Nov 2 2010

Rocking Retro: The Cars

I suppose most of the music nerds my age were generally introduced to classic rock mainstays via a greatest hits compilation. My last Rocking Retro post, dedicated to Styx, showed that certainly was the case for me, and the Cars, one of my all time favorite bands, are no exception. Ever seen this gem of an album cover?

Yep. That’s the one. Played it for hours when I was five years old. I remember hiding behind the couch during the intro of “Since You’re Gone” because I was frightened of the rhythmic clicking. Once Ric started singing, though, I came out from hiding and sang along.

Anyone with just a little knowledge of the beauty that is New Wave knows that the Cars rule it – they are an American treasure.  So how do I feel about the recent news that they’ve reunited?  Like most 80’s band resurgences, I don’t think it’s particularly the best idea, though it would be cool to see them live, even without the late Benjamin Orr.  And it’s gotta be better than the silly Todd Rundgren “New Cars” outing a few years ago.

Anywho, here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.  You’ve probably heard them all a million times, but why not crank them one more time?

The Cars – Let’s Go

The Cars – Good Times Roll

The Cars – Just What I Needed

Oct 19 2010

Rocking Retro: Styx – Greatest Hits

My good friend Ryan introduced me to a lot of classic rock during our grade school years.  He was a CD collector at heart, grabbing everything he heard on 95.7 The Kar – KARX-FM in Amarillo, TX, the nearby classic rock station.  This was the late 90’s, so the format “classic rock” was still a pretty new thing, and the playlists were a lot deeper.  It was a good way to introduce myself to the past, even if most of it was album-oriented, 70’s music, and pretty generic overall.

Ryan and I would do the weekly album swap – he would grab my newer stuff, and I would burn CDs from his steadily growing classic rock stack.  Some of it he loved, some of it I hated, and vice versa.  One album in particular we couldn’t agree on was Greatest Hits by Styx.  Though it was his album, he didn’t much care for it, and so when I borrowed it for a length of time most would consider theft, he didn’t mind in the least.

I suppose it’s my affinity for late 70’s ballad-y, arena rock (“Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon is one of my all-time faves, and I’m pretty certain I was conceived to “Waiting For a Girl Like You” by Foreigner), but man, this compilation is still great, years later.  I remember the first time I listened to it all the way through, shocked at how many Styx songs I already knew…I just didn’t know they were Styx songs.  It’s great for road trips, karaoke picks, and general fist-pumping in the bar.  AOR was a great genre combining sheer talent and rock’s best trait – escapism.  And Styx delivered like no other.  Below are my favorites.

Styx – The Best of Times

Styx – Renegade

Styx – Come Sail Away

Oct 9 2010

Rocking Retro: Men At Work – Business As Usual

Last night, while winding down from an amazing evening watching Monsters of Folk at Stubb’s (M. Ward is god, for those not in the know), my friend Derin, acting as evening DJ for our small party, put on the album above – the successful 1981 debut from Men At Work.  It was a wise selection.

Business As Usual is best known for the hits “Who Can It Be Now?” and the would-be litigious nightmare “Down Under.”  It is one of the most successful albums of the early 1980’s (in good company with a little album called Thriller), selling 15 million albums worldwide, 6 million of those stateside.  In the US alone, Business As Usual spent a surprising 15 weeks at #1, and Men At Work remain the only Australian band to score the #1 song (“Down Under”) and #1 album in America simultaneously.

The album is heralded as an 80’s pop classic, obviously, and for good reason.  Main songwriter Colin Hay could certainly craft a pop gem (with the occasional help, it should be noted, from Ron Strykert and Greg Ham) and the album’s contribution to the then-burgeoning New Wave sound is unmatched.

Men At Work – Who Can It Be Now?

Men At Work – Down Under

Men At Work – Be Good Johnny

Jul 28 2010

Rocking Retro: Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Por Moi

Today it was revealed that Plastic Bertrand, the Belgian proto-new wave punk rocker of the 70’s, is not really Plastic Bertrand.  A 2006 lawsuit against the singer has revealed this week (via experts in court) that the first four albums from the artist feature the voice of someone else.  This includes the 1977 hit “Ca Plane Por Moi,” which was revealed to have been sung by the producer Lou Deprijck, as admitted today by the singer himself.

This is a bit of a shock to music and punk historians, as the song is considered seminal and an important, if not quirky, footnote for the shift from punk to 80’s new-wave.  The song, while catchy, is hardly melodic, save for a Beach Boys-lifted four-note falsetto repeated endlessly throughout.  The guitar lines and horn riffs serve as rhythm backdrops more than anything, and the lyrics are nonsensical in both French and English.  Still, “Ca Plane Por Moi” remains a brilliant piece of pop, even if, starting today, we’re not completely sure of its origin anymore.

Plastic Bertrand – Ca Plane Por Moi

Jul 15 2010

Rocking Retro: Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come

Last month, Epitaph reissued The Shape of Punk to Come, the seminal hardcore album from the now-defunct Swedish band Refused.  In celebration, Pitchfork hosted the documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead for one week on  After viewing the film, I blew the dust off my old copy of the group’s third and final album for another listen.

What can I say that hasn’t been said before?  Even today, one cannot deny the influence and importance of this appropriately-titled record, and the world has taken notice.  The disc is one of the most acclaimed of the punk genre in recent memory. Incorporating drum machines and electronic noises, Refused strayed away from the purely traditional sounds of their previous releases in order to provide what they felt was an appropriate backdrop for their anti-establishment, left-wing lyrics.  New rhetoric, new approach.  Politics aside, the sounds of The Shape are revolutionary – inevitably more than the group’s message turned out to be.

Refused – New Noise

Refused – Liberation Frequency

Refused – Worms of the Senses/Faculties of the Skull

Jul 5 2010

Rocking Retro: Cocteau Twins – Pink Opaque

I have long been a vocal supporter of M83’s Saturdays=Youth, Anthony Gonzalez’s forray away from the typical instrumentals his project had produced. Instead he made a near-flawless dream pop album inspired by his teenage years. Ken Thomas produced the album, a guy who knows a thing or two about the John Hughes-inspired 80’s sheen Gonzalez was going for, having worked with Sugarcubes, Suede, and Cocteau Twins in the past.  I adore the album, and so it seems fitting that many have recommended I listen to the last band in that list – the Scottish trio the Cocteau Twins.   A friend suggested I start where most Americans did; he told me to go find a copy of The Pink Opaque.

The group’s record label, UK-based 4AD (a label the group is historically synonymous with) struck a deal stateside with Relativity Records to distribute the emerging band’s back catalog to the US – they were growing in popularity due to increasing airplay on college radio.  However, rather than releasing the plethora of EPs the Cocteau Twins had recorded between 1982 and 1985, Relativity made the decision to instead release a compilation of highlights for newcomers to get a taste of what the Twins were all about.

The Pink Opaque is a compilation released in January 1986 featuring ten previously recorded tracks.  Also put out in the UK, it was 4AD’s first CD release ever. The album has long been out of print, but I managed to find it on iTunes.  While I can hear the similarities in the comp from M83’s 2008 effort, the Twins certainly hold to their own sound – it makes sense this group was so influential for the dream pop movement.  At times the group has new-wave tendencies, at times they have the bass thump of the Cure, at times they are scary, at times they are beautiful, but they always manage to stick to their trademark collage.

I can probably name you groups and artists that were influenced by this album, but I would have difficulty in categorizing the music of the Cocteau Twins – they sound like their own entity.  The immediate standout is Elizabeth Fraser’s mouth-music vocals, indecipherable words that she usually chose to fit with the vibe of the song rather than conform to having meaning or message.

Needless to say, thanks to the Pink Opaque, I have fallen in love with the Cocteau Twins; I just wish I had listened to them sooner.  While I delve deeper into their back catalog, get a taste of this excellent compilation for yourself – a sampling of my three favorite tracks can be found below.

Cocteau Twins – The Spangle Maker

Cocteau Twins – Wax and Wane

Cocteau Twins – Pearly-dowdrops’Drops

Jun 15 2010

Rocking Retro – James Taylor

Today he’s a boring, coffeeshop Good Morning America staple, but back in the 70’s, James Taylor led the songwriter craze of pop, alongside the likes of Carole King and Joni Mitchell.  I still get a lot of flack for loving Taylor, but anyone who has heard his bestselling Greatest Hits album knows the scope, brevity, and sheer genius of the man.

Originally a product of the Beatles’ ill-fated Apple label, Taylor went on to become one of the bestselling artists of all time.  His music is completely accessible and your mom loves it, but from a historical perspective Taylor was the forerunner of a movement in pop music, the early 70’s answer to the overdone, overproduced, over-dramatic bands of the late 60’s.  With the Vietnam War still raging and the US in a period of civil unrest, James Taylor and his acoustic guitar represented a more laid-back, back-to-basics side of rock and roll.  And the music was pretty amazing, too.  Actually, it’s timeless.

He may not “rock” in a traditional, cliche, loud-guitar sense, but for any fan of true music and beautiful songwriting, James Taylor totally rocks.  Some hits after the jump.

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Jun 2 2010

Rocking Retro: Steely Dan

My longtime friend Ryan introduced Steely Dan to me when I was in 6th grade.  At the time, it was his favorite band, Aja was his favorite album, and “Josie” was his favorite song.  I doubt any of that is true today, but for me, the damage had been done.  I borrowed his copy of Aja and found my dad’s copy of A Decade of… and subsequently became immersed in jazz-fused rock that would never be duplicated again, and certainly wouldn’t be popular today.

This was around the time the duo made a Grammy-winning comeback with the badass Two Against Nature and the equally impressive Everything Must Go in 1999 and 2001, respectively.  But it’s those 70’s classics, particularly the flawless Aja, that still get me every time.  Years later, I still discover something new, something underneath, layers and layers of melody, harmony, and cadence that make Steely Dan a timeless force of feel-good rock.

A sampling of masterpieces after the jump.

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May 4 2010

Rocking Retro: Neneh Cherry

Raw like sushi, indeed.  Let us not forget the one-hit talent that was Neneh. Her lone hit “Buffalo Stance” peaked at #3 in the USA back in 1989, but she’s had more international success in recent years.  And that song is still banging, even after twenty years.  So don’t get fresh with her.

Watch the video to see where modern-day indie divas find their image.  You’re welcome, MIA.

Apr 19 2010

Rocking Retro: The Romantics

When my dad brought home What I Like About You (And Other Romantic Hits) I thought it was a compilation of love songs from the 80’s by different people.  Being ten years old, I had never heard of a band called the Romantics.  I soon found out that all these awesome songs were by one under-rated, semi-forgotten new wave group.

Sure, we’ve all overheard the main track, especially if we watched car commercials in the 90’s.  But this band had so many rocking hits, and they found the knack (pun) to mix punk, R&B, funk, and 50’s rock into one hell of a new sound for this innovative decade.  Many don’t remember, but the Romantics were at the forefront of an explosion of a new sound that would envelop the next 10+ years of music.  We can still hear their influence today, especially if we listen to current indie garage groups.  These boys were always at the top of their game; catchy hooks, simple love-song lyrics, and straight-up rock and roll?  What’s not to love?  After all, it’s all Romantic.

A sampling of hits after the jump.

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