Category: Single of the week

Lawnchairs (Our Daughter’s Wedding)

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Our Daughter’s Wedding began as a guitar band, split up, reformed as an electro band, the press classed them as New Wave but they considered themselves as a rock band, so perhaps it’s not surprising they weren’t around long!

Member Layne Rico explained their beginnings, “We also started off as friends in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1977 we had a band that was similar to the Cars, a rock-style guitar band, we had no synthesizers at the time, but finally we incorporated a couple of keyboard players – Scott Simon and someone else. Then we got tired of that guitar-drum line up, so we all moved to New York, I traded my drum kit for the new percussion synthesizers, and Keith Silva, the lead vocalist, dropped his guitars and learned to play keyboards. We thought that would be more interesting, because most of the music we were listening to at the time was more or less electronic, European things that American bands weren’t playing.”

Most of the New Wave / electro acts of the day, like Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Gary Numan and Ultravox were English, so for an American band to fit in was always going to be fairly tough although the whole thing was inspired by a Germany group – Kraftwerk.

On their own Design record label, Our Daughter’s Wedding, who took their name from the section divider in a greeting card display stand, made their debut in the summer of 1980 with a track called Nightlife which was a three-song single. In November they released they’re second single, Lawnchairs, which quickly gained attention on college radio and in the dance clubs in major US cities. Silva recalled, “We started playing at the Hurrah club as supporting act to James Chance and Mi-Sex. At that time people did not like us and shouted ‘where the fuck are the drums, why don’t you use any guitars’ and that kind of crap. But after a few years it became a fad, so it came as a surprise to us that it all of a sudden was okay to use synths.”

This led to a recording contract with EMI records with their songs being released on the EMI-America subsidiary including a re-recorded version of Lawnchairs. It was promotion manager Malcolm Hill at EMI who gave them a slot supporting Classix Nouveaux on tour which brought them to the UK and in-turn led them to record their debut album, Moving Windows in London.

Lawnchairs only just made it into the Top 50 in the UK singles despite much play on Radio 1 and London’s local station Capital Radio. The label wasn’t entirely clear as to whether the group or the song was called Our Daughter’s Wedding and indeed on one occasion Radio 1’s lunchtime presenter Paul Burnett back-announced the song as Our Daughter’s Wedding by Lawnchairs. Mind you, given Paul’s record I’m surprised more B sides didn’t chart in their own right.

Lawnchairs missed the Billboard chart completely although it did reach number 31 on their disco chart. They relocated to California where they still remain today and continued to release singles, Digital Cowboy and Target For Life later in 1981 and Auto Music and Elevate Her in 1982 but they all failed to make any impact and that debut album also didn’t trouble the record buying public. When the album stiffed Silva commented, “Sometimes it feels pointless recording albums. It feels like you’re only doing it for your own pleasure.”

In a Melody Maker interview in 1981, Layne explained drolly, “We were watching a TV show, and it showed this cassette thing you can get now on your tombstone, so before you die you can record something like, ‘Hi! I’m glad you dropped by’,” “It’s cold down here,” adds Keith with impeccable bad taste. Layne continued: “So if people come along and think ‘well let’s hear what Layne had to say’, you can pop in the cassette and it just has Lawnchairs on it.” “Yeah,” Keith adds. “We were thinking that one our tombstones we’d just put Lawnchairs.”

In 1983, Silva remembered, “Here at home we are greeted as something completely new and different while this thing has already been exposed and established in Europe. There, they have a hard time understanding that we are actually from the United States. It does not cling to their associations about American rock. In the USA we are greeted more like a rock band, like any rock band actually. In Europe we are immediately directed to the same genre as the Human League, Depeche Mode and OMD. But we don’t think we have too much in common with these bands. These are good bands, I can’t take that away from them, but we are not doing the same kind of thing. We are more like a rock band using synthesizers and rhythm machines. Our main influences come from The Rolling Stones, and even from Van Halen.”

They started 1984 touring the US with the Psychedelic Furs and releasing one further single, Take Me, but decided that enough was enough and finally split up for good.

Doot Doot (Freur)

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A group shrouded in mystery, even a glance at the back of the 7″ single sleeve looks like the shot was taken underwater to obscure the band. So who were they? Well all will become clear…..

In 1983 a review in Record Mirror described the sound as The Buggles meets Landscape at an OMD gig where Thomas Dolby turned up too. They began in 1979 as The Screen Gemz in their home town of Splott in south Cardiff. The following year, following no success, they changed direction and their name.

Moving into the electronica era they decided that a new name was needed. So they came up with a daft looking zig-zag, snail-like symbol  which looked like this   long before it crossed Prince’s mind. The line up now consisted of Karl Hyde (vocals & guitar), Rick Smith (keyboards), Alfie Thomas (keyboards), John Warwicker (also keyboards) and the recently recruited ex-Fabulous Poodles drummer Bryn Burrows.

So why the symbol? The group’s founder Karl Hyde explained, “Because we were fed up with the names that were going around – a lot of them had very political leanings or sounded heavy and pretentious and we just wanted a foot in the door with the record companies. We wanted them to look at our tape amongst the mould of others. The name was the ‘in’. It actually came first but then we thought, oh you can’t really spell that, you’ve got to have a pictograph. It was just a toy, something to brighten up our little existences. “They stuck with Freur which was pronounced Frrrreurrgh.

By their own admission, they didn’t have a lot to say so left the music to say it for them. Doot Doot was their only UK hit which petered out at number 59 in the April 1983. The song’s opens with:, ‘What’s in a name? Face on a stage, where are you now? Memory fades, you take a bow. Here in the dark watching the screen, look at them fall, the final scene and we go doot doot doot. Hmmm- you see what they mean! Maybe it was their sound rather than their lyrics. So how would one describe their sound? Karl again tried to explain, “That’s a tough one! We sounded totally different from our demos. We had so many influences because one minute we’re thinking reggae and then we’ll hear something in a film and have an idea for an atmosphere then we’ll have a heavy metal thought and out a bit of that in too. We had worked with reggae giants Dennis Bovell and Conny Plank, but our ultimate hero band is Motorhead.

The band decided not to release any information about themselves at the time which seemed to backfire because the music press wrote pointless things like ‘they have these instruments called Pole and The Suit’ which as Alfie said, “became the main feature and it seemed like we were trying to make a statement. There were umpteen others too like The Tortoise and The Handbag, but they were just toys there to make playing live a bit more exciting.”

They had the very New Romantic look complete with multi-coloured trousers, tops and socks with masses of frizzy or crimped hair. “We liked the plastic look as it appealed to our sick sense of humour”, Karl added, “It was all made for us by Tracy of Lizard Life in Cardiff.”  The parent album of the same name failed to make any impact although one track, Theme from the Film of the Same Name features Pino Palladino on fretless bass who was a member of Paul Young’s band and also Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s first choice to replace John Entwistle in The Who.

Five further singles, Matters of the Heart, Runaway, Riders in the Night, The Devil and Darkness and Look in the Back for Answers all failed to chart and it was a further three years until the next album arrived, but was only released in Germany and the Netherlands, but following its relative failure, they called it a day.

Warwicker is now a video artist in the graphic design collective Tomato based in east London whilst the other four members signed to Sire records under the new name Underworld. They had minimal success although one of their tracks, Underneath the Radar in 1988 made the top 5 in Australia. In 1990 they split up only to reform the following year under the same name with Thomas and Burrows being replaced by Darren Emerson and this time with much more success. In 1995 they recorded Born Slippy, the name of a greyhound, ‘for a joke’ but that only made number 52 in the chart. The following year it was remixed and given and a pounding rhythm as well as the repeating chorus of lager, lager, lager. It was picked up for the movie Trainspotting and eventually gave them the success was wanted when it reached number two in the UK chart.

Prime Time (Tubes)

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At least six years before Frankie goes To Hollywood’s hit Relax with its simulated sex video, The Tubes did it bigger, better and live on stage.

In 1977 they achieved the almost unique feat of selling out a whole week at Hammersmith Odeon without even having a hit single. That was probably in part attributed to their highly risque stage show which, apart from simulated sex, exploding televisions, mock bondage habits, semi nude dancers, a chainsaw and a lead singer on stilts standing 12 foot high.

They began as a bunch of school friends in two different areas of Arizona. They were in two different bands called The Beans and The Red, White & Blues band who in 1969 relocated to San Francisco and merged to become the Tubes. The line up consisted of lead singer Fee Waybee (b: John Waybill), guitarist Bill Spooner, another guitarist Roger Steen, Michael Cotten on synthesizer, Rick Anderson on bass, Vince Welnick on piano and Praire Prince (b: Charles Prince) on drums.

They released their eponymous first album in 1975 which was produced by Al Kooper and contained the song White Punks on Dope which eventually charted in the UK in 1977. It failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 album chart, but the 1976 follow-up Young and Rich made number 46. Their 1978 release What Do You Want From Live became their first UK hit album. This was followed by the 1979 album Remote Control which contained the melodic Prime Time. It was produced by the Todd Rundgren and was a concept album about a television-addicted idiot savant which was based on the Jerzy Kosinski book Being There.

The cover of the album showed a baby sitting in a carry chair watching Celebrity Squares (or Hollywood Squares as it was originally called in the US) on a novelty television set. The Celebrity Squares image was replicated for the Prime Time single which also came in yellow, blue, green, red, white, black and multicoloured vinyl. In the 1970s, Waybill, Spooner and Steen actually were invited to appear on the show.

Around the time Prime Time was released, the band had just finished headlining with Frank Zappa and Peter Gabriel at the Knebworth Festival of 1978. They had also performed in the Cher Special, a TV musical and comedy revue and  in another show which included Cher, Dolly Parton, and Rod Stewart, The Tubes were in the part where the forces of good and evil were battling for Cher’s soul. Dolly Parton appeared as an angel with a backing choir who tried to steer Cher to Heaven.

After the Tubes split, Fee moved to L.A to start an acting career, but hated it, he said, “To the film industry, you’re just a piece of meat.” He had a small part in the 1989 film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure playing one of ‘The Three Most Important People In The World’ alongside Martha Davis and the E-Street Band’s Clarence Clemons. Later the same year, he became a staff writer for Warner Chappell and was teamed with the then-unknown Richard Marx where together they wrote Edge Of A Broken Heart for the all-girl group Vixen as well as Marx’s own early singles. Spooner now teaches song writing at the San Francisco Blue Bear School Of Music. Prince and Cotten both run an art business and have worked with Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan. Steen continued as lead singer with the Tubes and is still out touring and releasing pretty much an album a year with their latest being 2009s Mondo Birthmark.

New Year’s Day (U2)

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As part of one of the questions in last week’s on-line quiz, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’s Souvenir was a taped loop of a choir rehearsing, U2’s intro to New Year’s Day also came about by accident when bass player Adam Clayton was trying to figure out the chord structure of Visage’s hit Fade To Grey.

They began in 1976 as Feedback after drummer Larry Mullen Jnr posted a note on a school notice board for musicians wanted to form a new band. Only six people replied. They were originally a seven piece band which included The Edge’s brother Dik, but the following year, and a name change to The Hype and then U2, they were whittled down to the quartet we now know.

In 1978 they won a talent show in Limerick and the prize was £500 and an hour’s studio time to record a demo. They recorded two songs, one of which was a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit Baker Street. It was enough to get them a Deal with Island records in Ireland in March 1980. Their first single, 11 O’clock Tick Tock was released but received little response.

Fire, Gloria and A Celebration were all UK hits but failed to make the top 30. It took until January 1983 for them to attain their first UK top 10 hit – New Year’s Day. After Adam had come up with the initial tune, The Edge developed it on the piano, they had nearly completed the music but Bono still hadn’t come up with any lyrics. He finally got round to it and was initially a love song from Bono to his new wife Ali, but with the emergence of the Solidarity movement in Poland from 1980 this seemed to be more appropriate. Adam recalled, “It was an unsettled time because you looked around and there were conflicts everywhere. We saw a lot of unrest on TV and in the media so we focused on these but turning some of those themes into song was another matter altogether.”

Eventually Bono began to make up lyrics on the spot, Adam remembered, “He’d sing and whatever came out would be the starting point.” The late Kirsty MacColl’s ex-husband, Steve Lillywhite, was the producer and he recalled, “Bono had a set of images in his head that he felt would fit the mood of the piece, doing different versions and refining them as he went along. Everyone was under strain, there were arguments about the vocals and at one stage the track was in danger of being left off the album. In the pressure to get the record finished, some of the lyrical seams were left showing.” Nevertheless, the song zoomed into the top ten and was their first of 33 songs to do so.

Solidarity became a proscribed organisation and its leader were arrested, among them Lech Walesa. “Subconsciously I must have been thinking about Lech Walesa”, suggested Bono, “Then when we’d recorded the song, they announced that marital law would be lifted in Poland, on New Year’s Day. credible!”

The video, which debuted on The Tube in 1982, was one of their first to receive heavy rotation on MTV. It was filmed in Sälen, Sweden and directed by Meiert Avis. The band only appeared in the performance scenes of the video as it was filmed in the harsh Swedish winter. The Edge revealed in the official U2 biography that the four people riding on horseback were in fact four Swedish teenage girls disguised as the members of U2 with masks over their faces. This was done because the band were completely frozen in sub-freezing temperatures the day before. Their biography states that Bono refused to wear any headgear despite the cold weather and had a lot of trouble mouthing the lyrics.

U2 allowed this song to be used free of charge in a spot prepared by the European Commission. The clip on YouTube shows a transformation of Poland in last 20 years mixed with short scenes from today’s Warsaw seen from a perspective of a 20-year-old woman.

Merry Christmas Everyone (Shakin’ Stevens)

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Few pop star of today come up through the ranks because everything is so instant. You win a reality show and you’re famous…for a short while, but generally soon forgotten, but the real pop stars had to work their craft for years with relatively little success until one day….

Shakin’ Stevens, or Michael Barratt as he was born, was one of those artists. He is the youngest of 11 siblings born over a 20 year span. His first job was a milkman working around the Cardiff area of Wales. He formed his first band in 1965 originally called The Olympics, then The Cossacks and then The Denims. There was an existing 50s rock ‘n’ roll style outfit called The Backbeats who, in 1968, ten years after their formation, invited Shaky to become their lead singer and changed their name to the Sunsets. In 1969 they landed a chance to support the Rolling Stones and signed to Parlophone records. They soon amended their name to Shakin’ Stevens & The Sunsets. They spent the entire 70s decade touring relentlessly but chart success eluded them.

In 1980, he went solo and signed to Epic records but his first couple of singles, Hey Mae and Shooting Gallery, both failed to chart. Next came Hot Dog, an old Buck Owens song which gave him his first UK hit reaching number 24. This was followed by Marie Marie, an old Blasters song which fared five places better. In 1981 ex-Pinkertons ‘Assort’ Colours bassist and now producer Stuart Colman found the right song and catapulted him to commercial success when This Ole House went to number one.  Later the same year Green Door topped the chart and the following year had his third number one with Oh Julie. He continued to have a stack of hits throughout the 80s and Shaky holds the record for the most appearances on Top Of The Pops for a solo singer in that decade.

Shaky almost had his fourth number one at Christmas 1982 with Blue Christmas but it was unable to dislodge Renee and Renato’s sentimental Save Your Love. In 1983 Scottish songwriter, and former member of the Headboys, Bob Heatlie, who had written Japanese Boy for Aneka, said, “I wrote a song for Elkie Brooks called Cry Just A Little Bit. However, it was played to Shaky’s next producer, Christopher Neil, who thought it would be ideal for him.” It was, and it went to number three. Shaky had further Top five hits with A Rockin’ Good Way – a duet with fellow Welsh star Bonnie Tyler, A Love Worth Waiting For and Teardrops.

“I’d always wanted to have a big Christmas hit, because if and when it all ends, it’s something that would go on forever you know! The grandchildren and all that sort of stuff,” commented Bob. “Merry Christmas Everyone was written and a demo made in my garage studio in Edinburgh. I’ll never forget that. It was in the summer of 1984, and with no ventilation in the studio, I was sweating like a pig! It was quite weird; there I was wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, shaking sleigh bells, and singing about snow falling. Everything was in place ready for Christmas 1984 when the Band Aid release was announced. So Shaky decided that it should be held back and indeed it was, until the following year and became a Christmas classic.” The video was shot in Lapland Shaky remembered, “We were halfway up a mountain but unfortunately it wasn’t snowing, so we had to bring in some snow machines. And I remember lunch was cold salad, which was a bit bizarre!”

Although Bob never actually got to work with Dave Edmunds, he said, “The production he did was exactly copied note for note from my demo.  As Shaky always says about demos, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, just try and get more from the desk, sound-wise’. Bob continues writing and in 2004 was working with Tina Arena, but now mainly writes music for TV animation.

Shaky, like Cliff Richard, was becoming a Christmas chart regular when Merry Christmas Everyone returned to the chart in 1986 and again with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For (1987), True Love (1988), The Best Christmas Of Them All (1990) and I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1991). In 1993 he took a break from recording but continued touring, playing to festival audiences of up to 200,000 people and is still massive in Denmark where he still plays a regular annual festival. Shaky has now been ranked as the 18th highest selling artist in the UK. In 2004 he was back in the studio recording new material.

In July 2010 Shaky was rushed to hospital after he collapsed at his home in Windsor. He had suffered a massive heart attack and endured a triple heart bypass operation. After two months he made a full recovery and in 2011 was back on the road with a new ten-piece band celebrating on his 30th anniversary tour.

Cat’s In The Cradle (Harry Chapin)

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A good song that will last and stand the test of time is always a song that people can relate to and those songs are usually about relationships and ‘love’ in general. Cat’s In The Cradle is no exception albeit with a twist.

This is one of those songs that can really only mean more once you’ve had your own children. I first heard this song in the early 80s and as much as I loved it, it really hit home when my own son Harry was born in 2001 and having been a workaholic all my life and I was really determined that the essence of this song was not going to happen to me and I think I’ve succeeded.

The song was not strictly written by the song’s performer, Harry Chapin, but actually by his wife Sandy. Sandy explains why, “Cat’s In The Cradle’ was a combination of a couple of things. Whenever I was on a long drive I would listen to Country music, because words would keep me awake more than just music. And I heard a song… I can remember the story, but I don’t remember who sang it or what the title was, but an old couple were sitting at their breakfast table and looking out the window, and they saw the rusted swing and the sandbox, and they were reminiscing about the good old days when all the children were around and then the grandchildren, and how it passed, and now it’s all gone. The other part of the idea – this is always a problem, because Harry introduced the song at all his concerts and said, ‘This is a song my wife wrote to zap me because I wasn’t home when our son Josh was born.’ I was always kind of amused by that because of the fact that we learn life’s lessons too late. We don’t learn lessons before the fact. We don’t have a child born and then have all this wisdom. So I always thought it was interesting the way he told the story. But I learned the story because my (first) husband was going to New York to be a lawyer, and I had a teaching job in New York. While we were apartment hunting, we were living with his parents in Brooklyn. His father was the borough president of Brooklyn at the time, which I think was a much more important job than it is today. But every day when he got home from work, he would start talking to his son about, ‘It’d be great if you’d go down to the club on Tuesday night, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people I know,’ and so forth. And he started trying to engineer a career for him which leads to politics. They did not have any relationship or communication because they had been so busy until his son went off to college and was gone. I don’t remember exactly how, but he started talking to me. My father-in-law would say – and this is when we were all in the same room – and yet he would say to me, ‘Tell Jimmy I would like to see him down at the clubhouse on Tuesday.’ It was really very strange. So this is the way the evenings went. The conversation was going through me. So I realised what had happened. You know, relationships and characters and personalities and all those things are formed by two, so I realised that that hadn’t happened and it was very jerky at that stage. So I observed something that gave me the idea for the song.” The real heart-wrencher is that the son just accepts that his dad is too busy.

Harry never had that problem in his own childhood. His father, Jim, was a jazz drummer who had played with Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey. This led Harry to learn trumpet and sing in a local boys choir. Harry’s brothers, Stephen and Tom, were also musical and had formed their own folk group. It took the birth of his son for Harry to decide to turn the poem into a song. Sandy continued, “Harry and I would exchange writing of all kinds. We were always working on each other’s writing. Some of my writing at a certain period were 20-page papers for a doctoral program at Columbia. So it wasn’t always that poetic. But we both looked at each other’s stuff. And then one time he came home and he said, ‘What have you been doing?’ I showed him ‘Cat’s In The Cradle,’ and he said, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ You know, sometimes he’d pick up something and put music to it. And that didn’t really grab him at all. And then after Josh was born, it did. He picked it up and he wrote music to it.”

The song includes many references to childhood things like Cat’s Cradle, a hand game played with string. Silver spoons, which are ornamental spoons, usually given as gifts to babies and Little Boy Blue is an old nursery rhyme. On July 16 1981, Harry was on his way to a business meeting in Manhattan, New York and whilst driving along the Long Island Freeway, he changed lanes to make an exit when a tractor trailer hit him from behind and crushed the back of his car. This, in turn caused sparks which ignited the fuel tank. The tractor driver pulled Harry from his car but upon arrival at the local hospital 38 minutes later, he was pronounced dead.

Sandy Chapin still runs the Harry Chapin Foundation, which does what it can to continue supporting the causes Harry championed when he was alive. She now has six grandchildren and naturally tries to spend as much time with them as she can.

Unbelievably this song never made the UK chart. However, in 1993 rock group Ugly Kid Joe took their cover version into the top ten. They obviously wanted to make their version appealing to felines everywhere as they’d missed out the apostrophe in the Cat’s! In 2001 another cover by Jason Downs featuring Milk stalled at number 65.

In the UK, Harry is still classed as a one-hit wonder when, in 1974, his song W.O.L.D, a tale of a morning DJ, just scraped into the top 40. One fan who championed that single was Noel Edmonds, who at the time was the Radio One breakfast show DJ. At the time of Harry’s death, Noel was doing a weekend mid-morning show on Radio One and began playing Harry’s songs quite regularly on his show in the hope that his record company would re-released his material, but that never happened.

Harry had been a tireless performer who managed to schedule around 200 concerts year the majority of which were for political and social causes. He also founded the World Hunger Fund which has since raised over eight million dollars. He had also performed at many concerts on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. His manager, Ken Kragen  set up the Harry Chapin Memorial Fund, to continue his humanitarian efforts. This was noticed by Harry Belfonte in 1985 who was inspired to instigated the USA For Africa – We Are The World project.