Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday 80s Flashback for September 21, 2012

This shirt is rated "Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!"

[Dress Like a Pirate] -- I realize that I missed posting a flashback last week. And I apologize for not helping you get your weekly 80s fix. But I'm back, and better than ever. Well, OK, all I can really say with any amount of certainty is that I'm back. And our theme this week is inspired by International Talk Like a Pirate Day, which is celebrated every year on September 19. And 2012 marks the 10th anniversary of this worldwide craze! Now, whenever I hear or read about pirate wannabes, I immediately think of the 80s. In fact, I recall a blurb in a magazine -- maybe Circus Magazine, maybe not -- in the mid- to late 80s that paired a few photos with the caption, "Who said the pirate look was dead, duh?" The number of frilled, puffy shirts and sashes on display definitely made the argument that the bands in question felt the look was very much alive. So ... Avast, me hearties! This week we'll look at a few acts that rocked (or attempted to rock) the pirate look. What treasures have I dug up for you? Read and hear more after the break.

Flashback #1"Stand up and turn around | Never let them shoot us down."

The rock band Heart has its origins in a 1963 band called The Army. They changed their name several times before the Wilson sisters (vocalist Ann Wilson and guitarist Nancy Wilson) joined in 1970. Shortly thereafter, the group settled on the name Heart. They had their big break in 1975 with the album Dreamboat Annie and its two big singles -- "Crazy on You" and "Magic Man"-- which are now staples of classic rock. The band continued to be successful through 1981 but dropped two commercially lackluster albums -- Private Audition (1982)  and Passionworks (1983). Despite tepid reviews and disappointing album sales, Passionworks' first single, "How Can I Refuse," reached number one on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart making it the band's first and only number one single. Our first Flashback this week, however, does not come from Heart's decline in the early 80s. Nay, me hearties, the Flashback is pulled from their comeback! You see, in 1984, Ann Willson participated on the soundtrack for a little movie called Footloose. She recorded the pop ballad "Almost Paradise" with Mike Reno of the rock band Loverboy. That song, co-written by top tunesmiths Eric Carmen and Dean Pitchford, landed squarely in the top ten of the US pop chart. In the wake of the soundtrack's success in general, and that of "Almost Paradise" in particular, Heart was encouraged to use outside songwriters and even change their sound a bit.

I'm not sure what influenced their wardrobe change, but they certainly embraced corsets, fluffy shirts, and a few other pirate/glam touches.

"What? These outfits? Oh, just a little something from the back of the closet. Davey Jones' closet."
Anyway, in 1985, Heart released their self-titled eighth studio album which featured work from several well-known songwriters (such as Jim Vallance, Holly Knight, Mark Mueller, and Bernie Taupin). I wanted to use the album's first single, "What About Love," because its video has the best, or strangest, imagery. But, it is the second single, "Never," that features the band in their very best pirate finery. "Never" was a solid top 10 hit peaking at #4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart. It also reached #8 on the UK Singles Chart. Heart was now a pop band, and they played polished songwriting, powerful hooks, and the Wilson sisters' tightly corseted bosoms all the way to the most popular album they ever released.

Flashback #2"People at the city say he's buried underground | They're turning over the stones but there's nothing here to be found."

Many bands in the 80s, particularly of the hair metal variety, wore ridiculous outfits. A good percentage of such bands needed the dressage to get the attention that their music couldn't quite snag. A few bands, however, were quite good musically but they could not quite overcome the visual image. Take Blue Murder for instance. The band photo for their first album makes them look like extras in a bad pirate movie:
"Yo, ho, ho! It's the pirate style for me!"
Blue Murder was born when guitarist John Sykes -- fresh off of boosting Whitesnake to huge commercial success -- figured he could front his own melodic and bluesy rock band. That or he was motivated to do so because Whitesnake's lead singer, David Coverdale, had given him the boot. Still, Whitesnake's label, Geffen Records, was willing to sign Sykes to a deal. After going through a few musicians, Sykes settled on a three-piece consisting of himself, Tony Franklin on bass, and drummer Carmine Appice (this was after his stint with King Kobra ... and purple hair). They released their self-titled debut album in 1989.  For all the potential of this band, critics have dismissed it as having too much peroxide and strongly evoking "Bad Zeppelin-isms." Fans, though not numerous, were kinder, praising them for bringing back a full, deep sound and a cool rock vibe. Our final flashback of the day is "Ptolemy," which shows the band's diverse influences such as gypsy elements and Mediterranean vistas. Or something like that.

Flashback #3"Pussycat carries a postcard | Won't the big city be nice?"

How could I do a post about the pirate look in the 80s and not include the dandiest of dandy rockers from that decade? Adam Ant (whose birth name was Stuart Leslie Goddard) launched his music career in 1975 as the bassist for Bazooka Joe. During his tenure with this band, he witnessed a performance by the Sex Pistols and was reportedly the only "Joe" who was impressed. He left Bazooka Joe and concentrated on a new band, the B-Sides, which rehearsed quite a bit but never did any gigs. During this time, he was also a student at Hornsey College of Art where he met Carol Mills, a fellow student whom he married. It was while Adam (i.e., Stuart) and his wife were living with her parents that he developed anorexia and eventually attempted to kill himself via drug overdose. He had his stomach pumped, and he was sent to Colney Hatch mental hospital. Says Adam in a Guardian interview (2002): "I was totally [effed] up in the head. Things went wrong and something snapped. I just became a vegetable for three months. I couldn't talk to people. I was very ill and that was part of the reason I left college." After he was finally discharged from the hospital, Stuart renamed himself Adam Ant while Carol took on the name Eve.
"What? Can't you tell I'm feeling much better now?"
He then formed Adam and the Ants with a few of his former B-Sides bandmates in 1977. This band performed, with varying members, from 1977 to 1982 during which time they recorded three albums. But in March of 1982, Adam disbanded the group because he felt some members just weren't enthusiastic enough. He embarked on his solo career, releasing his debut album, Friend or Foe, later that year. In 1983, he began recording his second solo album, Strip, which was released in November of 1983. Strip featured Phil Collins as both drummer and producer, and included vocals from former ABBA member Anni-Frid Lyngstad. (Note: This is likely as close as I will ever get to including ABBA in a Friday 80s Flashback post). This album is also the home of our final flashback of the day. "Puss 'n Boots" was the lead single from Strip and it reached #5 on the UK chart. It does not seem to have charted in the US, but the video did make the rounds on MTV. There are better examples of Adam Ant's Yo ho ho sensibility, but this video is unmatched in combining his pirate flair, romantic influences, and straight up zany pantomime themes. Enjoy!

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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