Friday, April 08, 2011

Friday 80s Flashback for April 8, 2011

"Playing with the Rain" from

[Rain Over Me] -- I've been terribly busy this week and my good friend, Debbie, had to remind me via a Facebook post that another Flashback was expected. Due to my work load at the dayjob and pre-production tasks at the theater, I had not even thought up a theme. Fortunately, another good friend, Cameron, was at the ready with a suggestion: Rain. 

I thought that was a good idea.

We are in the midst of a fairly cold and wet Spring, colder than we've had in a good long while. And rain has been our frequent companion here in southeast PA. Heck, a good chunk of the country was slapped silly with flood conditions over the last week. After Monday teased the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys with a high of 71 degrees, Tuesday came in and bludgeoned us with precipitation. I must have driven through three or four different weather systems on my morning commute that day! And, guess what, more rain is on the docket for this weekend. 

So, I accepted Cam's challenge, and selected a few rainy day tunes. What is in this soggy playlist? Read and hear more after the jump.

Flashback #1: (Instrumental)

Regulars 80s-philes know that I like to go stretch the musical horizons when I embark on these weekly flashback journeys. And I'm telling you: Today's first flashback artist really knew how to stretch a horizon (or a casual listener's patience). Last Exit was a ferocious and uncompromising free-jazz band formed in 1986. They remained active to about the mid-90s, disbanding after their guitarist's death. Upon joining forces, they were considered something of a supergroup due to the pedigree of the musicians involved: Bassist Bill Laswell (also known for his work with Material and as a producer), drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson (who didn't know the meaning of "false modesty"), guitarist Sonny Sharrock (no stranger to precise distortion), and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (who generally sounded like he was playing with a split reed). These guys were chaotic and loud, louder than many rock bands at the time. They released several live records, but only one studio album, Iron Path (1988). Iron Path found the foursome displaying more restraint than on their live efforts, and it seemed to focus more on textures and experimentation. Still, even on Iron Path, Last Exit could improvise with a tension matched only by two large ships passing in complete darkness, far from the shore. What does that even mean? I'm not sure; I just remember the line from a review I read for the record back in '88. And I bought the CD because of that review (I think it was in Musician magazine, but I cannot find it online). Anyway, read the liner notes for Iron Path and then check out "Devil's Rain." It definitely puts me in mind of some of our recent, rainy mornings.

Flashback #2
"Looking outside my window  | And all I see is grey | I'm watching the clouds roll by every day." 

By the middle of 80s, the members of Hüsker Dü looked more like clerks and accountants than hardcore punk heroes. Of course, very few accountants could match drummer Grant Hart's heroin habit, but that's a story for another time. Warehouse: Songs and Stories (1987) was the band's final studio album. It was originally released as a double LP in vinyl, but when re-released on CD, all the tunes fit on a single disc. Hüsker Dü was never a band to tear up the charts, so I'm simply choosing one of my favorite songs from the album, a song that fits within our theme today rather than a tune that was released as a single for airplay. 

I still remember the first time I heard our second flashback. It was the beginning of my sophomore year at Penn State. There was a dance at the North Halls' tennis courts and, as an Orientation Leader, my attendance was kind of voluntarily mandatory. I helped to inform the new freshman about the event and even lead a gaggle of them over for its start. After a few songs, everyone was still just standing around the perimeter, afraid to dance in front of their new peers. Gretchen, one of the DJs, turned to me and said, "Watch this." She quickly cued up a song and led a small group (including me) to the middle of the tennis court, er, dance floor. As the first few chords of "Standing in the Rain" pelted us, we were overcome and just started bouncing around uncontrollably. I knew I would be buying this album on my next trip downtown.

Flashback #3
"When it rains it rains all the colors in my paintbox." 

One of my favorite bands from the 80s was XTC, and Skylarking (1986) is one of my favorite XTC albums. Produced by Todd Rundgren, Skylarking is a life-in-a-day concept album, but it didn't start out that way. Rundgren had to convince the members of XTC that their songs would fit a concept even though they had not not composed them with any concept in mind. I'm not sure if Rundgren is a genius for seeing what others couldn't, or if he was simply stoned. (In a late 80s interview, Andrew Partridge, XTC's singer, said that Rundgren smoked pot through most of the recording sessions). Skylarking received high praise from both fans and critics. In 1989, Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as one of the 100 greatest albums of the 80s. Colin Moulding, XTC's bassist, would later refer to the album as one of his favorites. 

This must be the day for non-singles, because our third flashback is just like the previous two in that it was never released for airplay. But it is the only tune on this record that matches our theme, and it's the perfect track to end the flashback. Of course, without being released as a single, the song has no official music video. Not to worry. Ned Nickerson has assembled a lovely slide show for your viewing pleasure as you listen to "Ballet for a Rainy Day." Now, this particular presentation fades the song out at the end. But on the album, "Ballet for a Rainy Day" cross-fades directly into "1000 Umbrellas." So, if you want that full audio effect, go check out this video. But do wait until after you check out Ned's work here:

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. But if you 80s-philes need more flashbacks, please visit 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 you don't like the flashback, share it with your enemies.

I'll see you in seven!

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