Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Charles Fox - Love, American Style (1973)

Continuing our recent run of TV-related postings, here is the soundtrack to the once-risqué television show "Love, American Style," which aired from 1969 to 1974.

It's never been released on CD and has never circulated on the Web as far as I know. The album's 1973 release date might look a little odd, because you'd assume it would have come out closer to the show's late '60s beginnings. But it is correct and can be verified by Billboard magazine's June 2, 1973 announcement that a soundtrack album was in the works.

The composer, Charles Fox, wrote music for a lot of TV show and movies. He's probably best known to pop fans for writing and arranging the instrumental, non-Association numbers on the soundtrack to "Goodbye, Columbus." That album mixed and matched vocal and instrumental cuts, but this album divides them out by side.

The first side has all the vocal tracks. And although no official LP credit is given they probably feature the Ron Hicklin Singers -- i.e. the brothers John and Tom Bahler, who sang lead on Partridge Family songs before it was discovered David Cassidy could sing. The second side is made up of instrumentals.

All of it is very evocative of its era and you're likely to be left humming all these songs after you hear them just once. And, by the way, this is billed as "Charles Fox - Love, American Style" as opposed to "Love, American Style -- Original Soundtrack" to reflect the way it's written out on the record label. The album had one of those old orange Capitol labels and they billed it as if it was simply a Charles Fox album with that title, so that's what I did here.

And that, friends, is pretty much all I know about "Love, American Style." The reason for that is that when it aired I was really young and I got sent to bed as soon as it came on. It was supposedly way too "adult" for the kids. So I can't explain much about how the music for this series related to any of the plots of the episodes. I did like the the theme song, though, and I like this soundtrack because it's all performed in that style. Now all's I have to do is watch the show.

Track list:
1. Love, American Style
2. Where Did I Go
3. New World Song
4. Lovely One
5. To Make Love Grow
6. About Her
7. Remember
8. The Brass Bed
9. Long Ago Yesterday
10. So Little Time

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Scott Baio - The Boys Are Out Tonight (1983)

This is actor/teen idol Scott Baio's second and final album. It was a follow-up to his more publicized debut album from 1982. Around this time, Baio was at the height of his popularity, playing Chachi Arcola on "Happy Days" and starring in the teen-oriented sex comedy "Zapped!"

Why post Baio's second album but not his first? Because I happened to have it. Years ago, I bought it as a joke-present for my ex-wife because she used to kid me about looking like him in high school. (Ironically enough, she looked a bit like Joanie Cunningham, but let's not get off-topic here.)

Baio has been in the news lately because of his support for presidential candidate Donald Trump, so I thought I'd revisit this album. Turns out it's never been put on CD not has it been ripped and put on the Web. So I made my own rip, which (as always) I can guarantee you will sound sharper and better than any remastered CD that comes out.

As for the album itself, well, that's another story. I'm sad to report that it's no great shakes. It's not bad per se, just bland.

This was a bummer because I wanted this album to be good. I bought it as a gift, after all, plus, I consider "Zapped!" to be a teen movie classic. I also admire Baio for taking an unpopular political stance and braving all the inevitable hate that came his way.

Why doesn't this LP work? It's not Baio's singing. Like Alyssa Milano he's not great, but by no means is he bad. Blame for this album's failure should be placed at the feet of producer Michael Lloyd, the former West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band member-turned-producer/record exec. I've written about Lloyd on this blog because of his involvement in the group Friends and the soundtrack for "The Pom Pom Girls."

Lloyd's production sounds good, but his lame song song selection drags the whole project downs. Not are the tunes uninspired, but even their titles are derivative (a pet peeve of mine). "Some Girls," which was this LP's single, isn't the Rolling Stones song and "Don't Talk" isn't the Beach Boys number. Both "Can't You See That She's Mine" and "Shakin' All Over" are covers, but they're not given particularly inspired arrangements.

Music by television actors is often hit-or-miss. Actors are often too busy to spend a lot of time on their records. Not everyone can be as consistently good as Ricky Nelson or the Monkees. Maybe in this case neither the producer or artist had any idea of what would sell in 1983. Music was changing rapidly at that point, what with MTV and the new British Invasion making their influences felt. But a great song is still a great song, no matter what the style. They should have found some for this album.

Track list:
1. I'll Take You Back
2. Fingerprints
3. See How Love Goes
4. Some Girls
5. The Boys Are Out Tonight
6. Can't You See That She's Mine
7. Shakin' All Over
8. Heartbreaker
9. Don't Talk
10. She's Trouble

Monday, August 22, 2016

Alyssa Milano - Do You See Me? (1992)

In keeping with my (unintentional) theme of featuring women artists in the past week, here is the fourth and final CD by TV star Alyssa Milano.

People don't remember it now, but back in the Reagan-Bush I era, teenage TV star Milano made albums. There's a good reason why people don't recall this: It's because they probably never knew it in the first place. None of Milano's CDs ever got released in the English-speaking world.

Instead they came out in countries like Japan, Indonesia, and South Korea (some where also released in South African and France). All of Milano's records came out on the Tokyo-based Canyon International label (a division of the Pony Canyon company). These albums were hits in Japan, which is the only country where they seem to have charted. But that apparently wasn't enough to get them released domestically. The only CD of hers I was ever able to locate is her fourth one, Do You See Me? which came out just as the TV show she was on, "Who's the Boss?" was ending its run.

It's not a bad CD, especially if you're partial to early '90s dance pop. Milano isn't a great singer, but she's definitely a good enough vocalist to bring these electronic grooves to life. If there's a problem with her singing, it's that she's too laid back, but that might have been by design. Not everyone can be Whitney or Mariah.

On the plus side, the actual sound of Milano's voice is much more appealing than some singers who scaled the heights of pop stardom, like Paula Abdul and Britney Spears -- both of whom clearly have issues with pitch and intonation. When Milano is given first-rate material the results can be surprisingly great.

A good example of that is the jazzy-funky tropical number "Somewhere in Jamaica," which sounds like it could have been an adult contemporary hit. Super catchy. Several of the other songs work almost as well, especially the upbeat dance numbers "Puppet On A String" and "Everything You Do," the latter of which was co-written by her father, Tom Milano, who chimes in with a few songs here.

So, file this one with all the other obscure '90s teen pop I post here, like the Party, Rick Wes, and Alisha. It'll be a blast from the past if you like this sound, or if you're nostalgic for the time period where people said things like "awesome," "dope," and "eat my shorts!"

More awesome and dope early '90s teen pop obscurities:
Alisha - Bounce Back (1990)
Chris Cuevas - Somehow, Someway (1991)
Hi-Five - Hi-Five (1990) 
Homework - Homework (1990) 
Ms. Adventures - Ms. Adventures (1990)
The Party - In the Meantime, In Between Time (1991)
Rick Wes - North, South, East, Wes (1990)
The Superiors - Perfect Timing (1990)

Track list:
1. Do You See Me?
2. Talk To Me
3. One Last Dance
4. Puppet On A String
5. Somewhere In Jamaica
6. Waiting For Your Love
7. If Only
8. Everything You Do

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Grey-Star - Telephone Sex (1983)

Consider this a follow-up to the posts about Madonna I recently wrote.

I'm a fan of Madonna's music, especially her early work, and for years I've defended her against her detractors. The main argument against her seems to be something like "She used her sex appeal to make it." While there's truth in that, it also only tells part of the story. It's like saying the Beatles made it because Paul McCartney was cute.

Sex appeal sells, but it won't get you very far in and of itself. Because if sex was the reason people bought records by female artists, this obscure album would have outsold everything Madonna ever did since it's steeped in sexuality.

The female lead singer of this band, the late Ruby Starr, not only dressed much sexier than Madonna, but was more ahead of her time when it came to bringing overt sexuality to the mainstream. While Madonna was waxing sentimental (and cutesy) about how everyone should take a "Holiday," Starr was singing about sex on the phone and letting it all hang out on her album covers.

And yet odds are most of you reading this have never heard of Starr or her '80s band Grey-Star (named as such because she led the band with co-lead singer Mike Grey). This is their second album, which was the follow-up to an even more obscure self-titled 1981 effort I've never actually seen.

Most of it is actually pretty good music: A melange of hard rock and synth pop that recalls Pat Benatar with more guttural power or Patty Smyth during her days with the band Scandal. I could live without the cover of Dobie Gray's "The 'In' Crowd" (annoyingly retitled "In Crowd" here), but their cover of "Baby It's You" is pretty good, even if it is a cover of a cover (sounds to me like they're copying the 1969 remake by Smith, not the Shirelles original).

The original songs fare better, especially if you're nostalgic about anything '80s. Play them while driving and you'll feel like you're cruising for babes with John Cusack or Emilio Estevez in some lost Reagan Era teen flick. The title track was probably an attempt to pen a song similar to Suzanne Fellini's "Love On the Phone," which was a minor hit in 1980, but became a major topic of conversation because of its subject matter.

But none of Grey-Starr's songs really clicked with the public. Good songs aren't always commercial songs and a powerful voice doesn't necessarily translate into a voice that reaches the public over radio airwaves. Also, having good arrangements doesn't mean those arrangements make for the type of original sound that grabs the attention of casual listeners or redefines a genre (see my Madonna posts for more on this).

All of this is a shame because Starr was a pretty great singer who had been releasing albums since the early '70s. The most popular she ever got, though, was her backing vocal on Black Oak Arkansas' cover of LaVern Baker's "Jim Dandy," which hit the Top 30 in 1973. Telephone Sex was Grey-Star's second and last album. If I can find the first, I'll post that too. But I'll bet there's not "Holiday" on it. Or even a "Lucky Star."

Suzanne Fellini - Suzanne Fellini (1980)
Cristina - Cristina (1980)
Cristina - Sleep It Off (1984)

Track list:
1. Meet Me At the Same Time
2. Baby It's You
3. Telephone Sex
4. In Crowd
5. All Over Now
6. Killing Time
7. Hurting You
8. Downtown
9. You Don't Even Know
10. Magic

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Lesley Gore - Boys, Boys, Boys (Mono Mix, 1964)

And now for an important message: This is NOT the recent reissue of Lesley Gore's third album, Boys, Boys, Boys! I don't put out anything on this blog that's easily available to the public. Instead, this is my own rip of the mono mix. It's the third in a series I've done of Gore's mono LPs, none of which have ever come out on CD in that form.

As with the mono mix of California Nights and most My Town, My Guy, and Me (except for one song), there are no major differences between the mono and stereo mixes of this LP. But as with the other mono mixes, it hangs together better and sounds more in-your-face since less reverb is used.

As I've written in my previous blog entries on the late Lesley Gore, I think she was one hell of a singer. Her third album, which is a concept LP of sorts, also shows her budding songwriting ability: She wrote the sassy, bossa nova-ish "Leave Me Alone" and co-wrote the ballad "I'm Coolin', No Foolin'."

I was surprised to learn that both the hits on this album were co-written by Mark Barkan. I associate Barkin with popsike music, since he wrote and performed the ultra-fab, sorta-trippy 1967 single "A Great Day for the Clown," which is featured on the fifteenth volume of Fading Yellow. What a great tune.

One of his numbers here, "That's the Way Boys Are," is just as fab. The public apparently thought so too, because they sent it to #12 when it was released as a single in early 1964. Barkan's other song here, the drippy ballad "I Don't Wanna Be a Loser," is somewhat less appealing. Once again, the public must have agreed, because it only got to #37, making it the first Gore 45 to miss the Top 20.

The song had a unique 45 mix that's not on either the mono or stereo versions of this LP. For the 45, they nixed the double-tracked vocal and went with Gore singing solo. I'm not sure why Mercury Records and/or producer Quincy Jones did this, because all Gore's previous singles had her double-tracked, even the ballad "You Don't Own Me," to which "I Don't Wanna Be A Loser" is a sort of follow-up.

(Addendum: The mix of "You Don't Own Me" on the mono Golden Hits does have a single-tracked vocal. But the "original 45s" people are touting on YouTube all have the standard double-tracking. Anyone know the story on this? I have the 45, but it's in a huge box in a closet and it's way to difficult to find.)

The single-tracked 45 version has now become a rarity. As far as I can tell, it hasn't been released on any CD. It's not on the five-CD box set from 1994, It's My Party, which is odd because that box has practically everything else.

But happily, I have this now-rare mix on my old mono vinyl copy of The Golden Hits of Lesley Gore, so I appended it to the end of this album as a bonus track. Astute listeners will note that it runs at a slightly faster speed than the Boys, Boys, Boys version. That's not a mistake on my part; that's the way it was on the Golden Hits LP. I assume that's because they got the mix from the mono 45, which was probably sped up to make it peppier. This is a subject I've discussed in previous posts and won't drone on about here.

In all, Boys, Boys, Boys is a pretty good LP and was arguably Gore's strongest album to date. It's also ahead of its time in that it projected a somewhat downbeat worldview -- not something done much in the commercial pop world in 1964.

There is a subversive aspect to this album, which may or may not have been intentional. Although it's called Boys, Boys, Boys, the thrust of most of the songs is anti-boy. Several of the songs deal with not wanting boys around at all -- notably the two Gore had a hand in writing. Was this the first overt signal from Gore regarding her sexuality?

When I interviewed Gore, she told me she wasn't clear on her sexuality until after she graduated college, so all of this might have all been unconscious. Then again, I also spotted a girl's name -- Clare -- in the middle of all the boy's names listed on the front cover. You can see this in high-quality scan I included here (it's at the very top of the cover). Or was Clare once a male name?

Am I putting way too much thought into all this? If so, that actually makes a good case as to why this album -- and the subtext implicit in its songs and packaging -- remains fascinating more than a half-century later.

Lesley Gore - My Town, My Guy and Me (Mono Mix, 1965)
Lesley Gore - California Nights (Mono Mix, 1967)

Track list:
1. That's the Way Boys Are
2. Boys
3. It's Gotta Be You
4. Something Wonderful
5. You Name It
6. Danny
7. I Don't Wanna Be A Loser
8. That's the Way the Ball Bounces
9. Leave Me Alone
10. Don't Call Me
11. I'll Make It Up To You
12. I'm Coolin', No Foolin'
13. I Don't Wanna Be A Loser (Original 45 Mix)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Madonna - The Madonna Anthology 2 (1981-85)

Here's the second volume from the Madonna Anthology series. This one has rarities spanning the period just before her first album to just after her second.

Before getting into what's here, I want to mention one change I made to this volume. I replaced the poor-sounding "Alternate Long Vinyl Version" of "Burning Up" with a precise, high-quality rip that I made myself from my own mint vinyl copy of Madonna's first LP.

The "Alternate Long Vinyl Version" is the sought-after mix that ran 4:48 that was on the first pressing of the Madonna LP from 1983. This early version was produced by Reggie Lucas in a standard R&B style. Madonna was reportedly unhappy with it. (But funny enough, it recalls Patti Labelle's Top 20 hit "New Attitude," which came out over a year later.) Lucas' mix was replaced on later pressings and on the CD with a shorter, punchier, more guitar-oriented one done by "Jellybean" Benitez. This is the one used in the original video, and it's become the standard mix.

Speaking of "Burning Up," this CD also contains a rock-oriented demo of the tune recorded a year earlier earlier. As I mentioned in my last post, Madonna's first recorded music was rock, not R&B, and it's interesting to hear her gradually change her style during course of her early recordings.

The "Stay" on this volume isn't the song of the same name that ended up on the Like A Virgin album. Madonna wrote both "Stays' herself, but this one isn't the boppy shuffle we all know, but a futuristic-sounding dance track. The chorus has some similarities to the released version but there aren't even any shared lyrics between the songs. This "Stay" sounds more like the dreamy Euro-disco done by acts like Angel Moon in the late 1990s, proving again that Madonna was way ahead of her time.

There are also four demo versions of songs intended for Madonna's first album. Three of 'em were recorded for that LP and used on it ("Borderline," "I Know It," and "Physical Attraction") while the other, "Ain't No Big Deal," was given a studio treatment, but held in the can until it came out as the B-Side of "True Blue" in 1986.

The live cuts show that Madonna developing her distinctive early vocal style. They're sometimes shaky, but then most people aren't letter-perfect live singers like Paul McCartney or Celine Dion. And, besides, at least Madonna actually sang live -- something her imitators tended not to do.

Sprinkled in with the live cuts is Madonna's performance of "Like A Virgin" at MTV's first-ever Video Music Awards, held Sept. 14, 1984. This is the performance where she wore a wedding dress and rolled around on stage. It seems cute in the age of Miley Cyrus, but it was positively scandalous then. It was also a Beatles-on-the-Ed-Sullivan-Show moment for the '80s generation: A historic musical performance that altered the course of popular music.

As I said in my last post, Madonna should release this stuff on a box set similar to Bruce Springsteen's Tracks. There are no embarrassing closet skeletons here -- quite the opposite, in fact. If nothing else, the alternate "Stay" should come out, if only to prove that she had the sound of dance music circa 1999 down in 1981.

Track list:
1. Everybody [Pre-'Madonna' Demo - 1981]
2. Burning Up [Pre-'Madonna' Demo - 1981]
3. Don't You Know [Pre-'Madonna' Demo - 1981]
4. Stay [Pre-'Madonna' Demo - 1981]
5. Laugh To Keep From Crying [Pre-'Madonna' Demo - 1981]
6. Everybody [Live - Haoui Montaug's No Entiendes 1982]
7. Ain't No Big Deal ['Madonna' Demo - 1982]
8. Borderline ['Madonna' Demo - 1982]
9. I Know It [Demo]
10. Physical Attraction [Demo]
11. Burning Up [Alternate Long Vinyl Version]
12. Everybody [Live - Uncle Sam's 1983]
13. Physical Attraction [Live - Uncle Sam's 1983]
14. Like A Virgin [Live - MTV VMAs 1984]
15. Over And Over [Live - 'Virgin' Tour]
16. Material Girl [Live - 'Virgin' Tour]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Madonna - The Madonna Anthology (1979-81)

In celebration of Madonna's birthday, I thought I'd put up this collection of songs she wrote and/or recorded before she signed with a record company. It's a revealing look at the first stirrings of a performer and songwriter who'd go on to become one of the most influential artists in the world.

Contrary to what most people would expect, most of these songs aren't dance-pop, but grungy-sounding rock tracks. They're sort of Madonna's "Hamburg Tapes," so to speak. The talent, energy, and ambition are there; it just needed to be focused.

What sharpened Madonna artistic vision was her decision to move from away from rock music and into the dance realm, which is something that can be tracked on a song-by-song, year-by-year basis with this set. The first music she made with the New York City bands the Breakfast Club and Emmy verges on punk rock. But after a while with Emmy, her pop side started to emerge. On cuts like "No Time for Love" and "Bells Ringing" you can hear her find her voice.

If all of this sounds unfamiliar, it won't be soon. According to a recent article in the UK's Daily Mail, a documentary about the pre-fame Madonna titled "Emmy and the Breakfast Club" is in the works, although they don't give a release date.

Back when Madonna exploded onto the pop scene in 1984, what made her stand out from a purely musical perspective was the way she blended rock sensibilities with dance floor rhythms. The genres of dance music and R&B had become impersonal and faceless when they started to get electronic in the late 1970s. But Madonna's rock attitude and a quirky singing style made almost everyone change their tune.

By taking this approach, she not only helped expand the genres, but she also helped push dance music and R&B into the mainstream. She also pushed rock onto the sidelines in the process. (Rap also continued to push rock out of the mainstream, but Madonna got there first.)

Not everyone liked what they heard. But as soon as you heard it, they sure knew it was Madonna. Her voice became like Jerry Garcia's guitar, the Beach Boys' harmonies, or the Bee Gees' falsettos: Instantly identifiable and completely evocative of its era.

That said, most of the early band songs here are no great shakes. Things only start to pick up on the so-called "Gotham Demos" -- which are colloquially named as such because they were recorded at New York's Gotham Sound Studios in '81. The best tracks recorded at Gotham, "Take Me (I Want You)," is pure pop bliss. The song is actually pretty similar to the Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know" (from 1979) which would become a hit for Tracy Ullman in 1984.

Then there's "Crimes of Passion," which was recorded later than these demos and sounds like it could easily have any been an album cut or possibly even a hit single. Ironically, it also sounds a bit like some of those Madonna-soundalikes '80s hits that filled the airwaves a half decade later, like Regina's "Baby Love" from '86 or Elisa Fiorello and Jellybean's “Who Found Who” from '87. Anyone who spent their teen years listening to Madonna or Like a Virgin should immediately take to this song.

This collection also shows how Madonna found her style as a songwriter. But since there are no writing credits there's no way to tell what she wrote herself or what songs were collaborations.

Only three tracks have definitive writer's credits: She penned "Burning Up" (which made the first LP) and "Crimes of Passion," while Bray wrote "Ain't No Big Deal," which eventually came out as the B-Side of "True Blue" in 1986 -- some five years after it was first recorded. Since Madonna wrote some of her best early songs alone ("Lucky Star," "Think of Me") it's not unthinkable that she's the composer of most of these songs.

I'm a Madonna fan like I'm a Bruce Springsteen fan: I'm partial to only their first few albums. But what I like I really like. Funny enough, I like their second albums the best. Whatever you think of these artists, it's still interesting to hear how they worked to achieve the sound that eventually captured the interest of the world.

Springsteen gave us the Tracks box set as a way to chart his artistic development. Madonna should do likewise and release these songs. Unlike the early work of some other artists, nothing here is embarrassing. In fact, the power of the rock numbers gives her credibility when it comes to that style.

Of course, we probably won't ever get a box set like that from Madonna. Some artists sing "Don't Look Back." Others actually live it.

Track list:
1. The Breakfast Club - On the Ground
2. The Breakfast Club - Shine a Light
3. The Breakfast Club - Little Boy Lost
4. Emmy - Simon Says
5. Emmy - Hot House Flower
6. Emmy - Nobody's Fool
7. Emmy - Burning Up
8. Emmy - Are You Ready For It
9. Emmy - Love For Tender
10. Emmy - No Time For Love
11. Emmy - Remembering Your Touch
12. Emmy- Bells Ringing
13. Emmy - Drowning
14. Emmy - Love On the Run
15. Emmy - Get Up
16. Emmy - Society Boy (High Society)
17. Emmy - Take Me (I Want You)
18. Madonna - Crimes Of Passion
19. Madonna - Ain't No Big Deal