Song of the Day, April 24: Desperate But Not Serious by Adam Ant

AntDBNSToday’s song is Desperate But Not Serious by Adam Ant. After three albums with the Ants and enormous success in the U.K., Adam struck out on his own with his 1982 album Friend Or Foe. Bringing along guitarist and songwriting partner Marco Pirroni, he refined the primitive rhythms of Antmusic into a sleeker but still muscular sound. The central element remained Ant’s casual swagger and Pirate of Lust persona. While the international hit Goody Two-Shoes remains his biggest seller in the U.S. and captures the new Ant sound (including smart use of horns) perfectly, today’s song more fully captures the spirit of the music.

A sleazy-in-just-the-right-way song, Desperate finds Ant delivering deadpan come-ons over a dirty, surging musical backdrop. Pirroni is perfectly sympathetic as Ant casually suggests hook-ups without consequences. Seldom does the musical approach match the lyric quite so nicely. Even more seldom has anyone intoned “your kisses drive me delirious” with more casual impact.

If I ask you difficult questions
If I make improper suggestions
Would you find that a risk to your health
Would you put me up on the bookshelf
With the books and the plants?

Enjoy this 80′s classic today.

Song of the Day, April 23: He’s A Reptile by the Soft Boys

SoftBoysReptileToday’s song is He’s A Reptile by the Soft Boys. Recorded during early sessions for their masterpiece, Underwater Moonlight, it was released as a single three years later and included on both the band’s posthumous compilation disc Invisible Hits and the anniversary repackaging of Moonlight. It captures the spirit of the band perfectly, mixing their fondness for natural images, eccentrically clever wordplay, and knack for skewering unpleasant characters.

The song opens with a casual, strolling beat and laid-back vocal observation of the titular fellow. It quickly jumps to an angry, breakneck rant against his behavior. The bridge and long outro feature a clever repetition of the title phrase with a series of digs at the creature, a sort of singalong slagging that mixes girl group choruses (think He’s A Rebel for the post-punk set) with witty vitriol. The whole package is backed by the Boys’ trademark melodic thrash, a great marriage of words and music.

Enjoy this invisible classic today.

Song of the Day, April 22: Suddenly Mary by the Posies

PosiesMaryToday’s song is Suddenly Mary by the Posies. It was the second single from their brilliant second album, 1990′s Dear 23. The song is a delightful blend of clever lyrics and strong musicianship. It tells the story of a disintegrating relationship, weaving together two strong metaphors — one very domestic and the other tied to the forces of nature — using the alternating images to emphasize the perils of this particular romance. This approach also helps make the story universal, allowing the personal pain and resentment to resonate with the listener on a visceral level. All of this is backed by the Posies solid power pop playing, creating a chiming backdrop that swirls perfectly around the words.

“Loving,” she told me
“Is a question of bravery”
But when she started to hold me
It was closer to slavery

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, April 21: I Just Can’t Be Happy Today by the Damned

DamnedHappyToday’s song is I Just Can’t Be Happy Today from the Damned’s brilliant third album, Machine Gun Etiquette. One of the earliest and most successful British punk bands, they mixed a proto-Goth aesthetic with punk attitude and a strange sense of fun. The whole package made them one of the most interesting bands of the period and ensured a legacy that often defies easy categorization.

This single is classic Damned. Dave Vanian singsin  a tragic deadpan as he lists a series of tragedies of modern life that inhibit his happiness. Nearly campy but with a serious undertone, it’s a demand that we find ways to succeed despite the systems that entrap and oppress us. It also manages to be great fun. That’s the Damned.

Enjoy this great slice of British punk today.

Album of the Week, April 20: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

RumoursFleetwood Mac founder and guitarist Peter Green must have been prescient. After leaving John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Green took drummer Mick Fleetwood with him. Hoping to entice bassist John McVie along, he named the new project Fleetwood Mac. McVie hesitated briefly, then dived in. Fittingly, nearly 50 years on, the single constant in this volatile and productive band is its rhythm section, the men who gave it a name.

After a period of British success as a straight-ahead blues band (featuring guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan in addition to Green), the band lost its founder and began to shift toward a pop-rock sound informed by their blues roots. Pianist and singer Christine Perfect provided some studio support, then married John McVie and joined the band. Fleetwood Mac shed guitarists due to emotional and chemical problems, eventually recruiting California soft rocker Bob Welch to fill the gap. After years of revolving door personnel (no two albums after the second featured the same lineup), label and legal problems, and inconsistent sales, Welch left, forcing Fleetwood and the McVies to take stock. They had moved to California and stumbled across folk-pop duo Buckingham-Nicks. The latter pair joined the band, recording the equally prescient restart named Fleetwood Mac and creating the nexus of a rock superpower.

Title Rumours
Act Fleetwood Mac
Label Warner Bros. Release Date February 4, 1977
Producer Fleetwood Mac with Richard Dashut and Ken Calliat
U.S. Chart  1 U.K. Chart  1
[US Hot 100]
  1. Second Hand News
  2. Dreams [#1]
  3. Never Going Back Again
  4. Don’t Stop [#3]
  5. Go Your Own Way [#10]
  6. Songbird
  7. The Chain
  8. You Make Loving Fun [#9]
  9. I Don’t Want to Know
  10. Oh Daddy
  11. Gold Dust Woman

By the time they recorded Rumours, Fleetwood’s marriage was on the skids and both the McVies and Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks had split. The emotional tensions, sudden burst of real stardom, and heavy touring had taken their toll. Fortunately for generations of pop music fans, that dark energy was harnessed into one of the finest — and biggest-selling — albums of all time. With Lindsey Buckingham taking the lead (and some help from talented guests), the band produced the disc themselves, further channeling the internal tensions through their creative lens. Despite having three vocalist / songwriters and an undercurrent of conflict, the band were more cohesive than ever, forming a tight, powerful unit that made the most of their individual contributions to a stunning whole.

Second-Hand News is the perfect welcome. A folky pop tune by Buckingham, its bitter lyrics make it clear where Fleetwood Mac are coming from. At the same time, the very personal words rise work on a stark, universal level. The same is true for Nicks’ Dreams. Surprisingly the band’s only US #1, it blends the raw personal emotion with her naturalist and mystical bent into a dark, emotive storm. On any other album it would be the finest track instead of one among many. Never Going Back Again finds Buckingham taking the wrongs he’s experienced and vowing to grow stronger from it, a nice bit of sequencing that emphasizes Rumours‘ genius.

That determination resonates further in the darkly optimistic Don’t Stop, one of Christine McVie’s best hits for the band. It’s a great celebration of a better day to come, with just enough focus on the darkness that preceded it to fit in perfectly. Buckingham’s masterpiece, Go Your Own Way, comes up next. A powerful acknowledgement that a relationship is done for, the performances are so strong that it resonates as a pop anthem despite its darkness. Buckingham turns in one of his best guitar solos and a remarkable vocal, creating one of the strongest singles of the 70s. Side one of the original vinyl ends with a quiet breath of fresh air, McVie’s contemplative Songbird. It’s a beautiful piano-and-vocal song that remains a standout in her long, impressive career.

Side Two opens with a bang. The Chain is the only song ever credited to the full quintet as writers and is the emotional core of Rumours. Angry, bitter, resigned, and determined, it proclaims all the pain that churned in the band members as they assembled for this album. It also features some of the strongest work of the Fleetwood / McVie rhythm section, an impressive feat that underscores the fact that (for now at least) Fleetwood Mac is a band — far greater than the sum of its individual parts.

You Make Loving Fun is a charming pop love song, almost a throw-away on this album but a great single in any other context. I Don’t Want to Know is a powerful oddity, a Nicks song sung by Buckingham which uses that twist to create some of its great power. Oh Daddy is McVie’s darkest contribution to the album, a quiet bluesy number that shows off her vocal and emotional range impressively. Things wrap up with Nicks’ Gold Dust Woman another hint at her lyrical direction that serves as a perfect closer to Rumours. Brooding and contemplative, it ponders fame and happiness, wishing for a balance that favors the latter. It’s one of her best vocals, further demonstrating how this project brought out the best in all its participants.

Rumours spawned a rare four Top 10 hits and ruled the album charts for most of 1977. With 31 weeks at #1 and eventually over 40 million units sold, it remains one of the most commercially successful albums of all time. Unlike many, it transcends its time and place, creating a wonderful, stirring listening experience that is a fresh and potent now as it was nearly 40 years ago.

FURTHER LISTENING: How do you like your Mac? I’m not a big fan of their blues period, but the work of that incarnation is solid and well-rated by fans of British blues. Of the albums between Peter Green and Buckingham-Nicks, Bare Trees and Heroes Are Hard to Find are the most consistent, showing hints of the pop champions to come. Fleetwood Mac is a stunning album, paling only in comparison to Rumours as the band tries to find the right blend of its members’ individual talents. The latter three albums by the famed quintet all have something to offer: Tusk is eccentric and sprawling with moments of glory; Mirage is a solid pop album that shows the band trying to hold itself together in the wake of solo successes; Tango In the Night is a lumpy pop mess with a handful of glorious songs and some pretty dull filler. After that, the revolving door starts again and only serious fans need worry about most of the output. For casual fans, 1988′s Greatest Hits is a perfect sampler of the most famous incarnation’s hits and the best entry-level anthology available.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending April 21, 1984

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) Phil Collins 1
R & B She’s Strange Cameo 3
Country The Yellow Rose Johnny Lee with Lane Brody 1
Adult Contemporary Hello Lionel Richie 3
Rock You Might Think The Cars 2
Album Footloose Soundtrack 1

StephensonDelilahThis week sees a successful songwriter and future Country star debut with his only pop Top 40 hit. Van Stephenson was born in Ohio in 1953; his family moved to Nashville when he was 10. He played in a number of garage bands and began writing songs. He had some success with Country hits by Crystal Gayle and Marty Robbins. In 1981, he released his debut album, China Girl with limited success. His 1984 follow-up, Righteous Anger, included the hit Modern Day Delilah. That song debuted at #71 this week and peaked at #22 two months later. After one more minor hit, his pop career dried up.

Stephenson returned to writing Country hits, notching Top 20s by Dan Seals, Kenny Rogers, Janie Fricke and Lee Greenwood. Co-writing with Dave Robbins, he gave five big hits to Restless Heart including the #1 Country song Bluest Eyes In Texas. Heartened by their success, the pair teamed with veteran Southern rocker Henry Paul (of the Outlaws and his own band) to form Blackhawk. The trio had 14 Country top 40 hits in the 90s; their biggest pair went to #2, Every Once In A While (written by Stephenson) in 1994 and I’m Not Strong Enough to Say No in 1995. Stephenson died of melanoma in 2001.

Song of the Day, April 18: Train In Vain (Stand By Me) by the Clash

ClashTrainToday’s song is Train In Vain (Stand By Me). Sometimes an afterthought can be a powerful thing. The Clash had pretty much wrapped up their masterpiece, London Calling, when Mick Jones and Topper Headon returned to the studio to record one last track. Jones wrote the song as a shout-out to the traditional rock and blues roots that form part of the band’s musical ancestry. Punk in its intensity and simplicity, it’s also a great straight-ahead pop rocker and proved the Clash’s first hit in the U.S. A tasty bit of anger and sorrow, it was an instant classic.

All the times
When we were close
I’ll remember these things the most
I see all my dreams come tumbling down
I won’t be happy without you around

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, April 17: Maybe Then I’ll Be A Rose by June Tabor

TaborRoseToday’s song is Maybe Then I’ll Be A Rose. The great Les Barker wrote this poem at the request of harpist Savourna Stevenson. She was creating material for inclusion in her 1995 project Singing the Storm, commissioned by the Borders Festival. She wrote the music for all the songs in the project and created a lovely musical backdrop for Barker’s poem. Joining her for the project and later album were bassist Danny Thompson and singer June Tabor — truly a magnificent assembly. Tabor enjoyed the song so much that she re-recorded it for her album Rosa Mundi, a look at the rose as symbol, emblem, and flower in song.

It’s a wonderful song, taking the doomed lover who finds happiness only after death motif and demanding a smarter approach. Clearly referencing Barbara Allen — who is buried with her beau, Jemmy, and only embraces him after death when they have become a rose and a briar — Barker insists that waiting for the grave to find happiness is a mistake. It’s stern but witty, and Tabor delivers it with relish.

I don’t want that kind of love that grows so high on sorrow,
I want you today my love and I want you tomorrow.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

Song of the Day, April 16: Helen of Troy by John Cale

CaleHelenToday’s song is Helen of Troy by John Cale, the title track from the last of three albums he recorded for Island Records. Cale had done the initial work on the album between producing Horses for Patti Smith and leaving on a tour of Italy. Island took the tapes and released them basically as-is, including songs Cale would have discarded or at least improved. He observes

It could have been a great album. [...] I was spending eighteen hours a day in the studio. When I got back, I found the record company had gone ahead and released what amounted to demo tapes. The trouble was that Island had their own ideas of what that album should sound like. They wanted to include songs I don’t particularly like, but it was also an impertinent assumption on my part that I was capable of managing myself.

Cale would rework some of his favorites on later releases. This track works well as it is, a disturbing look at obsession and conflicting ideas of beauty. He sings the main lyrics in one of his most bombastic deliveries, mixing this with snide asides spoken in a creepy, campy lisp. The effect is jarring and disturbing, fitting the dramatic musical setting and creating one of Cale’s most offbeat but effective songs.

Enjoy this dark gem today.

Song of the Day, April 15: Sligo Maid by Steeleye Span

SteeleyeSligoToday’s song is Sligo Maid. This popular traditional Irish reel has been recorded by dozens of bands. Steeleye Span included it on Rocket Cottage, the 1976 album that was the last to feature their classic lineup before decades of short-term break-ups and reconfigurations. Maddy Prior describes the song in reference to a live version recorded in 1982:

This tune is a very popular traditional Irish reel and was always played during the many sessions that took place around that time in the Irish pubs in London. It was generally placed in the middle of a medley of three reels. A good arrangement from the band and some great drumming from Nigel. This is “Folk-Rock”.

She’s right. It’s the perfect mix of the traditional — mostly represented by stellar fiddling — and the modern — driven by potent drum and bass work — shows off this great band at its finest. Enjoy this rollicking tune today.


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