. Shortly thereafter, Bowie shelved his hugely popular solo career and retreated into the relative anonymity (remember I mentioned that at the beginning of this write-up) of the hard-rocking quartet known as Tin Machine. Tin Machine was slightly experimental, flexed heavy guitar muscles, and spouted simple yet politicized lyrics. They were stylistically distanced from other rock acts due to the dapper suits they wore when performing. Tin Machine never really garnered the success that I felt they richly deserved, and Bowie went back to being a solo artist after recording only two albums in this formation. Check out this video of "Heaven's In Here" from Tin Machine's self-titled 1989 debut. These guys were not your typical head-bangers, and that was a great thing. 

Three shall be the recalling of Flashbacks, and the number of Flashbacks shall be three! See you next time, 80s-philes!

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