Aw, The ’80s (Part 2: 1985-1989)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

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Here is the second and final installment of my feature looking back at music and some related events in the ’80s. This part is focused on the second half of the decade. As noted in part 1, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review but instead a selection of things I find noteworthy.

1985

To me the key music event during this year and perhaps the entire decade was Live Aid. I was watching it on TV from Germany while simultaneously taping it on music cassette from the radio. Organized by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure as a fundraiser to fight starvation in Ethiopia, Africa, the benefit concert was conducted on July 13 simultaneously in the U.K. at London’s Wembley Stadium and the U.S. at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Among others, it featured Status Quo, Queen, U2, David Bowie, The Who and Paul McCartney at Wembley, while some of the performers in Philly included Joan Baez, Madonna, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and, in a less-than-stellar appearance, a reunited Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums. The concerts were watched by an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 countries and raised approximately 150 million British pounds.

Live Aid Wembley
The Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium was attended by 72,000 people

Other events that year included the official launch of VH-1 on cable TV in the U.S. (Jan 1); recording of the charity single for Africa We Are The World (Jan 28), co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by USA For Africa, who apart from Jackson and Ritchie featured Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cindy Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and numerous other top artists; release of Dire Straits’ fifth studio album Brothers In Arms, their best-selling record that among others became known for its exceptional sound quality due to its all-digital recording (May 13); Michael Jackson’s purchase of the publishing rights for most of The Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, out-bidding former artistic collaborator McCartney whose success in music publishing had inspired Jackson to increase his activities in the business (Sep 6); and Roger Waters’ announced intention to leave Pink Floyd, which marked the start of a two-year legal battle over the rights to the band’s name and assets.

The biggest hit singles of 1985 were Shout (Tears For Fears), We Are The World (USA For Africa), Take On Me (a-ha), I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner) and Material Girl (Madonna). Following is Money For Nothing, the second single from Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album, which they performed at Live Aid. Like on the studio recording, it featured Sting on backing vocals.

1986

On Jan 30, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony. The first batch of inductees included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. While over the years since, there has been much debate over who should be in the Rock Hall, the selection process, the award categories, etc., I think there is no doubt that the above artists all well-deserving inductees.

Rock Roll Hall of Fame 1986 Inductees
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1986 inductees (left to right): upper row: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino; lower row: The Everly Brothers, Buddy Hollie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley

Other events: Bob Geldorf’s knighthood award to recognize his work for Live Aid and other charity concerts for Africa (Jun 10); release of Madonna’s True Blue album, the best-selling record of year (Jun 30); and disbanding of The Clash, Electric Light Orchestra (revived by Jeff Lynne in 2000) and Men At Work.

The top-performing hit singles included Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) – the first German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), The Final Countdown (Europe), Take My Breath Away (Berlin) and West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys). The 1986 tune I’d like to highlight is Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, which was first released as a single in April. It also appeared on his fifth studio album So that came out the following month. Here’s the song’s official video, which won multiple accolades in 1987, including a record nine awards at the MTV Music Video Music Awards and “Best British Video” at the Brit Awards. It’s definitely one of the most memorable music videos of the decade.

1987

Some of the events in music during that year included the induction of Aretha Franklin as the first woman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 3); release of U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree (Mar 9), which topped the charts in 20-plus countries and became one of the world’s most commercially successful records, selling more than 25 million copies; Whitney Houston’s second studio album Whitney, the first record by a female artist to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Jun 27); launch of MTV Europe (Aug 1); and release of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first studio album after the departure of and legal battle with Roger Waters (Sep 7). Waters finally wrapped up his legal separation from the band later that year.

The highest-charting hit singles were La Bamba (Los Lobos), Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley); I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me (Whitney Houston), It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) and Who’s That Girl (Madonna) – I remember each of these songs like it was yesterday! Here’s Where The Streets Have No Name from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree. Credited to the band (music) and Bono (lyrics), the tune was released as the album’s third single in August 1987, five months after the record’s appearance.

1988

Some of the music events that year included the induction of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, Bob Dylan and The Supremes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 20); near-death experience for Alice Cooper on stage after one of the props, the Gallows, malfunctioned – yikes! (Apr 7); sale of legendary soul label Motown Records to MCA and financial firm Boston Ventures for $61 million (Jun 27); John Fogerty’s win of what sounds like a frivolous self-plagiarism lawsuit Fantasy Records had brought against him, claiming his 1985 comeback tune The Old Man Down The Road was too similar to Run Through The Jungle, which he had recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 (Nov 7); and final concert by Roy Orbison in Akron, Ohio (Dec 4) prior to his death from a heart attack only two days thereafter.

Leading hit singles: A Groovy Kind Of Love (Phil Collins), Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin), Always On My Mind (Pet Shop Boys),  Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle) and Take Me To Your Heart (Rick Astley). One 1988 song I like in particular is Under The Milky Way Tonight by Australian outfit The Church. Co-written by Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, it became the lead single to their excellent fifth studio album Starfish. Both were released in February that year. Here’s a clip.

1989

I can’t believe I made it to the last year of the decade! Some of the events I’d like to highlight are criticism of Madonna by religious groups worldwide over alleged blasphemous use of Christian imagery in her music video for Like A Prayer (Feb 23), which had premiered on MTV the day before; release of Bonnie Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time, one of my favorite records from her (Mar 21); release of Tom Petty’s excellent debut solo album Full Moon Fever (Apr 24); Ringo Starr’s formation of his All-Starr Band (Jul 23); opening of The Rolling Stones’ North American tour in Philadelphia to support their comeback album Steel Wheels (Aug 31), two days after the album had dropped; and release of Neil Young’s 17th studio album Freedom (Oct 2), best known for the epic Rockin’ In The Free World.

Key hit singles were Like A Prayer (Madonna), Eternal Flame (The Bangles), Another Day In Paradise (Phil Collins), The Look (Roxette) and Love Shack (The B-52s). The final ’80s tune I’d like to call out via clip is Down To London by Joe Jackson, an artist I’ve listened to for many years. He recorded the song for his 10th studio release Blaze Of Glory, which appeared in April 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

John Fogerty Teases New Song With Billy Gibbons

“Holy Grail” on Fogerty’s setlist for Blues And Bayous Tour with ZZ Top and to be included on next solo album

Collaborating with ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons “is like the holy grail,” John Fogerty told Billboard just ahead of the Blues And Bayous summer tour with ZZ Top that kicked of in Atlantic City last night. He also used the occasion to tease a new song appropriately called Holy Grail, which he cut with Gibbons in late February when they got together to announce the tour and recorded a promo for it. It’s got a nice La Grange vibe to it. Here’s a snippet.

Apparently, it was a bit of a challenge to get the rocker into the can in time for the tour, Fogerty noted in the above Billboard interview. “Billy was really busy during this time, and I think I might have grabbed the reins at some point because…I was starting to feel the deadline for the tour coming.” John Fogerty “grabbing the reins” is completely unheard of!

Further commenting on the new tune, Fogerty said, “It just occurred to me that standing on a stage somewhere playing guitar with Billy Gibbons, that’s gonna be the Holy Grail…I wanted to write a song about the Holy Grail, but of course I’m not so specific in the song.” Makes sense. Holy Grail is set for digital release on June 8. Fogerty is also planning to include the tune on his next solo album he hopes to release by the end of the year.

Added Gibbons: “It’s not an overstatement to say that writing a song with John Fogerty is a genuine bonus. It’s fair to say that John and I are both pumped about our collaboration and we think this new one called ‘Holy Grail’ holds true with some great storytelling and some solid guitarist movin’ the number right along. It begs a shout of, ‘Turn it up!'” Yep, it surely does!

Well, I got a ticket to see these guys this evening at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ – needless to add I’m pumped as well! Their setlists from last night are already available on Setlist.fm here and here and look awesome. The only wrinkle is the weather forecast that currently predicts a 50% chance of thunderstorms. Oh well, I guess I might actually end up seeing the rain coming down on a sunny day and a bad moon rising – but hey, that’s rock & roll!

Sources: Billboard, Ultimate Classic Rock, Atlantic City Weekly, Setlist.fm, YouTube

Clips & Pix: John Fogerty/Have You Ever Seen The Rain

Given I just got a ticket for the 2018 John Fogerty/ZZ Top Blues and Bayous Tour, Fogerty is very much on my mind. If I could only choose one song by Creedence Clearwater Revival, which admittedly would almost be impossible, I’d go with Have You Ever Seen The Rain? I just love this tune – plain and simple!

One of the many hits Fogerty wrote for the band, Have You Ever Seen The Rain? became a single backed with Hey Tonight, another ace tune, released in January 1971. Both songs were included on CCR’s sixth studio album Pendulum, which appeared in December 1970.

The song is a perfect illustration of Fogerty’s great ability to write simple tunes with great melodies. Most of the time, that’s when rock tends to be best, in my opinion.

I could have selected a more recent performance (in fact as recent as from 2017), but this is all concert footage captured by fans on smartphones, and as such the quality isn’t particularly great. Therefore, I went with this clip that apparently is from The Long Road Home – In Concert, a DVD and double-live album Fogerty put out in June 2006.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Creedence Clearwater Revival

The first Creedence Clearwater Revival song I heard was Have You Ever Seen The Rain. This must have been in Germany around 1974. My six-year older sister, who at the time was in her early teens, had the single. The B-side was Hey Tonight. I liked these two tunes from the very beginning. I also recall listening to Proud Mary and Bad Moon Rising on the radio. I dig this band to this day, and they’ve been on my mind for the past few weeks, since I learned about the Blues & Bayous Tour ZZ Top and John Fogerty will do together later this year.

The story of Creedence Clearwater Revival or CCR started about 10 years before they would become one America’s most successful rock bands. Their first incarnation was a trio called The Blue Velvets, formed in 1958 by Fogerty (guitar), Doug Clifford (drums) and Stu Cook (piano), who all were students at Portola Junior High School in the San Francisco suburb of El Cerrito. In the beginning, they mostly played instrumental music. Their first studio recording experience occurred in 1959, when they backed up African American singer James Powell on a single. Later that year, John’s older brother Tom Fogerty, who himself had been an aspiring music artist, joined the band as their lead vocalist, and they became Tommy Fogerty and The Blue Velvets. At the time, John was not singing yet.

Tommy Fogerty And The Blue Velvets

The band started to record some demos written by the two Fogerty brothers. A small Bay Area record company, Orchestra, decided to release a few of their songs, but they didn’t fare well. In 1964, the band signed with Fantasy Records, an independent San Francisco jazz label. Prompted by the record company, they changed their name to The Golliwogs. Fantasy released a few of their songs, but except for Brown Eyed Girl (unrelated to the Van Morrison tune), the music didn’t make any commercial impact. Eventually, most of the band’s members took on new roles: John became the lead vocalist, his brother changed to rhythm guitar, and Cook switched from piano to the bass.

In 1966, Fogerty and Clifford were drafted into the military and joined the Army Reserve and Coast Guard Reserve, respectively. During their six months of active duty, the band was put on the back burner. In 1967, the financially struggling Fantasy was purchased by Saul Zaentz, a salesman for the company, who had organized a group of other investors. Zaentz liked The Golliwogs but told them they needed to change their name. And so they did, to Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Creedence Clearwater Revival First Album

The band name had three different origins. Creedence was derived from Credence Newball, a friend of Tom’s. Clearwater was inspired by a beer TV commercial that used the words “clear water.” And Revival reflected the four members’ renewed commitment to the band. They didn’t waste any time to act on it and went to the studio to record their eponymous debut album. Even before it appeared at the end of May 1968, CCR’s cover of the Dale Hawkins tune Susie Q, which they had cut a few months earlier, already received radio play and a good deal of attention. It appeared separately as a single and became their first hit, peaking at no. 11 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 – the only CCR top 40 track not written by John Fogerty.

Following their breakthrough, CCR started touring heavily and shortly thereafter began working on their sophomore album Bayou Country, which was released in early January 1969. The band continued an intense touring schedule, which notably included the Atlanta Pop Festival (July 1969) and Woodstock (August 1969). Even though CCR was a headliner at Woodstock, none of their songs were included in the documentary and the accompanying soundtrack. John felt their performance had not been up to standard. Apparently, they had ended up playing at 3:00 am in the morning after the Grateful Dead, when only few people had been awake. It would take until 1994 when four of the tunes from that night were included in a commemorative box set titled Woodstock: Three Days of Peace and Music.

Ten days prior to Woodstock, CCR’s third studio record Green River was released. Four more albums followed: Willy And The Poor Boys (November 1969), Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970), Pendulum (November 1970) and Mardi Gras (April 1972). By the time this last record appeared, serious tensions over CCR’s artistic and business direction had emerged between John Fogerty and Cook and Clifford. In late 1970, Tom Fogerty already had left the band, which since had been a trio. In mid-October 1972, CCR broke up officially. Time to get to some music!

Susie Q, CCR’s breakthrough song from their first studio album, was recorded in January 1968 and appeared in June that year. Originally, the tune was released by Dale Hawkins in May 1957. It was co-written by him and Robert Chaisson, a member of his band. Due to CCR’s extended version, the single was split in parts one and two, which appeared on the A and B-sides, respectively.

Proud Mary from Bayou Country was the first of five no. 2 hits CCR scored on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, the band holds the record for achieving the most no. 2 singles without ever getting a no. 1 on that chart. Like pretty much all songs on the first four albums, the tune was written by John Fogerty. Various other artists have covered Proud Mary, most notably Ike & Tina Turner.

Green River is the title track of CCR’s third studio album from August 1969. The Fogerty tune is one of the no. 2 songs.

Down On The Corner is the opener of Willy And The Poor Boys, CCR’s fourth studio record and the third album the band released in 1969. The tune was also released as a single and became another hit for the band, climbing to no. 3. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fortunate Son, another track from Willy And The Poor Boys, was the B-side of the Down On The Corner single.

Cosmo’s Factory, CCR’s fifth studio record from July 1970, became the band’s most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 and the LP charts in the UK, Canada and Australia, among others. Here’s a clip of Up Around The Bend.

Another tune from Cosmo’s Factory I like in particular is Who’ll Stop The Rain.

The aforementioned Have You Ever Seen The Rain? is from the band’s sixth studio album Pendulum, the final record with Tom Fogerty. If I could only choose one CCR song, it would probably be this one. I totally dig the Hammond in that tune!

Here is Hey Tonight, another outstanding song.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Someday Never Comes from CCR’s final album Mardi Gras. Unlike the band’s previous records, songwriting and production were shared among Fogerty and Cook and Clifford, something Fogerty had fiercely opposed in the past. While Fogerty’s previous leadership may have been dictatorial, the record’s mixed to poor reviews indicate that a democratic approach wasn’t working well for CCR. Perhaps tellingly, Someday Never Comes and the other Fogerty tracks on the album are the best.

Despite CCR’s relatively short four-year career, they sold 30 million albums and singles in the U.S. alone. The band is ranked at no. 82 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists from December 2010. In 1993, CCR were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Sadly, Fogerty refused to perform with Cook and Clifford during the induction ceremony. His brother Tom had passed away in 1990.

Sources: Wikipedia, Creedence Online, Rolling Stone YouTube

When Covers Are Just As Much Fun As Originals

A playlist of some of my favorite remakes

Lately, I’m somehow in the mood of compiling lists: first car songs, then train tunes and now remakes. Given how much I enjoy listening to great covers, it’s a surprise I didn’t do this list first!

In general, remakes I like fall into two categories: A version that changes the character of a song, essentially turning it into a new tune. Perhaps the best example I can think of is Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends. Or it simply can be a remake of a tune that stays true to its original – nothing wrong with that, especially if it’s a great song! One terrific example I came across recently is Roger McGuinn’s cover of If I Needed Someone, one of my favorite Beatles tunes. I know, again the Fab Four – I just can’t help it!

Obviously, it won’t come as a big surprise that both of the above tunes are on my list. Here is the entire compilation.

With a Little Help From My Friends/Joe Cocker

Not only credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney by actually also written collaboratively by the two, With a Little Help From My Friends first appeared in May 1967 on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was one of only a handful of Beatles tunes featuring Ringo Starr on lead vocals. Cocker’s version came out two years later as the title song of his debut album. Here’s a clip of his legendary live performance at Woodstock.

Love Hurts/Nazareth

Written by American songwriter Boudleaux Bryant, Love Hurts was first recorded by The Everly Brothers in July 1960. In 1975, Scottish hard rock band Nazareth turned the tune into an epic power ballad, including it on their sixth studio album Hair of the Dog. It’s another great example of a remake that completely changed the character of the original tune.

Under the Boardwalk/John Mellencamp

Under the Boardwalk was first recorded by The Drifters and released as a single in June 1964. The song was created by songwriters Kenny Young and Arthur Resnick. Perhaps the best known cover of the tune is from The Rolling Stones, which was included on their second U.S. record 12 X 5 released in October 1964. While I like the Stones version, I think John Mellencamp did an even better remake for his 1999 studio album Rough Harvest.

Pinball Wizard/Elton John

Pinball Wizard is one of my all-time favorite tunes from The Who. Written by Pete Townsend, it was released as a single in March 1969 and also included on the Tommy album that appeared two months thereafter. The one thing I always felt about The Who’s version is that it ended somewhat prematurely. Enter Elton John and his dynamite, extended cover for the rock opera’s 1975 film adaption. Here’s a clip from the movie version with The Who – it doesn’t get much better! BTW, it also nicely illustrates how Sir Elton can rock and what a kick-ass piano man he is, no matter what glasses he wears, or boots for that matter! 🙂

Stand By Me/John Lennon

One of the most beautiful ballads of the 60s, Stand By Me was written by Ben E. King, together with the songwriter powerhouse of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. The tune was first released by King as a single in 1961 and also later included on his 1962 studio album Don’t Play That Song. One of my favorite remakes is John Lennon’s version, which he included on his sixth studio album Rock ‘n’ Roll released in February 1975. Here’s a nice clip of Lennon’s performance of the tune on the BBC television show The Grey Whistle Test.

If I Needed Someone/Roger McGuinn

Written by George Harrison, If I Needed Someone was included on The Beatles’ sixth studio album Rubber Soul from 1965. Harrison played his Rickenbacker 360/12 to record the tune, which he had first used the previous year during the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night. That’s where Roger McGuinn for the first time heard the beautiful sound of the 12-string electric guitar. He decided to use it for his own music, which resulted in The Byrds’ signature jingle jangle sound. Given this inspiration, it’s perhaps not a big surprise that McGuinn ended up recording a cover of the tune. It was included on his 2004 studio record Limited Edition.

Proud Mary/Ike & Tina Turner

Proud Mary was written by the great John Fogerty and first released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in early 1969, both as a single and on their second studio album Bayou Country. Then in 1971, Ike & Tina Turner recorded an amazing remake. It appeared as a single and was included on the album Working Together. The cover, which became their biggest hit, is another great example of how a remake can become a completely new song.

Light My Fire/José Feliciano

Credited to all four members of The Doors – Jim Morrison, Robbie Krieger, John Densmore and Ray Manzarek – Light My Fire appeared on the band’s eponymous debut album from January 1967. It was also released as a single in April that year. I’ve always loved the organ part on that tune. And then there is of course the cover from José Feliciano, which as a guitarist I appreciate in particular. It appeared on 1968’s Feliciano!, his fourth studio record. Feliciano’s laid-back jazzy style to play the tune is exceptionally beautiful.

Runaway/Bonnie Raitt

Runaway is one of my favorite early 60s pop tunes. Written by Del Shannon and keyboarder Max Crook, it was first released as a single by Shannon in February 1961. The song was also included on his debut studio album Runaway with Del Shannon, which appeared in June that year. Bonnie Raitt, who I’ve admired for many years as an exceptional guitarist and songwriter, recorded a fantastic remake for her 1977 studio album Sweet Forgiveness.  I was fortunate enough to see this amazing lady last year. She is still on top of her game! Here’s a nice clip of a live performance I found, which apparently occurred at the time the record came out.

Hard to Handle/The Black Crowes

Hard to Handle is one of the many great tunes from Otis Redding, who co-wrote it with Al Bell and Allen Jones. It was released in June 1968, six months after Redding’s untimely death at age 26 in a plane crash. In 1990, The Black Crowes recorded a fantastic rock version of the song for their debut studio album Shake Your Money Maker, scoring their first no. 1 single on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks. It is perhaps the tune’s best known cover.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Beatles Bible, YouTube