#88 Loverboy – Get Lucky (1981)

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I have reminisced earlier on this blog (and to be sure, I will again before I’m done) on the early 1980’s hard rock explosion. Loverboy was right smack in the middle of it. The band’s self titled debut turned into a double platinum surprise smash. As a 7th grader I remember cranking my Panasonic Platinum boom box as loud as it could go if I heard the “The Kid Is Hot Tonight” or the music intro to “Turn Me Loose” with it’s funky bass line come on KQ92 or Stereo 101, I’m sure to my parents dismay ( I gotta do it my way…or no way at all). Their debut album sold over a million copies in Canada and went double platinum in the States.

In October of 1981 I turned 13 years old…..and Loverboy released the much anticipated follow up to their eponymous debut Get Lucky.  While the first single from the album reached just #29 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Working For The Weekend” was an instant rock radio smash and has withstood the test of time to stand as a classic rock song. It’s anthem like chorus and hedonistic message struck a chord in our teen souls. This was an age where AOR radio was far more important to album sales for a rock band than chart success or Top 40 airplay. The beauty of AOR radio in the early 1980’s was the fact that program directors and DJ’s still had huge input on which songs would be played. The request line was a real thing that could influence whether a song got on the air. Radical concept,huh? As the 1980’s went on MTV became more of an influence on record sales and airplay…what a shame.

This combination often lead to songs that became “hits” without ever being released by the record company as a single or being released as a single solely because of increased airplay from AOR Radio. This is the reason songs like “Lucky Ones” and “Jump” were huge hits with the teenagers of the day but failed to chart. “Jump” is still my favorite song from this record and the songs co-writer, fellow Canadian Bryan Adams, would be a huge sensation himself in a couple of years. The other big hit off this album “When It’s Over” was symbolic of rock music at the time. Pre Heavy Metal you could have a keyboard player and still be a rock band. This song was driven by the synthesizer and brokenhearted teenage boys.

Loverboy was always a guilty pleasure of mine and my friend Jeff Koolmo. We have seen them live countless times. The first time we saw them live was on a scorching July day in Minneapolis in 1983 at the now long gone Parade Stadium at a concert called The Great Northern Picnic. Loverboy headlined the show which included Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Greg Kihn and Quiet Riot. We have seen them over the years and almost evry kind of venue including at the St.Paul Civic Center, Riverfest at Harriet Island, the Minneapolis Rib Fest and the Medina Ballroom.

 

 

 

 

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#89 Prince – 1999 (1982)

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Prince….Minneapolis….1980’s. These 3 things are forever linked in music history. While the Purple One had a one off #11 hit in 1979 with “I Wanna Be Your Lover”  , when releasing his career launching 5th album 1999, he was still a relatively unknown entity outside of the Twin Cities. With this record that all changed.

In those early ’80’s, when I was in my early teens and too young to drive, we spent a whole lot of time at Great Skate roller rink. It exposed us lily white suburban kids to what is now called urban music, but what we at the time simply called funk. On most Tuesday nights and Saturday afternoons you could find me there with Jeff Koolmo,Rick Hanscom, or Kent Larson. Grandmaster Flash, Sugar Hill Gang, Lakeside, The Time, Rick James…and of course Prince…would be the type of music playing as we would race around the outside of the glossy basketball type floor of the rink at breakneck speed with just the music and the sweet hum of my florescent green Sims wheels (or occasionally slowing it down and taking the short route around the 3 elevated dance floors located in the center of the rink). Ahhh, how I long for those gloriously innocent Junior High days of 1982, when the biggest concern would be “My mom will drive if your Mom will pick us up”. Of course they still played rock and pop, but it was all mixed in together and whatever was playing was solely dependent on the whims of the God-like figured perched up high in the DJ Booth in the corner of the rink. You could go from AC DC “Dirty Deeds” to Grandmaster Flash “The Message” to Billy Squier “The Stroke” to The Time “The Walk” …all in the course of 20 minutes. Truly a magical place.

His previous record Controversy had done well in R & B charts (and we knew it well at the rink) and had spawned two top 10 Billboard R & B hits (the title cut and “Let’s Work”). It was the success in the R & B community that afforded him the clout to release a double album which was a pretty ballsy move for an artist with the limited audience and exposure he had at that time. He was already an artist that had complete artistic control and he had  established his studio style. But it would evolve even more on 1999 into would eventually become known as the synthesizer and drum machine heavy Minneapolis Sound (he would branch this out into several other projects that would include such bands as The Time, Sheila E. and Vanity 6,etc.).

When the first single released, the title cut “1999”, us rink rats were all over it from the start and song’s opening warning declaration/introduction…”Don’t worry…I only want you to have some fun” (I know I bought this album right away on the strength of that song alone and I’m pretty sure Koolmo did too). Even though in reality “1999” is a song that was a protest against nuclear proliferation, it was more uptempo and upbeat than Prince’s earlier material. It is not like at 14 we were oblivious to the song’s deeper meaning (Mommy…why does everybody have a bomb?) but goddamn what a fun song to dance and skate to. Intailly this song peaked out at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100, at that time making it his biggest hit since “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. But after “Little Red Corvette” blew up it was re-released, climbing all the way to #12. On the album the title cut seamlessly bleeds right into “Little Red Corvette”, a synth-funk masterpiece about a promiscuous young lady whose lifestyle was as fast paced as the aforementioned muscle car. While in the previous song Prince had lion in his pocket that was ready to roar…this girl had a pocket full of horses (Trojans…and some of them used). This song was a breakout mega hit peaking at #6. Then you move right on to track 3 “Delirious” (this is where Eddie Murphy got it from, not the other way around). For me, this song is a synth-pop masterpiece that would also crack the top 10 clocking in at #8. These 15 minutes of music alone would be enough…but this was just side 1 of 4. Prince had already well established his tendency for strong sexual content in his lyrics on his previous releases. While these 3 songs were heavy on sexual reference, it was mostly innuendo and double entendre word play. In my opinion this self restraint allowed his music to be more accessible to the masses. This self restraint is far in the rear view mirror when you flip the record over and play the first track of side 2, “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”. At 14 years old this is where I plugged the headphones in so my parents wouldn’t walk by and hear Prince saying “I sincerely wanna fuck the taste out of your mouth”. I still think the song ends on one of the best Prince lyrics of all time (If you think I’m crazy, you’re probably right…but I’m gonna have fun every motherfucking night). Then we move on to one of my favorite songs ever to skate to “D.M.S.R” (Dance,Music,Sex,Romance) which finished out the second side of the record. It’s a glory filled 8 minute rave up that was always sure to work up such a sweat that you’d have to leave the floor when it was finished to get a coke at the concession stand and see how Jeff was doing on the Defender machine. While there are good songs on the 2nd album of this 2 disc set (most notably “Automatic” and “Lady Cab Driver”). If you looked at both the records from my set, it would be beyond obvious which one saw more action. 1999 is a classic that will always bring me back to those wonderful memories of my early 1980’s Roosevelt Junior High days in suburban Minneapolis when life was about fun and the complications of responsibility and High School and growing up still seemed so far off. This album was the perfect bridge between Controversy and Purple Rain…..but that’s another blog post.

Prince 1999

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#90 Joe Firstman – El Porto (2009)

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It’s funny how things can be cyclical. Joe Firstman lit out on the old dog out of Charlotte, North Carolina in his early 20’s for the bright lights of Los Angeles. Leaving the Dirty South for La La Land. I find it ironic because 2009’s El Porto is a return to roots of sorts for Joe. The piano has been traded in ( for the most part, but not completely) , metaphorically speaking, for the guitar. The result is a more earthy and organic sound than 70’s sounding disjointed rock that was on DrAma & Fell Swoops.  It isn’t country, but it’s not far off, ya’ll. More folk than rock. It’s a return to thoughtful and introspective songwriting and yet another musical makeover for Firstman.

Shots of Makers October 2009

Shots of Makers October 2009

“The One That Makes You Happy” isn’t just the best song on this record, it’s holding a reserve spot near the top of the rotation for the Rhino Records Greatest Hits package. Joe’s voice sounding so sincere over a slow groove that’s as warm and smooth as a midnight glass of Maker’s Mark in front of a roaring winter fire. Yeah…it’s that good. The music is slowed down, like a southern drawl allowing songs like “Crowded Town” & “Only For A While” to breathe. While the songs are short and concise (no song clocking in longer than 3:35) they feel like finished thoughts. They feel as long as they were meant to be (as confusing as that may sound). While the stripped down, sparse musicality of “Marlene And Her Sisters” and “Mr.Winston” in no way resemble the opus like qualities of “The War Of Women”-era Firstman, they grow on you after a few plays and soon thereafter you will find yourself humming the tune.  An album that fits better on the front porch than the Sunset Strip. This was the album and era where Joe really set his mind to be a road dog and perfect his craft in every small shit hole he could play, in front of the loud whiskey soaked drunks (guilty as charged).  A corner had been turned and El Porto was a first step in the right direction of his next musical journey.

other Joe Firstman on this blog;

#107 Joe Firstman – DrAma (2007)

#125 Joe Firstman – Live At The Sandbox (2006)

#191 Joe Firstman – Fell Swoops (2008)

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#91 The Replacements – Don’t Tell A Soul (1989)

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The Replacements. Well that’s probably what you call them. But if you were there, then you know that they’re simply The Mats. You can have Seattle and Athens because for my money there was no more influential time and place for music than Minneapolis in the 1980’s. Prince, The Time, Husker Du, Slave Raider,Soul Asylum…. and the Mats. If Prince was the king of the Minneapolis music scene, then the Mats were surely the court jesters. On any given night when you went to see them play you had no idea what you may be in store for…it could be one of the best shows you’ve ever scene or it could be a complete drunken train wreck that would devolve into the boys telling the audience to fuck off and smashing their shit. Therein lies the beautiful contradiction that was the Replacements. I was fortunate enough in the late 80’s and early 90’s to see some of the debauchery first hand. There was a time when I held a residence in the infamous C.C. Club where I was known to deal in the exchange of pharmaceutical powders. The C.C. Club sits on the corner of 26th and Lyndale in South Minneapolis, 2 blocks from where on I lived on 28th and Lyndale. But the real significance is what sat across the street. Kitty corner from the bar was Oar Folkjokeopus and Twin/Tone Records, which was basically the center of the Minneapolis rock universe. Because of the bars proximity to these sacred rock institutions, business was very good for awhile. On any given night Paul Westerburg from the Mats, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and/or Peter Buck from REM could be in the joint. It was amazing how on any given night or day who may walk thru the door of the C.C. Club in those crazy decadent days.The after closing parties could be legendary and last well after the light of the South Minneapolis sunrise. Of all those people my favorite probably was the beautiful wreck that was Bob Stinson who unfortunately could never learn how to put the brakes on that lifestyle and ended up dying in that same South Minneapolis neighborhood at the tragically young age of 34. Some of those guys probably still owe me money…but with guys like that, fronting them was always a chance to hang out with these local rock Gods…and where rock Gods were, women were always near by. But that’s all another story for another day.

By the time Don’t Tell A Soul was released the band was barely hanging on. It marked the debut of Slim Dunlap on guitar, as Bob Stinson was no longer with the group. There was no mistaking that this record was the band taking their shot at the big time. Unfortunately (or fortunately maybe) it was a swing and a miss. While it would be the groups highest charting album and produce their only Billboard Hot 100 single ( “I’ll Be You” reached #51) it just wasn’t enough. The end really was the disastrous tour they had as the opening act for Tom Petty. The album itself is one of the groups weakest efforts. But just like the band itself…in the midst of shit grows beauty. “Achin’ To Be” is one of my all time favorite Mats songs. It captures classic Westerburg lyricism at it’s best (thought about not understood… she’s achin’ to be)…pure gold. While I also love ” I’ll Be You” and “Talent Show” the rest of this record it is uneven. It would be the last real Mats record. There would be one more album released, All Shook Down, but it was really a glorified Westerburg solo record that carried the Replacements name.

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#92 Van Halen – Women And Children First (1980)

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One of the drawbacks to my blog is that there are so many instances of bands I like so much that when I switched over to digital I replaced the cassettes with Greatest Hits and Anthologies. This leaves some artist representations seem woefully lacking. It’s a flaw in my system. Van Halen falls right into that category, as I had so many cassettes from this band but the only digital replacement that was made falls right here…Woman And Children First. Many bands have held the title as “biggest rock band in the world” and for a time in the early 1980’s if you were a teenager…Van Halen was that band. Through disco,punk and then new wave….Van Halen was the torch bearer for balls out hard rock. They had the golden maned sex pot front man, the lightning fingered guitar God and embraced their image of a good time drug and alcohol fueled party band. In the early ’80’s nobody shook an arena like the mighty Van Halen and few kids notebook covers in junior high didn’t have the famous “VH” logo drawn on them. Before you knew what a narrcessitic prick Eddie Van Halen was and when Sammy Hagar was still the Red Rocker. In fact I vaguely remember doing a Van Halen song in an air band competition at a Blaine High School dance. I was David Lee Roth jumping off the stage and touching my toes in mid air….ahhh might as well Jump.

Woman And Children First is perhaps the heaviest sounding VH album in the catalog. It seems to be the perfect bridge from the first 2 albums of the 1970’s and the albums leading up to  the earth and band shattering release of 1984. This was a band who made their reputation on word of mouth and didn’t need radio to sell records. They saw no need at the time to make radio friendly music (in fact they would only release one song as a single on this record..“And The Cradle Will Rock…” reached #55 on the Billboard Hot 100)…they sold albums and sold out arenas without the benefit of a radio hit. The band was tight and played with a fervor. While they refused at the time to make records for Top 40 radio…AOR and classic rock stations played them extensively because the fans demanded it.

The first 2/3 of this album kicks off the 1980’s with a sonic boom. “And The Cradle Will Rock…” sets the tone with all the things that made DLR-era VH the hottest band in the land. A thundering rythm section of Alex & Michael, lightning fingered guitar work by Eddie and Roth’s vocal gymnastics pound out a classic track ( have you seen junior’s grades?). Another classic VH track follows right on it’s heels, “Everybody Wants Some” stays right on message and doesn’t deviate from the formula. You always knew who the cool DJ’s were on KQ & Stereo 101 back in the day if they let this track play until the very end and you can hear DLR say…”look I’ll pay you for it, what the fuck”. The album then rips into “Fools”, “Romeo Delight”, “Tora, Tora” and “Loss Of Control” with pounding drums and mystical guitar work…and speed playing that pre-dated Metallica. Then the true gems start. After all that blistering guitar work you hear the start of “Take Your Whiskey Home” and it’s acoustic blues jamming (it takes me at least halfway to the label before I can even make through the night). For my money the best song on the set. Then comes a transition only DLR-era Van Halen could make. “Could This Be Magic?” is a wonderful bluesy acoustic ragtime jam, an earthy earworm that will stay with you all day once its heard. It also shows that Eddie did not have to be plugged in to show that he was a guitar virtuoso.  

The band was moving ahead at warp speed when Women And Children First was released. Van Halen had the talent,hubris,sense of humor and camp that merged with just the right amount of serendipity with MTV and the new music video format of the 1980’s. Although Van Halen carried on after the departure/ousting of David Lee Roth the band was never the same. Most of us from the this era who were fans never really considered it Van Halen without Roth. The band died with the end of the 1984 tour. There was alot of music that I liked from Van Hagar and even a couple of concerts that I attended. But Sammy Hagar is no David Lee Roth.

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#93 Billy Squier – Here and Now (1989)

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The 1980’s didn’t end the way they started for Billy Squier. The curse of the “Rock Me Tonite” video was too much to overcome. After stringing together 3 straight Platinum selling albums (Don’t Say No, Emotions In Motion & Signs Of Life) this would be his 2nd consecutive offering to struggle to send 300,000 copies. The decline in popularity was obvious with the venues he was playing when he came to Minneapolis. After seeing Billy play the Met Center and St.Paul Civic Center arenas in his previous trips to town, this tour found him playing the Orphium Theater. I was the “Squier” guy at Blaine High School. Just like Mike Williams was the “Kiss ” guy, Jeff Koolmo was the “Journey” guy, Kent Larson was the “Iron Maiden” guy, Dave Marchetti was the “Who” guy,etc. Squier’s music had carried me thru the phases of my adolescence. When Don’t Say No was released I was 12…when Hear & Now was released I was 20. An eternity had passed but I still identified with Billy’s music.

It’s too bad this record flew so far under the radar because it was probably better than anything he had released since Signs Of Life. I feel like Billy is such an underrated guitarist, his ability to come up with catchy, amp popping riffs is mind blowing. It continues on this effort. “Don’t Say You Love Me” shows of his guitar prowess and I feel ranks right up at the top of any Squier “Best Of” lists and although it was his highest charting single since “Rock Me Tonite” it reached no farther than #58 on Billboards Hot 100. It would reach #5 on the AOR charts becoming the 5th of 6 top 10 hits on the AOR charts. Billy’s riffs reach a fever pitch on his guitar opus “G.O.D.” a return to his stadium shaking rockers. While Squier might provide much speaker thumping guitar work on this album it is in the quieter moments that he shines. “Don’t Let Me Go” finds his lyricism at it’s best ( You are the reason…Your’s are the final eyes…and when I hold…no one can touch me now). Of course I’m a sucker for sappy romantic ballads and every Squier album holds a favorite one for me…on this effort it’s “Your Love Is My Life” fits that to a “T”.

other Billy Squier on this blog:

#94 Piper – Piper (1976)

#114 Billy Squier – Creatures Of Habit (1991)

#123 Billy Squier – Happy Blue (1998)

#150 Billy Squier – Enough Is Enough (1986)

#182 Billy Squier – Tell The Truth (1993)

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#94 Piper – Piper (1976)

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Who the hell is Piper? My guess is most people reading this have never heard of this band. But Piper was the band that Billy Squier played in before there was a….well….Billy Squier. After kicking around for several years in various bands, Squier formed Piper and for the first time in his career was the central figure of the band. The band itself was short lived as they would release just 2 albums before Billy left the band effectively ending the Piper experiment.

As I’ve alluded to earlier in this blog, growing up in the pre-internet 1980’s was a different time to acquire information. As you may have noticed if you had perused my blog for very long, I’m a bit of a Billy Squier fan. But even by the time of the release of “Don’t Say No”…the 2 Piper albums were long out of print. I had read about Squier being in this band, but had never heard a single note. In December of 1984 I was 16 years old and got a job as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant in Northtown Mall (via my friend Jeff Koolmo who was already cleaning Rice Bowls when he helped get me the gig). I was hired on at a mind boggling $3.05/hr. When I cashed my very first check I went straight down the hall and around the corner to Musicland and special ordered the 2 Piper albums. I honestly don’t remember how long it took for those albums to be delivered but I do remember going to Musicland every time I had a shift and bugging them about it until the day they finally arrived. The day they finally came in I had to put them in my 1976 Ford Pinto until my shift was over. The anticipation was painful and the excitement of getting to listen to these records dulled the harassment and screaming of our asshole manager Mike (at least that’s what I think that drunken prick’s name was). When I got home and put that wax on my turntable I was not disappointed. Although a little poppy (especially the bubble gum sounding “Telephone Relation” in comparisons to Billy’s first few solo albums is was still guitar driven rock and roll with Squiers voice. Even the original “Who’s Your Boyfriend” sounds much more pop than the version he put on Tale Of The Tape. But there is some rocking to be had here like the scorching cover of The Rolling Stones “The Last Time” or heavy guitar riffs of “42nd Street”. The highlights for me is the mid tempo rock sounds of “Out of Control” and “Whatcha Gonna Do”.

Other Billy Squier on this blog:

#93 Billy Squier – Here and Now (1989)

#114 Billy Squier – Creatures Of Habit (1991)

#123 Billy Squier – Happy Blue (1998)

#150 Billy Squier – Enough Is Enough (1986)

#182 Billy Squier – Tell The Truth (1993)

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